Bishop of Durham speaks in a debate on the Schools Bill (HL)

On 20th June 2022, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Schools Bill (HL). The Bishop of Durham spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, having said to the Minister that I would be quiet today, I had forgotten that this group did not get debated last week when I was away. I support all these amendments. It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. He and I do not always agree, but on this occasion I want first to thank him for his incredibly helpful contribution on primary and secondary legislation. It was astoundingly clear and helpful. I thank him very much and hope it will be heeded by Her Majesty’s Government. Secondly, I agree with him on Amendment 168, but I will come back to that in a moment.

I support Amendment 91 on primary careers guidance because it would help to break down false dreams, as well as raise aspirations. I hear too many false dreams arise from children in primary schools when I visit them, which is a regular feature of my work and that of all my right reverend friends. We visit primary and secondary schools and listen to children there. We absolutely want to raise aspirations but we do not want to give false hopes either. Well thought-through careers education at the primary level helps this.

It also helps children in primary schools develop the sense of work as vocation and calling rather than simply a job that you do to earn money. We need to recover a much deeper sense that work is part and parcel of being a human and that it is not simply what you get paid for but what you contribute to the life of society as a whole and what helps you flourish as a person. If we do not inculcate that thinking during the primary years, we only ever go down the more and more utilitarian road that work is about what you get paid for so that you can enjoy yourself in the rest of life, rather than enjoying work and being fulfilled in it.

Such careers education also helps the sense of why it is important to have literacy and numeracy. The reason why I regularly struggle with the emphasis on literacy and numeracy as if they were utterly distinct subjects, rather than part of education for the fullness and wholeness of life, is that literacy and numeracy are there for a purpose, not simply for their own sake. They enable people to fulfil their calling and their task, and lots of children struggle with literacy and numeracy because they do not see any purpose in it. However, if you get a vision of what work and career might look like—I pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Knight—it must be about the potential numbers of careers that you might hold in the future. Very few people now end up with simply one career, and certainly will not in the future. Therefore I strongly support Amendment 91.

On Amendment 168, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord who used to sit on these Benches for his proposal. I am utterly behind it. However, there are two things that I wish were there but which are not at the moment. I would have liked to have seen something on the social responsibility that flows from the five areas outlined. Freedom, respect for persons and care for the environment require social responsibility. This is where I agree again with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that we need something around the fact that rights and responsibilities go together. I hope that the Government will pick up this proposal, and that would be one of the possible tweaks that I would look at.

On Amendments 158 and 171I, I say “Absolutely” but—I am never sure whether I am allowed to do this—I have a question for the opposition leadership, who proposed this rather than for the Minister. Amendment 171I says “All schools”. Does this therefore mean that we are introducing work experience at primary level and if so, what does that look like, or is secondary level meant? If it is the former, it ties in with primary careers stuff and so on; I am just teasing out how that would look.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for spotting an obvious flaw that needs to be dealt with. She explained it so clearly, and I hope that it is accepted and moved forward.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP): I pick up the point from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that we need to think about this not just as a way of helping people to think about different careers—although I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, that addressing gender stereotypes is really important—but as people going out into and spending some time in operations in society as a way to see how they might contribute in all sorts of ways, not just through whatever paid employment they might eventually take up. It is important that we see that.

On this whole language of aspiration and social mobility, I contend that we have to ensure we value everyone contributing to our society in all sorts of ways. I will pick up the point from the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, about Eton. Would we not have got somewhere when pupils at Eton aspired to be a school dinner person or a bus driver? Maybe there are pupils at Eton who do, but I doubt it somehow and I doubt they are encouraged to. Yet those are both vital jobs in our society that people can make a large contribution through.

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