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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 10:

Leave out Clause 119.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we brought back this amendment on Third Reading because we were not satisfied with the defence of this clause which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made at Report stage and we wish to explore the matter further.

We still feel--and this is the fundamental reason for bringing this amendment forward again--that the failure to attach any sanctions to the making or keeping of home-school agreements will greatly weaken their effectiveness. That is the nub of this amendment, and why we are asking for the removal of this clause.

When the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, spoke, in essence he met this objection by laying emphasis on the theme of partnership. He felt that the ideals of the preceding clause, Clause 118, which defines the home-school agreements, would be better realised by the removal of any sanctions in Clause 119. In other words, as I understood the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, he saw the two clauses as a seamless whole, one putting forward the ideals, the other restricting sanctions and laying the emphasis on partnership.

I accept some of the noble Lord's defence in that I share his view that it should be laid down that a school should be hindered from making over-prescriptive demands on parents--he mentioned joining the parent teachers' association being a compulsory demand as one example. But where we part company is on Clause 119 which allows the schools little power over the enforcing of the agreements so ably defined in Clause 118, other than moral exhortation. They cannot--the noble Lord made the point very strongly--be used in any admissions procedure. At Report stage the noble Lord said that the Government strongly take the view that the attitude of parents to a home-school agreement should not be an element in the choice of pupils for a school.

Here we are beginning to touch on the nub of our objections on this side of the House. I remind noble Lords opposite about the ideals of the previous clause, which we all share. I emphasise that there is no argument between us as regards what is set out in Clause 118. That states what should be the essence of all home-school agreements. They should define a school's

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aims and values; they should define responsibilities with regard to moral, cultural and social development; and they should define parental responsibilities and a school's expectation of its pupils. We have no objection to that. It is a good and hopeful thing for education.

When we place those values in relation to Clause 119, one can imagine the relationship between parents, pupils and the school if, before the child enters the school, the parents say to the head teacher and the governors, "We reject this document. We do not like it". That document sets out the very nature of the school that the child is to attend. I put a question to the Government, to which I hope they can supply me with a satisfactory answer: how can that child prosper when, prior to admission, the parents feel that they do not like the ideals of the school and are not prepared to sign the home-school agreement?

Also implicit in the clause is that if parents and pupils fail even to try to fulfil the ideals of the home-school agreement no sanctions can be applied; it is an unfortunate accident. Thus a school could face a situation where it will have to deal with one section of parents who rejected the home-school agreement before the child entered the school and another section who pay scant regard to it. We have to face those extreme examples if we are to interpret Clause 119 as it appears on the face of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, did not meet those objections, which is why I have brought the matter back at this late stage of the Bill. Apart from exhortation, the school can do little about that. I suggest that that will reduce the value and effectiveness of the home-school agreement.

At Report stage the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, suggested that this amendment was specifically designed to satisfy the needs of the London Oratory School. I do not know why he said that. I know that the school is held in deep affection in the present Government, but I was surprised at the suggestion that we proposed an amendment purely in that school's interests. My children did not go there.

It is true that the Oratory uses these agreements to great effect and that is why the noble Lord's honourable and right honourable friends choose to send their children there. However, noble Lords opposite must remember that the Oratory School draws children not only from leafy and prosperous Islington, but also from the more difficult areas of Fulham and Hammersmith. The London Oratory has proved that enforceable home-school agreements are an important element in its great success with children from such areas.

That again touches the core of our argument. The purpose of removing the clause and allowing schools some sanctions over the keeping of home-school agreements is particularly directed at schools dealing with difficult children in difficult areas, often with irresponsible parents--parents who are not motivated by home-school agreements; who would not sign them and with whom the school has to deal. I remind the House again that Clause 119 can create a situation in which parents say, "No, we will not sign it. You have to take our child and, anyway, we will not keep the agreement".

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The areas which we are discussing and which I mentioned at Report--at which time I received completely unsatisfactory answers--are the difficult areas in which the school has to work in an environment where the parents do not share the ideology or the hopes of the school. Both noble Lords opposite and we on this side of the House are trying to raise standards and help children to realise their true potential, particularly those who suffer from disadvantaged housing and parents who are not ideal. When dealing with such situations, exhortation is not enough. Ideas of partnership, such as those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, can be at best wishful thinking and, at worst, mere rhetoric. I can assure noble Lords opposite that many head teachers in such areas--not only of the London Oratory School--have seen value in home-school agreements with some sanctions which allow them to transform their schools and fulfil the hopes of many of their children.

As I said at the beginning, I see the Minister's point with regard to schools not requiring agreements or making impossible demands. But I do not see that it follows from that that we should deprive home-school agreements of any teeth whatever.

This is the last time I shall speak before the Bill goes to the other place. In the course of 13 days the Government have not accepted either a comma or a full stop of what I have said; but this is their opportunity to show generosity, kindness and regard for my intellect, which has managed to see me through my life thus far so I hope that they can see it further now. If the noble Lord, Lord Whitty--a man who has seen a lot of life--sees the value of my argument, he could bring forward a new clause. God knows, he transformed the Labour Party; why not help the schools? That clause could ensure that schools do not make excessive demands on parents, yet allow the schools to demand compliance with the ideals and objectives they set out in their home-school agreements. That will be impossible if parents refuse to sign and object to such agreements before the child enters the school.

Surely, to a man who helped transform a political party, that must seem sensible. It cannot be too much to ask that we send this Bill back to the House of Commons with a lovely smell and a marvellous halo around it. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, mentioned a number of areas where successful sanctions have been imposed on those who do not keep the home-school agreements--that was the theme of his speech. Perhaps he can tell us what some of those sanctions are.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, the sanctions are that if one does not accept the home-school agreement, the child will not be admitted to the school. In fact, it has rarely had to be used. The strange thing that happens is that when this occurs, it is almost a missionary act in such areas. It is true that it is a tank wheeled on to people's lawns, but it makes a demand on parents before the child enters the school

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which, from what I have heard, makes the parents think. They see what the ideals of the school are and then follow them. It is saying, "If you do not do this, bad consequences will follow." The essence of what I am saying is that these are difficult areas in that parents have often not realised what is the ethos and what are the demands of the school. If schools say, "If you sign here, this is what is demanded of you", that has an effect in itself. I take the analogy of marriage. My marriage might not have lasted if I had been told, "It is only moral exhortation." But I was required to sign on the dotted line and be told, "'Til death do you part. Those whom God has joined together let no man put asunder". It does not work with everyone but it makes many of us think.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, perhaps I may just come back.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, this is Report stage.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I shall speak to the noble Lord after the debate.

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