Extract from the Parliamentary record;
EDUCATION REGULATIONS AND FAITH SCHOOLS
SIR EDWARD LEIGH (GAINSBOROUGH) (CON): I beg to move,
That this House believes that Ofsted should respect the ability of faith
schools to teach their core beliefs in the context of respect and
toleration for others.
Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing the time of these debates, and
a number of colleagues, including the hon. Members for Southport (John
Pugh) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), would have liked
to have taken part in this important debate, but they have unmissable
commitments in their constituencies. I am grateful to those of my
colleagues who are here to support me.
Faith schools do a marvellous job. That is why parents love them, and I
am one of those parents. Of course, when we say faith schools, we are
overwhelmingly talking about Church schools. In the state sector there
are almost 7,000 faith schools, of which 4,500 are Church of England,
almost 2,000 are Catholic, 48 are Jewish, 18 Muslim, eight Sikh and four
Hindu. Last year, of the 693 best-performing state primary schools, 62%
were faith schools—a staggering percentage—even though they account
for only a third of primaries nationally.
Church schools are great motors of social mobility. They perform well
whatever the background of the pupils. Faith schools are ethnically
diverse. About a quarter of pupils of faith schools have an ethnic
background other than white British. In my son’s school it is over
60%. Far from preaching intolerance, these schools, because of their
strong, unifying, religious ethos, do more for social cohesion than a
thousand Home Office initiatives.
Many people’s experience of the Church of England or Roman Catholic
school at the end of their road is that it is a delightful haven of
well-behaved pupils from all backgrounds and highly motivated teachers
putting their heart and soul into the school and its community. But it
is faith schools that are under attack from the forces of intolerance,
so we must recognise their great contribution and encourage them to
carry on doing what they are doing so well.
Groups such as the British Humanist Association would like to ban faith
schools. They do no seem to care how much parents and pupils love them
or how well they perform—the very definition of intolerance. They try
to smear faith schools with what happened in Birmingham with the Trojan
horse scandal, but we all know that none of the Trojan horse schools was
a faith school. Faith schools should hold their heads up high and not
engage in the pre-emptive cringe and kowtow to the latest fashion. They
should stand by the principles that have made them such a success: love
of God and neighbour, pursuit of truth, high aspiration and discipline.
We do not want any dumbing down. Jewish schools should teach the Jewish
religion, and Christian schools should teach the Christian religion.
That is likely to give their pupils a better idea of their place in the
world, of their potential and of their obligations to others. Yes, they
should learn about other religions, which is necessary not only for
being a good citizen, but for being culturally aware, but that can take
place in the context of the school’s faith ethos. Of course pupils can
accept or reject the school’s world view, whether religious or
> secular. There are plenty of Christians in secular schools and plenty of
atheists in Christian schools. The law guarantees freedom of conscience.
But by the same token, governors, teachers, parents and pupils who want
a religious education also have freedom of conscience, and we must guard
their freedoms carefully.
MRS MARY GLINDON (NORTH TYNESIDE) (LAB): I congratulate the hon.
Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he agree that what is important
is the teaching of religious education in all schools so that all
children can understand religions and non-religions as they progress
through school? We should have proper RE teachers to give young people
the wide breadth of knowledge they need to understand everyone else in
the country and all those who live in their communities.
SIR EDWARD LEIGH: Yes, of course I agree. It is very important that RE
is a rigid academic discipline. Children must be aware of other faiths
and of comparative religion, but they must also have a firm grounding in
their own faith’s teachings, because that gives them a sense of
belonging and place.
KEVIN BRENNAN (CARDIFF WEST) (LAB): The hon. Gentleman rightly talks
about the need for a firm grounding. Is not the line that must be drawn
that no taxpayer-funded school should ever be involved in proselytising
SIR EDWARD LEIGH: I absolutely agree. I mentioned the thousands of
Church of England and Roman Catholic schools. I do not think that there
is any evidence that any of those schools are creating Christian
jihadists. I have six children, and they have attended faith schools in
the state and private sectors. The thought that any of those primary
schools in the maintained sector, whether Catholic or Anglican, is
teaching intolerance is completely absurd.