[back to previous text]

Mr. Coaker: To be fair, my hon. Friend is right to caution us against what might happen. He is right to point out that it is important that a wide range of bodies are consulted. My intention—I will read it into the record—is that all the people and bodies listed in the amendment are exactly the sort that I would expect to be consulted on any pupil and parent guarantee, so I do not think that the amendment is necessary.
The hon. Gentleman thinks that there are drafting problems and issues with which people might disagree, including many of the bodies that he included on the list. That is the whole purpose of the consultation. It is a 12-week consultation that started in the middle of January. After 12 weeks, people will come back to us with their views on the guarantees to ensure that the consultation is meaningful rather than just being one consultation followed by another. The hon. Gentleman is right that we should consult with a wide range of bodies. Consultation improves Government policy. Our current consultation is a real one, so I do not see any need for his group of amendments. I hope that with those reassurances he will withdraw his amendments.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. Perhaps I will get half or one third of a point for trying. Nevertheless, I will make the same point as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, albeit in a different way. There is a great difference between one Government wanting to consult in a particular way and future Governments wanting to consult in the same way.
There is also a big difference between two phrases that the Minister used in relation to the consultation. At the start of his reply, he said that the Government will consult with the list of bodies; later, in response to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, he said that he would expect the Government to consult with the bodies on the list. There can be a big difference between an expectation and what happens in reality. However, it has at least been put on record that the Minister accepts that those bodies—I assume that that includes the departmental Select Committee—should be consulted.
I regret that consultation on pupil and parent guarantees will not be re-opened after the Bill is enacted because the existing guarantees are very deficient and will be difficult to implement, but I accept that I have not changed the Minister’s mind.
Mr. Coaker: The results of the consultation will be taken into account and I suspect that there will be changes to the document on the basis of the representations that we receive. The point of a consultation exercise is to listen to what people say and to improve the documentation.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Minister for his clarification. Will he inform the Committee of the time scale for completion of the consultation, when we can expect to know the results and whether they will become available while we are scrutinising the Bill?
Mr. Coaker: Consultation began on 11 January and will run for a standard 12-week period. It will conclude at the end of March. It is difficult to say precisely when the results of the consultation will be published, and what will happen.
1.15 pm
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Complaints relating to pupil and parent guarantees
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Gibb: I have no comments to make other than to request that the Minister introduce the clause.
Mr. Coaker: I apologise to the Committee—I did not realise it wanted me to say something as a starting point for the clause.
The clause provides for the system of redress that supports pupil and parent guarantees by putting the guarantees within the scope of the parental complaints service created under the ASCL Act 2009. If pupils at maintained schools or their parents consider that they are not receiving an element of the pupil and parent guarantee, and have not been able to resolve the problem with the school and governing body, they will be able to ask the local government ombudsman to investigate. As the provisions of pupil and parent guarantees are so important, it is our expectation that schools and local authorities will take seriously their legal responsibilities to deliver the guarantees, and we expect almost all complaints to be resolved at school level, as at present.
By their very existence, the guarantees will drive improvements and schools will know what is expected of them. However, when a school or local authority does not deliver an entitlement to a child or parent, a guarantee without the possibility of redress is no guarantee at all. Pupils at maintained schools and their parents will already be able to complain about an act or omission by the governing body to fulfil a guarantee requirement by virtue of the ASCL Act complaints system. The clause will extend the complaints process to allow pupils and parents to complain about an injustice sustained by a pupil or parent as a consequence of a head teacher’s failure to comply with a requirement imposed by the pupil and parent guarantee.
The clause amends the Local Government Act 1974 so that pupils at maintained schools and their parents can make complaints about local authorities in connection with any functions they might have under the guarantees. As a consequence, a parent or pupil at a maintained school can make complaints to the local government ombudsman when there is an injustice to them resulting from a failure by the head teacher, governing body or local authority to comply with the requirement of the guarantees. The ombudsman will have the power to investigate complaints and reports, and make recommendations.
It is clear from our debates on clause 1 that redress is an important part of the guarantee system.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Home-school agreements for each pupil
Mr. Laws: I beg to move amendment 132, in clause 4, page 5, line 33, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
‘(3) The head teacher may not provide different parents of the same pupil with different home-school agreements.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 44, in clause 4, page 5, leave out lines 33 to 35.
Mr. Laws: Clause 4 takes us back to the debate on home-school agreements, which we touched on in Tuesday afternoon’s sitting. Because we had quite a wide-ranging debate, and because I assumed we would have a brief stand part debate, I will restrict my comments to amendment 132 and amendment 44, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. The amendments have a similar effect. They question whether it is really necessary for head teachers to have the discretion to provide different parents of the same pupil with different home-school agreements. I accept the spirit of much of what was said previously—we believe that schools and head teachers should have as much flexibility and freedom as possible. Our criticism of home-school agreements concerns central prescription and head teachers being told to do things even if they do not want to.
Amendment 132 is a probing amendment. It invites the Minister to tell us under what circumstances he thinks it would be sensible for head teachers to take the time and energy to provide different parents of the same pupil with different home-school agreements. It tests out, in the interests of parents, whether there is a clear benefit in two parents of one child being required to sign up to different agreements. Depending on the nature of the differences, parents who expect equality of treatment might feel aggrieved to discover that there are two separate home-school agreements. I want to hear from the Minister whether there is a clear justification for that particular freedom
in the Bill.
Mr. Gibb: Clause 4 replaces section 110 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 with new section 109A. Section 110 is left to apply to Wales only, which is nice for them because new section 109A changes the whole nature of home-school agreements, though not in a good way. I have rehearsed the arguments about the lack of effectiveness of home-school agreements, which is acknowledged by the Government, and I do not intend to rehearse them again now. The lack of effectiveness could be remedied by making the signing of a home-school agreement a condition of admission to the school. Again, I do not want to go over that argument.
Amendment 44 removes subsection (3) from the Bill. That subsection says:
“Where the head teacher considers it appropriate to do so, the head teacher may provide different parents of the same pupil with different home-school agreements.”
Not only is clause 4, in the words of the explanatory note,
“intended to increase the personalisation of home-school agreements”
for each child in the school, but some pupils may actually have two home-school agreements—one for each parent. Paragraph 15 of the policy statement says:
“HSAs must capture each child’s personalised goals and targets around learning, and the child’s wider well being. Instead of the whole school HSAs which currently exist, every child will have their own HSA, which sets out how schools, parents and children will work together to achieve both whole school and key personalised goals and targets; and which is renewed annually to reflect the child’s progress — from the time they enter reception until they leave secondary school.”
The subsection goes on to say:
“In some cases, HSAs will need to be reviewed more frequently”—
that is, more frequently than annually. Perhaps if a child has a stepfather or a stepmother, there will be more than two agreements as they will incorporate all the adults involved in the child’s upbringing.
As the Association of School and College Leaders says in its brief,
“it is unrealistic to require home-school agreements to be personalised for each individual pupil. Such a proposal will be wholly impractical in secondary schools, which may have over 1,000 pupils, and will consume a great deal of school resources.”
John Dunford said in his evidence to our Committee last week:
“A requirement that the home-school agreement should be personalised seems to place an impossible task on a secondary school with 1,500 pupils.”
The school is getting bigger, but so is the concern. Mr. Dunford continues:
“Surely a home-school agreement sets out the ethos of the school to parents, and to which parents should sign up. It is not a matter of negotiation between the school and the parent or the school and the pupil.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 17, Q25.]
Dr. Daniel Moynihan of the Harris Federation said:
“I think that home-school agreements are a good idea. The issue for me is that their personalisation seems completely unnecessary, and far too much effort and work. Heads should be working with staff to improve the quality of teaching and learning, not worrying about personalising the home-school agreement.”
That is why, no doubt, the Harris Academy at Crystal Palace was recently graded as perfect by Ofsted—some 99 per cent. of its pupils achieved GCSEs grade C and above, and the school has 2,000 applications for just 180 places every year. Dr. Moynihan continued:
“The thing that you want people to sign up to is the common approach to discipline, to pastoral care and so on. Those are things that are in common for the school. I think it is difficult to have home-school agreements that are personalised, because it is a common ethos that you want people to sign up to.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 34, Q45.]
Picking up the point made by the ASCL about the personalisation of home-school agreements consuming a great deal of resources, the impact assessment states that the policy will result in additional, mainly transitional costs
“from staff training...following implementation; and admin time to amend HSA templates.”—
all in all, £12.5 million, including just £127,000 to amend all templates in all 17,000 primary schools and 3,400 secondary schools. John Dunford was asked about the likely costs. His response was:
“I do not have a figure for the cost because it would largely be the time of senior staff in the school. As I say, in large schools, that would be massive.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 18, Q26.]
We need to get away from the idea of bespoke home-school agreements, which offends against the whole notion of the agreements. The amendment would take out the even more absurd position of a different home-school agreement for each parent of a child. The tailored lists of objectives and targets for a pupil to aim for in their academic work, personal development and sport should be matters between the pupil and their tutor or teacher, not a matter for home-school agreements.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): I would welcome it if the Minister clarified the meaning behind different parents of a child being provided with separate home-school agreements. Given our earlier discussion about whether parents will or will not sign the agreement and the consequences either way—if they do not sign it, or if they sign it but do not comply—how will the measure work in practice? I would have thought that in most circumstances, it is the resident parent with care who would be ultimately responsible. For example, if a child was playing truant from school, that would be followed up by the education and welfare officers and others.
1.30 pm
If the motivation behind the measure is a recognition that, in today’s world, unfortunately families break down, but both parents still want to be involved in and contribute to their child’s education, I understand it. Where it is appropriate, providing information about parents’ evenings or school report cards to the non-resident parent is worth while, with the caveat that there can be particularly sensitive issues if the non-resident parent does not have custody, or if there is a protection order for the resident parent and the children—I have known such cases myself, and it can create many difficulties. When a non-resident parent asks for information, there can sometimes be a wider story of concern that makes it quite difficult, undermining other injunctions against that non-resident parent.
I would welcome clarification of the purpose of subsection (3). Will the Minister say, as he has in earlier debates, that he will consider the wording and what it might mean? I cannot see the reason anywhere in the statement or explanatory notes.
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