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The amendment should have referred to 20 per cent. of all parents rather than the parents who have expressed that wish. I am afraid the amendment does not work in the sense that the noble Baroness intends.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt. A petition sets a rather poor tone for the partnership between parents, the school and the governing body. We are all agreed--we always have been--on the importance of parental involvement in their children's education. I can say this in particular to my noble friend Lord Peston since we were involved together in these matters. I accept his excuse for not taking part in the Report stage; his reason for not doing so, as opposed to his excuse, was that there was a football match on at the time.
When on Report we debated an amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady David, we made it clear that the Government are committed to working with parents and to increasing parental participation. We are increasing that participation in other ways; for example, by encouraging parents to become more involved in what is happening in schools through, for example, our literacy strategy. We are increasing the number of parents on governing bodies; we are providing parent representatives on education committees; and we are involving parents through our proposals for home-school agreements. All of those changes implement commitments we made in our manifesto.
Of course we agree that parents should be consulted and have the opportunity to make their views known to the governing body. The changes I have already mentioned will mean that schools and governing bodies will need to develop new ways of working with parents. Governing bodies need to work in partnership with parents. By increasing the number of parent governors we hope to ensure that parents' views are firmly reflected within the governing body.
I am sure that head teachers will want to follow the advice of their professional associations. The Secondary Heads Association has assured us that it supports the establishment of representative associations of parents which have the objective of supporting the school and giving effective expression to parental opinion. The National Association of Head Teachers has also assured us that it is not opposed to parent associations. Indeed, the NAHT has done much to encourage home-school partnership. It pioneered the whole idea of home-school partnership agreements.
I accept that there may be a few head teachers who have not yet accepted the need to involve parents in the work of the school. However, the requirement for all schools to have home-school agreements, drawn up in consultation with all parents of pupils of compulsory school age, will encourage schools to work more closely with parents. Our guidance--I am able to say this for the first time--on home-school agreements will highlight the value of parents' associations. It will also include examples of good practice to encourage governing bodies to give parents a voice. The draft guidance will be issued for consultation this month and I look forward to suggestions from parents' associations on how the guidance can best address that issue.
I suggest to noble Lords who have spoken with great sincerity and passion that it is more sensible for this provision to be in the form of guidance rather than as a more authoritarian duty laid down on the face of the Bill. I do not suggest that there is a great burden involved. However, the principle of local determination which runs through the Bill means that it is more appropriate to make provision through guidance than by legislation. I am not convinced that there is a need to formalise the school-parent relationship through primary legislation in the way proposed. I hope that I have assured noble Lords that we are committed to working with parents and to increasing parental participation.
Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answer. He delights in pointing out to the House the inadequacies of my amendments. I heard mutterings under the breath to the effect that someone thought that that was a little petty. I appreciate that the Government have not been in power for a long time. However, when Members who are not lawyers or draftsmen did not manage to get amendments right the previous government were in the habit of being rather more generous than the Minister has been today. Giving that as a reason for refusing the amendment does not go down well with people outside the House. I made my intention clear in my introduction and I believe that everyone outside will recognise that.
I am disappointed. The Government have the support of a large number of people; they have a huge majority in the other place; and they appear to be popular in the country. I do not understand why they are so diffident about giving in to suggestions from anywhere other than their own Benches. That is a terrible shame.
The Government have stated how they want to work with people and that they want school standards raised. I agree with them, but some of the most important partners in that are the parents. The Government appear to be saying, "Yes, we want parents to be partners and to help us raise standards, but only where we say and on our terms". That is a terrible shame. Although the Government are popular, it sends a terrible message from a government who do not need to behave in that way. I do not believe that people outside will understand.
I am not convinced by the Government's argument. We have received support from all sides of the House, even from Members on the Government's own Benches, and I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.