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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: There is no reason why home-school agreements should not be drafted on that basis. It is merely that we do not want to impose it. Also, we do not want to become involved in definitions such as what is appropriate for the age and understanding of pupils.

Baroness Maddock: I thank the Minister for his long dissertation on the amendments and for pointing out our similarities of view. I was not entirely convinced at the end of his remarks. My feeling is that one reason some of us are slightly concerned about these agreements has to do with the words of a Minister in the other place, Mr. Jack Straw. His comments made me slightly worried. Given the remarks made tonight by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, I feel rather happier. However, there are still problems.

The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and our own amendments in a sense have the same effect and the same aim. It is a matter of involving teaching and non-teaching staff in a school, and pupils and parents, in trying to achieve agreement on school policy. Our amendments go further in emphasising the continuous and developing nature of the policy. Most noble Lords who spoke agreed that that was a good idea.

I, too, was slightly concerned that if people did not sign the agreements, it could be used in order not to have certain children in a school. I am glad that that point has been clarified. It is important to be clear that this is not a basis for refusing children admission to school.

However, I still have a problem with the idea of signing. If we are saying that there will still be those who will not sign the agreement, why do we set ourselves up to do something that we shall not be able to achieve? That was what worried many of us and others outside this place who have supported us in these amendments. We are all concerned about the true meaning of partnership; namely, that agreement is reached together. It is not imposed. I think that we are all agreed on that.

We shall have to read carefully what has been said in the debate and consult carefully with those who have in a sense been working with us on trying to clarify exactly what will happen in relation to this proposal. We may

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return to the matter at a later stage. Before I withdraw the amendment, perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady David, wishes to speak.

Baroness David: Perhaps I may make one comment. I certainly admit to being guilty of exaggeration in relation to the word "pupil" not being on the face of the Bill. Of course, it is. The point is that it is not provided on the face of the Bill that pupils should be consulted in deciding the policy. For instance, Clause 103(5) states:

    "Where the governing body consider that a registered pupil at the school has a sufficient understanding of the home-school agreement as it relates to him, they may invite the pupil to sign the parental declaration".

I do not think that that is quite enough. We want pupils to be consulted about the best method of deciding the school discipline code, the way of behaviour, and so on. That is not on the face of the Bill at any point. I should like to see pupils being brought into the discussion early on. I hope that the Government could sometimes be a little flexible in responding to real anxieties with regard to this area. I think we shall have to come back to this issue at the next stage of the Bill. I hope that in the meantime the Government will give consideration to the matter.

Baroness Maddock: I support the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady David. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 235B to 235E, 236, 236A, 237, 237A, 237B, 238, 238A and 239 not moved.]

Clause 103 agreed to.

Clause 104 [Supplementary provisions about home-school agreements]:

[Amendment No. 239A not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 240:

Page 80, line 9, at beginning insert ("Unless any such arrangements were in force on 1st January 1998,").

The noble Baroness said: In the absence of my noble friend Lord Lucas, I shall move the amendment on his behalf. The amendment refers to subsection (4) of Clause 104. A good deal has been said about home-school agreements. It is interesting that the right honourable Lady, Miss Harman, and the right honourable gentleman, the Prime Minister, no less, are signatories to home-school contracts, it being a condition that, if they do not sign a contract, their child cannot attend the school. It is a binding contract. That is outlawed by subsection (4). At Second Reading, or certainly very early on in our deliberations, I asked the noble Baroness whether the home-school contract which was in operation at one school, at least, the Oratory in London, and maybe at a number of other schools too--because the Oratory cannot be the only school in the country to have a home-school contract--would be outlawed by the Bill. We now know the answer. I have

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read the Bill more carefully since I first asked the question. Subsection (4) states:

    "Neither the governing body of a school to which section 103(1) applies nor the local education authority ... shall--

    (a) invite any person to sign the parental declaration at a time when the child in question has not been admitted to the school".

In other words, they may not make it a condition of admittance to the school. Paragraph (c) provides that neither the governing body nor the local education authority can,

    "make any decision as to whether or not to admit a child to the school by reference to whether",

they have signed the declaration. Fine words were spoken to the previous amendments, but it seems to me mean spirited, where these measures work, and have worked very successfully, to prevent them. My noble friend's amendment, which I would have supported had he been here, simply says that,

    "Unless any such arrangements were in force on 1st January 1998",

subsection (4) applies. In other words, the position that applies at present shall be allowed to continue and from here on schools are bound by the measures contained in the Bill.

It will be interesting if the Government persist in invalidating the contract system that works in at least one school of which the Prime Minister has first-hand information. In that school it works exceptionally well. My understanding--I may be wrong--is that the Prime Minister is not aware that the measures in the Bill will have this effect. I believe that he will be quite surprised. The debate tonight may bring the matter to his notice.

I hope that the amendment will be accepted by the Government. It is a modest amendment. It simply freezes those arrangements that were in place up to 1st January 1998 and allows the Government's measures to take effect thereafter. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I refused to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, when he anticipated amendments of this sort and I am therefore duty bound to respond properly. The noble Baroness is quite right. The provisions in Clause 104 prevent the use of home-school agreements in the admissions process. They do so uncompromisingly and, unless this amendment were to be accepted, they would apply also to existing agreements.

We do not believe it is right--this is a fundamental statement of principle--to allow admissions authorities to base their decisions on whether a parent has signed or is willing to sign an agreement. We uphold the principle that an admissions authority should not be able to attach conditions when making the offer of a place. It cannot be right to deny a child a place because his or her parents are unwilling to sign the home-school agreement. The interests of the child must come first, not the willingness or otherwise of the parent to sign a home-school agreement.

Once a child has been admitted to a school it is right to expect parents to sign a declaration that they acknowledge and accept both their responsibilities and

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the school's expectations of their child. Of course, we anticipated that either the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would refer to the case of the London Oratory. I do not deny that that is of both political and educational importance. I have looked at the missions statement of the London Oratory from its prospectus. I have it in front of me now. It contains a whole range of requirements setting out the priorities which will be given to those accepted into the school.

As all Members of the Committee will be aware, it is a good school; it is a successful school; and it is significantly over-subscribed. Priority will be given first, to practising members of the Roman Catholic Church. It goes on to say,

    "The places available will be offered to the most suitable candidates and the decision will be made in the light of the following factors: whether the boy comes from a family in which the Catholic parent or parents are practising members of the Roman Catholic Church; acceptance by the parents and boy of the conditions under which the boys are admitted to and allowed to remain in the school; acceptance of firm discipline and the school regulations; commitment by the parents and by the boy to 11-18 schooling and an undertaking to remain at the school for sixth form".

Other factors include the child's record at the previous school, interest in extra curricular activities and whether there is a brother or sister at the school. There is a whole series of criteria which a successful, over-subscribed school has been able, perfectly legally under DfEE Circular 696, to apply to its admissions policy. In this clause and in resisting this amendment we say that the willingness or otherwise of parents to sign a home-school agreement should not be one of those criteria. We do not believe that the opportunity for a child to attend that or any school should be affected by the willingness of the parents to sign a home-school agreement. For that reason, we resist the amendment.

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