The Bishop of Gloucester asked a question about government plans to implement parts of the Schools Bill, during a debate on improving the education system on 30th November 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, the Schools Bill was partly intended to remove barriers to enable church schools to fully embrace the journey towards academisation. Given that there has been no further progress on that Bill, what plan do the Government have for introducing the legislative parts of that Bill that were broadly agreed and are needed to secure the development of all schools?
On 13th June the House of Lords continued to debate the Government’s Schools Bill in committee. The Bishop of Chichester spoke in the debate, on behalf of the Bishop of Durham, introducing and responding to a number of amendments:
The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, I speak on behalf of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and declare his interest as chair of the National Society.
On 13th June the House of Lords continued to debate the Government’s Schools Bill in committee. The Bishop of Bristol spoke in the debate, on behalf of the Bishop of Durham:
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I speak in place of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who unfortunately cannot be present today. I declare his interest as chair of the National Society.
I rise briefly to welcome Amendment 40 in this group, which offers real clarity on the issue. We welcome the recognition it shows that the religious body must be involved in giving an interim trustee notice to the proprietor of an academy school with a religious character. We are grateful for the Minister’s continued work on this and hope this might provide a little encouragement at this point.
On 8th June 2022, the House of Lords debated the Government’s Schools Bill (HL) in its first day in committee. The Bishop of Durham spoke in the debate, on amendments to the first clause:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I have to declare my interest as chair of the National Society, which oversees Church of England schools, although obviously they are all devolved around each diocesan board. I also apologise that I cannot be here for days two and three in Committee. I have a long-standing family holiday booked, and my marriage and parenthood are more important. I assure noble Lords that things will be covered by other Members on these Benches.
I have been told clearly by Members of this House that I should be very concerned about Clause 1, and indeed Clauses 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and so on. Because of the nature of the people who have expressed those concerns, I listened very carefully. However, in principle I am persuaded that the move towards full academisation warrants the Secretary of State being given some additional powers. I disagree with a large number here: I think the direction of travel is abundantly clear. It is full academisation. If that is the direction of travel, we need to ensure that system is appropriately covered.
On 23rd May 2022, the House of Lords debated the Schools Bill in its second reading. The Bishop of Durham spoke in the debate with regards to faith schools, teachers, and other points in the bill. The Bill was committed to a committee of the whole house.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I declare my specific interest as chair of the National Society. Noble Lords will know that the Church of England started mass education for the poor in England in 1811 through the work of the National Society. We built thousands of schools which have been at the heart of our commitment to the common good ever since. The state joined in this educational endeavour 50 years later. A strong mutual relationship developed, culminating in the dual system settlement in the 1944 Education Act.
Since a Labour Government introduced academies in the early 2000s, that system has been evolving but bringing complexity and fragmentation. Free schools added to this. Academies started as an innovation to bring fresh approaches to improve outcomes, especially for children in the most disadvantaged areas. There has been much success, although not in every case. Academies are now the predominant school type. As the system moves towards all schools being academies in a strong trust, it is right that we give detailed attention to ensure that academies are placed within a firm legislative context rather than rely on the largely contractual nature of the present arrangements.
On 23rd May 2022, the House of Lords debated the Schools Bill (2022) in its second reading. The Bishop of Oxford spoke in the debate in regards to faith schools and rural schools. The Bill was read through and committed to a committee of the whole house:
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, there is much to welcome in the new Bill, as my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and other noble Lords have indicated. In particular, it is good to know the Government’s direction of travel on academisation and the continued emphasis on raising standards. I support the comments made by other noble Lords on the need properly to resource our schools, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic, to safeguard the morale of heads, governors and teachers and to pay much greater attention to mental health provision.
It is vital as well to continue to build on secure partnerships across the statutory, voluntary, church and faiths sector. The education of our children has never been the sole responsibility of central government—it is the responsibility of all. These vital partnerships have flourished for many decades to the mutual benefit of all and the common good. It is very good to note the Government’s intention to safeguard those partnerships into the future through the Bill and the process of academisation which will follow. One of the tests of the Bill will be the strengthening of social capital and intermediate institutions.
On 8th November 2016 the House of Commons debated a motion from Labour’s Lisa Nandy MP “That this House notes recent proposals by the Government to expand the role of grammar and faith schools; and calls on the Government to conduct a full assessment of the evidence relating to the effect of grammar schools and faith schools on children’s learning.” The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, spoke in the debate about the important role of Church of England schools:
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman): I rise to speak on behalf of the Church of England in this important Back-Bench debate. The Church has a long and successful history of educating children in our country. It provided education before the state did. In fact, it is still the largest provider of education besides the state. It has 4,700 schools, most of which are primaries, with 200 secondary schools. Some 84% of its primary and 74% of its secondary schools are good or outstanding.
Many of the remaining schools are in remote rural locations, although I should point out that there are some excellent rural schools. The challenge of trying to sustain a class for each year group in a remote rural area and the difficulty in attracting teachers there make it hard to achieve higher standards in those schools. The Church is committed to raising standards, and with the help of digital means and remote learning methods, it is possible to bring the best teaching to such schools. The Church has fought to sustain these schools for the sake of social cohesion, where other institutions might by now have given up. I am sure that hon. Members with rural constituencies will immediately identify with the importance of the village school, which, with the parish church, may be the only institutional hub for such communities. That underlines the importance of keeping them sustainable.
On 19th May 2016 the Bishop of Ely, Rt Revd Stephen Conway, spoke in the first day of debate on the Queen’s Speech. He focused his response on the Government’s proposals for academies, universities and further education.
The Lord Bishop of Ely: My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, in thanking my fellow right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for his speech. I join my right reverend friend in reminding the House that, in particular with children and young people, we are about ensuring their experience of love and the fullness of life. If you like, we are interested in human flourishing and community. That is the prism through which I will look at some of the direct provisions from the gracious Speech and the implications for future policy.
Research done already on the implications of what has been said by Ministers is that academisation will proceed very fully. The think tank CentreForum suggests that only about 3,000 free-standing schools might be left that are not academised in the future. I am concerned that we do not end up with thousands of outstanding schools going it alone. We need to ensure that all strong schools, in MATs or otherwise, support schools that are struggling. There is no way of flourishing that does not take in support for others.
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