Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I thank noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for his unfailing support. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton. It is very interesting to have the other perspective as well. I am glad that he feels that this kind of amendment would have the spin-off effect of helping the people that he was concerned about.

I very much thank the Minister for her reply. If we were playing stone, paper and scissors and it was club, rapier, steel and honey, none of them have any power against honey and we should be stuck.

The noble Baroness was very supportive of identifying and meeting special needs. She said that there would be additional support. At Second Reading she said that the guidance was in place and that there was also the Disability Discrimination Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who is in her seat, will know very well that although the guidance was beefed up a little in 2003 in that the head teacher had to inform parents about the advice line, which the noble Baroness kindly put in place last year, the rest of the guidance has not really changed since 1999 in terms of making every effort not to exclude a child and to make sure that the special educational provision is in place. The examples that were given of continuing problems with children with special educational needs have arisen since the guidance was issued. It has been in place for five years now.

The Minister also mentioned the Disability Discrimination Act. That is welcome, but it is much better not to go down that road of confrontation if we can possibly avoid it. So I would welcome tremendously her making it crystal clear that there should be a great deal of support for the parents. I very much hope we shall be able to see that before the Bill has finished its passage.

This has been a very useful debate. Guidance is fine, but guidance changes, as we know. So it is very useful to have the noble Baroness's extremely clear statement in Hansard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 83:


11 Sept 2003 : Column 537

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 83, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 86, 94, 95 and 97. The amendments propose that the words,


    "or governing body",

be removed from all responsibilities relating to the issuing of parenting contracts. From these Benches, we are anxious that all parenting orders or parenting contracts should come, as at present, from the local education authority and via the education welfare officers of those authorities. In that sense, our amendments go in the opposite direction from Amendments Nos. 87 and 93 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, which seek more involvement from schools and head teachers.

We do not deny or underrate the role of the school in such circumstances, but we are anxious to leave the relationship between the teachers, the head teacher, the governing board and the family concerned as voluntary and supportive rather than being seen as authoritarian in any respect.

We have talked about the impact of parenting orders. Experience with parenting orders and youth offending teams has shown how important is the voluntary relationship. I shall say more about that when we consider the issuing of fixed penalty notices. By putting governing bodies in the hot seat, which often effectively means putting the head teacher in the hot seat, as in such circumstances many governing bodies are actually acting on the advice of the teacher, we break down that voluntary relationship and risk losing the benefits that stem from it. We also risk bringing violence and vindictive behaviour from the family concerned, who may feel aggrieved and insulted by the parenting order, especially if it is given publicity within the school itself and the school community.

One issue that I should like the Minister to clarify is the relationship that the Government envisage between parenting orders—parenting contracts—and home-school contracts. It is now good practice for schools to have home-school contracts with parents. That applies to all parents. We are entirely behind that. They are clearly contracts between parents and the governing body and teachers of the school. We recognise that and consider them to be totally different and do not want them muddled up. For that reason, it is much better to leave it to the local education authority to take the stick—it should be seen to be the hard guy who imposes and requires parenting contracts—and leave it to the school to act as the soft guy with the soothing tone, urging the family to live with the contract and make as good a job of it as they can. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, I have tabled three amendments which are grouped but which fly in somewhat the opposite direction to hers. That is good and bad, but it is as well that we should discuss the options. We take the view that if parenting contracts are to work, they will do so above all else because the school is involved. Teachers will need to be involved and school resources will need to be

11 Sept 2003 : Column 538

committed to a degree because I do not see where else the resources will come from. We therefore think that the head teacher should be committed and virtually in control, rather than the LEA. After all, it is the school that will have identified the problem; it is the school that will have had to deal with it before we reach this stage; and it is the school that will have to deal with it after the parenting order has ceased and become a matter of history. For those reasons, we have tabled Amendments Nos. 87 and 93.

I must say that I do not like the idea of placing yet another burden on already hard-pressed teaching staff in schools or on headmasters, who already have quite sufficient responsibilities with which to deal. But the idea that the LEA will establish an extra-curricular school for recalcitrant or incompetent parents is preposterous. It will not happen like that. We must ensure that schools are thoroughly involved, and that perforce means the involvement of the head teacher.

Amendment No. 98 reverts to a theme to which I have already spoken and which I shall not repeat, which is changing "must" to "shall". I do not intend to say any more on that; we had the debate once and there is no point having it again. I am sorry that I did not pick this up, but it would have been better if we had grouped all those amendments together so that I could have been clubbed over the head just once.

I am sorry that we take a different view from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, but we are addressing the same subject and have the same concern; it is just that our methods are different. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The fact that we have amendments going in two opposite directions tends to make me believe that the Government have probably got it about right.

Amendments Nos. 83, 86, 95 and 97 collectively seek to remove the power for the governing body of a relevant school to enter into, or exercise any power in relation to, parenting contracts. It is very important not to conflate parenting contracts with parenting orders. On several occasions the noble Baroness spoke about parenting orders. But parenting contracts come before parenting orders and are entered into on a much more voluntary basis.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was therefore right to mention home-school contracts, which are entered into by schools, in accordance with best practice, with all parents. They set out the guidelines on how the school expects the parents to behave and the sorts of services that parents expect from the school.

I am sure that the noble Baroness will know that, in addition, it has become in accordance with good practice for many schools to have a procedure into which they engage when a child is causing, or suffering from, some form of difficulty, particularly where the child is disruptive. It has become increasingly common for the school to enter into an informal agreement with the parents as to how they should address those difficulties.

11 Sept 2003 : Column 539

Parenting contracts are very much at the formalised end of such arrangements, where a child has got into difficulty, is playing truant or causing difficulty as a result of behaviour in the school, and the school seeks to engage with the parent to address those issues.

The noble Baroness will know that disruptive children quite often have two different types of parents: those who are greatly concerned about their child's misbehaviour and are extremely anxious to engage with the school in those remedial steps, and those who fail even to identify that it is an issue with which they will engage. With the former, it is always easier to enter into a more informal, sometimes slightly less structured, arrangement than with those who do not immediately see that there is an issue.

The amendments that the noble Baroness seeks to make would mean that parenting contracts would apply only in cases where the education authority had become involved in a case and thought it appropriate to enter into a contract with the parent—effectively limiting the use of parenting contracts to only the most severe case of poor behaviour or attendance.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: As I understand it, Clause 19 applies where a pupil has been excluded on disciplinary grounds from the relevant school. Therefore, almost by definition, the local education authority is already involved in the disciplinary hearing.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page