Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The House of Lords debate Faith Schools

We have just finished three hours of discussion on faith schools.Mostly pretty unsatisfactory, to be honest -- long speeches outlining preprepared positions, very little of listening to each other.

Anyway, we are (or probably are) to have a set of government amendments allowing local education authorities as guardians of "community cohesion" to insist on new faith schools offering up to 25% of their places to none-faith applicants. We are all used in the house of lords to accepting half a loaf rather than none, and this looks a pretty good half loaf to us. We have movement in the right direction on all sides, and even if we have not got where we would like to be, we are on the way on a typical lords timescale of a few decades.

To me the underlying principle is clear. A person can purchase a private good (say by paying a quarter of £1 million for a house) and expect to enjoy the benefits of that purchase. But if that person purchases a public good (say by contributing a quarter of £1 million to the funds of an Oxford college) he should not expect to enjoy any rights over a place at Oxford as a result. So I part company with Lord Alton of Liverpool when he says that Catholics who collect money to fund a new Catholic school would be upset if they did not as a result have exclusive access to the resulting school places. What about the rest of us, who will have stumped up 85% of the cost?Indeed I find the whole Catholic position pretty weird -- at one moment they are boasting about having 20% non-Catholic pupils, the next it is unacceptable to have any. They boast about the quality of Catholic schools, and ignore the horrors like St George's Maida Vale.

Nice little speeches from Baroness Richardson (a Methodist minister ), pointing out that their church schools are always completely open; Baroness Blood on the Northern Ireland integrated schools she has championed and on the horrors of church schools there; Lord Taverne in one of his antireligious rants telling the story of St Lucy, plucking out her eyes so that she should not be tempted by men.

What we really missed was a contribution from one of the Muslim peers. Why did they stay away? A black mark for the Lords that they felt unable to participate.


Blogger Dal Nun Strong said...

Lord Lucas, I think you have highlighted one of the key oddities about the situation of the Muslim community at the moment. We are told by the Muslim Council of Britain that Muslim faith-schools are of great importance to the community. Indeed, one of the top-10 questions that the MCB suggested Muslims ask candidates at the last election was "will you support equality of treatment for
Muslims in the provision of state funding for Muslim schools?"

But as you have discovered, in actual fact Muslims really don't care about the issue. Quite the opposite. Muslims voted in hordes for Galloway's Respect Party, even though it conspicuously failed to endorse Muslim schools - and has campaigned to scrap the Education & Inspections Bill altogether, saying "such “choice and diversity” of schools worsens social division. Recent research proves that race and class segregation increases."

I agree that it's unfortunate that no Muslim peer spoke in the debate yesterday. It looks like they might have realised there was little to gain within their own communities by standing up for faith schools, and big downsides in being seen as promoting segregation.

12:32 pm  

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