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Lord Dormand of Easington: I should first make an apology for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I was held up by an unexpected visitor. I should like to say how much I agree with the principle under discussion. However--and I suspect that this may have been stated before I entered the Chamber--what does one do about parents who are not in the slightest bit interested in school? I believe that most of us have been involved in such a situation in one way or another. After all, they are the people who ought to benefit most from such an agreement.
Baroness David: My noble friend may not have been present in the Chamber when I spoke. If he cares to study the SHINE project, which is working with two schools in Lambeth and Wandsworth, he will see that it has been most successful in involving the parents of children who are perhaps causing trouble at school. Indeed, it has gone in and talked with them and encouraged them to be involved with the school. It is indeed possible. I believe that I have made it clear that I do not like the word "agreement". I said that I believe the Government have decided that they do not want the parents to sign an agreement about admissions, or whatever. That would have been a great mistake. It is possible to get parents involved if the process is worked upon carefully.
Lord Tope: In a sense the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, has given another reason for our concern about the concept of the agreement. As I and my noble friend have said, one of our concerns is that the whole intention of agreement is legalistic. As the noble Lord nearly pointed out, one of the problems with that is that it is unenforceable. For example, what do you do with a parent who will not sign such a declaration for whatever reason, whether it is disinterest or something stronger? I hope that we will not be refusing admission to the child. I assume that that is so; indeed, I know that that is not the intention. In such a case, the declaration then becomes devalued and other parents will wonder why they should sign such a declaration when someone living down the road will not.
I suggested to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that the difference between our amendments and hers was more than a difference of words. I know she has accepted that fact. It is not just a matter of "policy" being a kinder word than "agreement". It is actually a wholly different concept. I see that the noble Baroness is nodding her head in agreement. Our idea of a home-school link, a home-school policy, is that it is something which is developing and something which is worked upon. All of us readily acknowledge that it will be much easier to work with some parents and some pupils than with others. Indeed, for some it may well be a very long process and, sadly, it may never be successful with a few.
However, because it is a policy rather than an agreement and because it is ongoing and developing, we believe that it has much more chance of success and much more chance of being binding. In any event it is a much more positive approach in an atmosphere of mutuality between all the partners in the process rather than something which, in essence, is imposed. That is
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I shall begin by saying how much I respect the provenance of these amendments. I have not read all of the briefing which noble Lords from the Liberal Democrat Benches have quoted, but I have read that from the "Campaign for State Education". In particular, I have read the letter which appeared in the Independent on 11th March this year from all the people who have been quoted in this debate, and more. They include the general secretaries of all of the teaching unions. Clearly, there is a wide consensus on the objections to individual agreements and there is a wide consensus that home-school policies should be in place--and that includes the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. I am grateful for that.
However, I still have to say that I believe noble Lords are mistaken because I believe they have misinterpreted what is actually said in Clause 103. The whole of the argument from the Liberal Democrat Benches seemed to suggest that there was some alternative between a home-school agreement and a home-school policy. That is not our intention. We all agree that home-school partnerships are vital. We all recognise that parents are a child's first and enduring teacher. They play a crucial role in helping their children to learn. Children achieve more when school and parents work together. Clearly, all schools should have a home-school policy. Reviewing the home-school policy will be an important starting point when drawing up and then consulting on home-school agreements with parents.
Let us look at Clause 103 in more detail. I believe that it makes our position clear. First, there is no intention on the face of the Bill--and, indeed, it does not happen--that the content of a home-school agreement should be statutory. Subsection (2) says that the agreement is a statement specifying,
That does not specify on the face of the Bill the wording of the agreement: it says, in very minimal terms, who the participants are in this home-school agreement--namely the school, the parents and the children. What could be fairer than that? The amendments of the Liberal Democrats would not remove that aspect. We are not trying to be dirigiste about this at all. We are outlining the scope of the home-school agreement. We are not saying that this is a one-off thing to substitute for a developing home-school policy. Clause 103(7) states,
Therefore there is provision for ongoing consultation. I do not know whether that conflicts with other people's ideas of stability, but it accords with my ideas of the way in which schools and parents should be thinking all the time about the nature of their mutual responsibilities.
I do not think that any of those who have supported these amendments have recognised that what they want from a home-school policy is achieved in Clause 103 of the Bill. If the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, will forgive me, I shall not comment on the points he made about admissions as that matter is covered in Clause 104, which is not the subject of these amendments. There are amendments to Clause 104 which we shall discuss later.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: What is different about what we are proposing? It is not that we are not doing all the things that other Members of the Committee want; we are going a little further. It was a manifesto commitment to introduce agreements between all schools and parents defining the responsibilities of each. Home-school agreements will play a major role in encouraging schools and parents to work together to ensure that children make the most of their schooling. The agreement will clarify each side's expectations. As I have said, it will explain the school's aims and values, the respective responsibilities of the school and of parents, and what the school expects of its pupils. All agreements should include expectations on the standard of education, the ethos of the school, regular and punctual attendance, discipline, homework and the information that schools and parents will give to each other. But that is not on the face of the Bill, nor should it be.
However, it is important that parents should be clear about their rights and responsibilities and what they can do to support and help their children. I suggest to the Committee that the way to ensure that the policy is not simply put on a shelf, behind the clock, in a file or somewhere else, is to ensure that this agreement is taken home and is signed. That is the difference between us and those Members of the Committee who have tabled these amendments. I venture to suggest that, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, the difference between us concerns how we achieve what we want rather than what we want, because we are in agreement about that.
I do not need to spell out what kind of parents and what kind of pupils we are talking about in these cases. There clearly will be occasions when it will be absolutely impossible, unreasonable and legalistic to try to secure an agreement. There will clearly be cases where parents do not care or are absent. There is the matter of children in children's homes. However, as I said, we are not being rigid about this. My noble friend seeks to remove from the Bill the subsections which allow flexibility on this matter. I do not think that is wise.
Amendment No. 238 in the name of my noble friend Lady David would remove the provision which enables the Secretary of State to make regulations providing who, in addition to parents, governing bodies should consult. While we share her conviction as to the importance of full consultation, we believe that the Bill's existing provisions already ensure that. We do not want to place a requirement to consult staff and pupils on the face of the Bill. We believe that that should be dealt with in guidance. We intend to issue guidance which will encourage a school to consult with staff and pupils.
Lest my noble friend should think that I am antagonistic towards her on this point, as a chair of governors in a comprehensive school I had pupil governors elected to the governing body. That went on for several years until we were told that it had always been illegal. We therefore had them come into the meetings informally. We had an A and B agenda, which is perfectly possible. It worked very well. Indeed, my younger son became a pupil governor, and then a governor, of his college of technology. In that way, pupils learn citizenship. I am strongly in favour of involving pupils. There is no disagreement between us as to the objective; it is simply a matter of what appears on the face of the Bill and what does not.
My noble friend then spoke to Amendment No. 244. The proposal in that amendment represents good practice and is to be encouraged. It happens in good schools. There is nothing to prevent pupils being consulted anyway on home-school agreements. It would merely seem too dirigiste to have that provision on the face of the Bill.
My noble friend said, puzzlingly, that the word "pupil" does not appear on the face of the Bill. A quick count indicates that Clauses 1, 4, 6, 15, 38, 40, 61 to 65, 67, 68, 81 to 83, 87, 88, 91, 96 and 103 contain that reference. Our objection is not that we are in any way
Lord Northbourne: Before the noble Lord sits down, in the context of his remarks regarding three partners--the school, the parents and the pupils--would it not be appropriate for pupils also to be asked to sign this agreement on school policy, subject to age and understanding. That would have two favourable results. It would encourage pupils to take responsibility for their own behaviour and it might encourage parents to be helpful in that respect.
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