Schools told to promote integration of communities

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The Independent Online

All headteachers will be required to promote "community cohesion" under compromise plans agreed by peers to defuse the row over faith schools.

Schools inspectors will assess schools' efforts to promote integration between communities, and ministers will have powers to intervene if schools fail to comply, under the cross-party plans.

The compromise was agreed yesterday as peers debated an attempt by the former Conservative education secretary Lord Baker to ensure that all new faith schools accept at least a quarter of pupils from other religions or none.

Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education, was accused of executing the "fastest U-turn in British political history" last week when he dropped the plan after agreeing a voluntary deal to set aside places for non-church pupils in faith schools.

The Education minister Lord Adonis told peers that the compromise plans would "ensure that all schools are held to account for their contribution in this important aspect" of their work.

"The best and most effective way to promote community cohesion is to lay a duty to promote community cohesion on the governing body of all schools," he said. "This will, of course, extend beyond faith schools, whether new or existing, and will embrace all schools, whatever their admissions policy, which will make it more effective, we believe."

Lord Baker welcomed the move as a step in the right direction, but insisted that his attempt to establish quotas for non-faith pupils in religious schools was still needed. He told peers: "There would be no desire to stage Romeo and Juliet between a Muslim school and an Anglican school for every page of Romeo and Juliet is against the Koran. I suspect there won't be a great desire to stage a combined King Lear as filial devotion is not exactly what it ought to be. So I ask your lordships to be realistic about this."

Lord Ahmed, a Labour peer, said: "It's wrong just to target faith schools. If you go to Bradford, Leicester or Southall you will find state schools with 98 per cent or 99 per cent children from one community. Yes, community cohesion has to be taught and promoted, but in every school, and we all need to do it."

Lord Dearing, a former government education adviser, said: "I say to Lord Baker, I join with others in thanking him for promoting, nay provoking, this amendment, and I'm glad to hear support. This is the kind of thing we need faith schools and state schools to be doing." But he added: "There are Church of England schools which are predominately children from Muslim faiths and they get on and it works."