Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 105:

Page 163, line 10, leave out ("proposed variation") and insert ("governing body's proposed variation or why they wish to proceed with their own proposed variation (as the case may be)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 106:

Page 163, line 47, at end insert ("or (4A)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 106A not moved.]

Clause 38 [Additional functions of governing body]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 107:

Page 33, line 22, at end insert--
("( ) The governing body of a maintained school shall have a duty to facilitate and give reasonable assistance to parents who wish to establish an organisation within the school to represent parents.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the aim of this amendment is to make it clear that parents can set up an organisation to represent them in a school and be able to look to the governing body, which is the policy-making body of a school, for reasonable assistance. When I moved this amendment in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that he would reflect upon it. I have since heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that she does not now like the amendment.

However, the Campaign for State Education (CASE) felt so strongly about the matter that I must put the amendment forward yet again, and hope perhaps to make the noble Baroness change her mind.

CASE stated:

    "[The Minister said] What is facilitating and giving reasonable assistance can be defined in guidance. [But] Guidance cannot give parents legal rights which are not in the law. For example guidance could make clear that when parents want to set up an organisation they should be able to expect that the governing body will allow them a room to meet and to use pupil post to invite parents. They should have some secretarial support and photocopying. The governing body would not be expected to initiate an organisation but if the parent governors wanted to set one up or a ... number of parents then it would be clear they could expect this support from the governing body as part of the duties of the governing body".

The Advisory Centre for Education is equally keen on this amendment. The Alliance of Parents & Schools stated in a letter to me:

    "It seems ironic that the Government states it welcomes more parental involvement yet seems unwilling to give parents support through legislation.

    "Many Headteachers and Governing Bodies still do not permit parent groups within schools. Many may allow groups with the proviso that its function is purely fund-raising and discussion on educational topics strictly forbidden. There is still a big divide between parents and schools where this attitude prevails".

2 Jul 1998 : Column 860

Those groups feel very strongly about this matter. I hope that the Minister may perhaps think again. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving us an opportunity to revisit her amendment seeking to establish an organisation within schools to represent parents. While I do not totally agree with the noble Baroness as to the need for yet another body, I recognise the thrust of her argument. She recognises the important role played in those links by PTAs and other bodies attached to a school.

I had in mind a different approach, one in which the governing body of a maintained school should have a duty to construct a mechanism for consulting all parents from time to time. That could well cover the setting up of pupil post/mail and a system of registering replies. It could consider issues such as changes to the school day; school uniform; school transport; parking problems; plans to open or close sixth forms, and many other issues on which the governing body or the head wishes to consult parents. I think we all agree that if parents are consulted they feel that they have a real say in what is going on within a school. Hence my hesitation to support fully the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady David; however, I acknowledge the thrust of her argument.

In responding to that argument in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, acknowledged that existing arrangements at school level are not always satisfactory. He also confirmed that annual parents meetings will be retained. However, as we know, parents meetings are not always well attended. Many of the matters to which I have referred are not encompassed in that way. I hope, on reflection, the noble Lord will be able to give a more positive response to the amendment.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Tope has added his name to this amendment. I wish to support the noble Baroness, Lady David. I ought to declare an interest. I have been a member of the Campaign for State Education. I must admit to being not quite sure whether or not I am a paid-up member at present. I have a feeling that my membership form is lying in a file somewhere among other matters that I need to deal with.

This matter is important. Those of us who are parents or have been governors of schools have sometimes observed the difficulty in particular schools of parents having their voice heard. At the end of the day, if a head teacher does not want you to be heard, he can make sure that you are not. The amendment seeks to ensure that that right is enshrined in legislation. That is the main difference between ourselves and the Government. Many of the Minister's remarks have indicated that the Government have understood, and that they want to involve parents. The difference lies in enshrining that right in law.

I know that some members of CASE feel that the Government are not quite clear as to how they see the role of parents. Sometimes they want them to be heavily involved and sometimes they do not. They are asking for parents to be involved in home-school agreements

2 Jul 1998 : Column 861

and so on; yet when it comes to the crunch will they be able to do other things properly in a school? It is important that parents who are trying to consult with other parents have a right to use facilities within a school. If you are a parent trying to communicate with other parents, one of the hardest things is not having access within a school to post or photocopying facilities. That makes such communication very difficult.

If the Government are serious about involving parents in raising standards in schools, this is one way in which they can give recognition to that and enshrine in law the right of parents to have access to a school, and to the teachers and head teacher.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I wonder whether I might encourage my noble friend the Minister to be somewhat sympathetic to the stance on this amendment. We all know the value of parents' associations--particularly in fund-raising and encouraging parental activity in school life. The most important role of many parents' associations is acting as a voice for parents' concerns about aspects of running a school. We should not under-estimate the inhibition felt by many parents about one-to-one meetings with a head teacher on matters of concern. Parents' associations allow such issues to be raised in a far more receptive atmosphere. Those concerns can then be passed on by the parents' association. Most heads and most school governing bodies recognise the value and role of parents' associations, encourage them and take part in their activities. But there are instances where heads do not encourage parents to come to the school and take part in school activities and where parents' associations are often seen in the same light, particularly if previously such a parents' association has criticised the actions of a head teacher.

If the governing body is also weak in such a situation, the head then has free rein to take that kind of attitude and there is very little that individual parents can do about it. Of course, it is those schools where parents are inhibited in raising their concerns where we need the most effective parents' association. But those are the schools where it is often most difficult to set up a parents' association or, if there is one, to get the kind of support it needs from the school.

It seems to me reasonable that the governing body ought to be given some responsibility for ensuring that there is an effective parents' association. If I were developing performance indicators to judge the performance of a school governing body, I would say, "Do you have an effective parents' association?" I hope that there will be some sympathy for the terms of the amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I also wish to give my support to the noble Baroness, Lady David, and her amendment. She is simply asking that where parents in a school wish to establish a parents' association, the governing body should have a duty to help them. That seems to me to be a wholly reasonable request. I still carry the scars from over 20 years ago

2 Jul 1998 : Column 862

when, with other parents in my children's primary school, I tried to set up a parents' association against the wishes of the head. He was quite adamant that he did not want any interference at all from parents. When we finally appealed to the local authority, they cunningly, as they thought, suggested to the head that he might ask parents to help raise money. He did so and we worked our socks off to raise a large sum of money for the school, thinking that now at last we had our foot in the door. When we presented him with the cheque for the money we had raised from our efforts at school fairs and teas and all the rest of it, he said: "Thank you very much. I'll now take the money away and discuss with my staff how the money is to be spent". We said: "Can't we have a say in it?" "Good heavens, no", he said, "It is a matter for me and my staff".

The memory of that experience makes me feel doubly supportive of the noble Baroness's amendment. I hope that the Minister will think again about the issue.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page