Peers reject faith school quota plans

Peers last night voted down another attempt to force faith schools to take a quota of pupils from non-faith backgrounds.

Lord Baker’s amendment to allow local authorities to force new faith schools to take up to 25 per cent non-faith pupils was rejected by 119 votes to 37.

It was the third time the former Conservative education secretary had put a similar amendment to the education and inspections bill before the House of Lords, although both previous times he withdrew it before a vote.

Most recently, Lord Baker withdrew his proposals when the government signalled it would put forward its own quota plans. However, education secretary Alan Johnson scrapped these only a week later, saying religious schools should voluntarily mix their intake.

The government has instead proposed a new duty on schools to promote community cohesion, enforced by an inspection regime agreed with Ofsted, and this was backed by a majority of peers in a debate in the Lords last night.

However, Lord Baker accused ministers of having “abandoned their principle and their policy” and praised the archbishop of Birmingham, who had campaigned against the quota plans, for getting the government to “surrender without yielding an inch”.

His amendment was “in effect what the government’s policy was seven days ago”, Lord Baker said, noting it was “not about freedom of worship. . . what is at stake is the shape of our society in the course of the next ten or 20 years”.

The peer said the reports into the race riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford in 2001 had recommended new schools have 25 per cent of pupils from other races and religions, and highlighted surveys suggesting the majority of parents backed integrated schools.

Lord Baker was supported by Labour peer Baroness Massey, who said she did not believe all faith schools would keep to a voluntary pledge to take non-faith pupils.

“I fear that unless we are firm about our good intentions, we will see society splinter even further, and deny children the opportunity to enjoy all that living in multi-racial Britain offers,” she said.

Cross-bench peer Lord Skidelsky added: “Requiring Muslim schools to take 25 per cent non-Muslim pupils will be a continuous check on any tendency to extreme separation, which would otherwise become unchecked.”

However, independent peer Lord Alton said integrating the Muslim community in Britain would not be achieved by imposing quotas and questioned whether non-Muslim parents would, “in the present climate”, want their children to fill those spaces.

“We will see change through patience and generosity and by working with the Muslim community in this country,” he argued.

Conservative peer Lord Waddington added: “This amendment would not cure a social ill; it would create a great injustice.

“If new schools were required to take a given percentage of children of, say, non-Catholic parents, that would create a great feeling of injustice among those Catholic parents whose children were denied places which were given to the children of non-Catholic parents.”