On 11th November 2013, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, took part in the Committee Stage of the Government’s Children and Families Bill. He spoke in favour of two amendments – one of the duty of schools to promote the academic, spiritual, cultural, mental and physical development of children and the second on the welfare of children who are asylum seekers. Neither amendment was put to a division of the House.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I also would like to speak briefly in support of Amendment 233, which was so ably and vividly introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I have a particular responsibility in the Church of England for education, so I am pleased to be able to bring that authority and support, as it were, on behalf of all the schools that I represent. This is a small but important and crucial piece of work.
As has been said, it is interesting to note that the Mothers’ Union, the Children’s Society and a further 70 different organisations which are involved in and have some knowledge of this area all support the proposal. It was a few years ago now, but the board of education that I represent worked with the Sex Education Forum to try to produce some new guidance, but unfortunately that work was not taken up. It is clear from all we have been saying that the purpose of education is not simply to present children who can pass exams, but to create an opportunity for young people to take control of their lives and values, and to realise their hopes through their approach to life. It is a much larger task, and for that social, emotional and spiritual intelligence is important, along with academic prowess. When the chips are down, nothing matters more to us than our relationships and how we form them. As we have just heard described so vividly, this is a new age for people as they form their relationships.
Building a network of friendships and exploring more intimate relationships with particular people are hard tasks for young people today because they have been made extremely complex by the rapid changes in technology. It is in fact some 13 years of revolution since the last guidelines were produced. This is a fascinating world, but it is a jungle, and our young people have to navigate it. A rare consensus seems to be building around the need to update the guidelines, so it is vital that we seize this opportunity. As part of its commitment to addressing these issues, the board of education that I represent has been compiling resources for use in church schools and any other schools to help combat homophobic bullying. That is an important piece of work, but the problems go much wider. Given that, I want to say briefly that we need to get on the case urgently.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, this is an important amendment. The Refugee Children’s Consortium, a coalition of more than 40 NGOs that are involved in this sphere, is very concerned about this legislation and is looking for changes. Three or four weeks ago, I was with a group of four young people in Cowley in Oxford; 16 years old, three were from Eritrea and one from Somalia. They were so pleased to be at the end of a journey that had taken months, and to have access to education and safety. That was the thing they kept on saying: “We are safe”.
The Children’s Society told me that this is the time of maximum happiness. From that point on, it is all downhill, with 95% of the young people who come there having to go back at the end of a process that in many cases will lead to destitution—the word that we have used quite often. That, of course, has many implications for physical health, as a result of being malnourished and not being able to get access to a doctor. It leads to illegal work, sexual exploitation and all kinds of problems. There must be another way, a more humane and civilised way, of handling vulnerable young people who have all their lives before them. It seems crazy that, at the age of 18, everything should just turn over. Their needs for education and safe housing are basic things. The age of 18 should not be so critical that it makes people destitute. This is a really important amendment and we need to take it seriously. Destitution is not the answer.