All 1 Debates between Baroness Flather and Baroness Whitaker

Wed 20th Jul 2011

Education Bill

Debate between Baroness Flather and Baroness Whitaker
Wednesday 20th July 2011

(12 years, 11 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 116. All the amendments concern the role of Ofsted and it is very interesting to me—although not comprehensible—why community cohesion, as a separate fact, has been withdrawn from the responsibilities of an Ofsted inspection.

I have had a look at Ofsted’s document about inspectors’ responsibilities, especially in relation to community cohesion. It does not say anything except “community cohesion”, which is quite worrying, because I am sure that noble Lords around us in this Room have their own ideas about what amounts to community cohesion. It speaks mainly about well-being, which has just been referred to. That is certainly one of the issues that Ofsted has to look at, but there is nothing about community cohesion.

I spoke to an inspector who told me that her notion of community cohesion was, first, understanding one’s local community, which makes sense; secondly, understanding the national community, which makes sense; and, finally, understanding the international community, which makes sense as well. Why we should withdraw this duty from Ofsted, I fail to understand.

I have been sent a letter by the Minister which says that inspections will be related to schools’ “core responsibilities”. Why community cohesion should not be part of the core responsibilities is again not clear to me. Our country now encompasses many different types of people, cultures and development. If ever there was a need for community cohesion, it is now and for the future. To withdraw that seems to be spitting in the wind. We have schools which are different; we have faith schools. We need to know whether faith schools in particular are encouraging community cohesion. One can be faithful to one’s faith, but community cohesion is for all of us, of whatever faith we are. I would have thought that that was an integral and important part of any faith school. I am not speaking about Church of England schools’ bishops, because they are very good; I do not have much of a problem with them.

The Minister said in his letter that community cohesion is to be,

“considered in a proportionate and integral way”.

If it is not considered as a separate issue, I do not know how it becomes proportionate and integral, because it is a particular area which needs to be understood. The Minister went on to say that it would be considered,

“through looking at pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development”.

I am sorry. That is not about community cohesion; it is about a pupil’s well-being and making sure that they are well rounded. I do not understand where community cohesion comes in.

This is a very important area for the future of our nation. I remember very clearly, not so long ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, being made Minister for Community Cohesion in the House of Lords. What happened to that? I had thought that community cohesion was a “big buzz” thing. Whether it is a buzz thing or not, it is important that schools do not lose sight of it.

Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, but in the interests of time I shall speak only to the amendment in my name, Amendment 116A. This gives Ofsted an additional task, to inspect the effectiveness of education as influenced by the buildings and design of the school. I do not expect that this is what the Government really want, but I would urge them to take the opportunity of this amendment to embed the importance of properly designed school buildings in the assessment of the education they provide.

I shall not repeat what I said on the earlier group of amendments, but I think that it is all the more important in view of the Minister’s response on design standards. I briefly draw attention to the recently published Space for Personalised Learning report commissioned by the previous Government. In changing their approach to school building, I implore the present Government not to throw the baby out with the bath water and ignore this treasure trove of expertise. Learning is changing, and so is our understanding of it. Even if we return to chronological history and Latin, both of which I rather like, our children need to be at home with and, indeed, masters of, the modern world and its changes. They need to earn a living in that world, and they need to be able to contribute to UK growth and culture and their own self-fulfilment. The essential message of the report is that buildings and the designed space matter very much for effective learning, inclusive learning, safe and secure learning and enthusiastic and creative learning. If our inspectorate does not pay attention to this aspect of education and further it where it can, we shall all lose out.