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Mr. Coaker: I want to say a couple of things before I read out some information to the Committee. On amendment 46 and the idea of home-school agreements, there is an interesting debate around when a home-school agreement should finish. The maximum impact of a home-school agreement and parental involvement comes at compulsory school age. We have to judge whether a home-school agreement is as effective and necessary for students of 17 and 18. I draw the Committee’s attention to the maturity of those 17 and 18-year-olds. Notwithstanding the important parental involvement that we would expect to continue, part of what we are trying to achieve with education at that age is individual responsibility rather than parents always trying to support their children.
The hon. Member for Yeovil might disagree with me, but at what age is it appropriate to say that a young person has responsibility for their own education? We would always want parents to be involved, but is the correct way of doing so through a home-school agreement when a 17 or 18-year-old is in the sixth form? As for the age of compulsory education, while of course we want parents to be involved in the education of young people, part of their education experience is the individual responsibility that they should take for themselves. I know that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole always talks about the importance of listening to what young people say. The voice of young people is clear at the ages of 17 and 18. Of course, the involvement of parents is important, but young people always have the desire to be seen as responsible for themselves.
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I thought that the Minister would have heard my quiet comment that there would be issues other than the home-school agreement when a student was 18. A school might want pupils who were not fulfilling expectations in the sixth form to sign up to something, but such a policy would be difficult to undertake at about the age of 18, given all the work that they have to do generally.
2.15 pm
Mr. Coaker: This is an interesting discussion—
Mr. Laws: The amendment that the Minister is talking about is a Conservative one, not one that we tabled. What I said is that I was interested in his response. There are some interesting issues that arise between our expectations of pupils and of parents. We are not necessarily dealing with one unit. There is no reason why we cannot regard a young person as having reached adult age at 16 or 18, but we might still have some expectations of their parents.
Mr. Coaker: I know that it is a Conservative amendment. However, I have just heard the sound of retreat. I made my remarks because the hon. Gentleman appeared to be supporting the Conservative position. If I have misrepresented him, I apologise profusely. We are saying that home-school agreements should be for pupils of compulsory school age for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman gave.
The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton asked what would be laid out in home-school agreements. He will no doubt have read new section 109A(4), which lays out the sort of things that one would expect in a home-school agreement, such as the school’s aims, values and responsibilities and parents’ responsibilities. Sub-paragraph (d) mentions the school’s expectations of the pupil. That is the interesting part of the discussion, where there will be considerable differences between pupils and personalisation. It is about the school’s expectations of the pupil—their conduct and education.
I do not agree with the view of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton that schools ignore and do not want to teach knowledge—they want to teach knowledge and skills. Schools are about both those things, not about one to the exclusion of the other. They are both important parts of an education for young people.
Mr. Gibb: I am not talking about what schools want, but the general direction of this Government’s policy and of the education administrators who advise the Government. The general thrust of policy has been towards an outcomes-based education. The early years foundation stage and the revisions to the key stage 3 curriculum are all outcomes-based. When we come to debate clause 10 and go through the curriculum objectives in lesson plans, we will see that they are all outcomes-based objectives, and have nothing to do with curriculum knowledge, skills or development of literacy—they are all to do with broader outcomes. I think that that is a retrograde step, and the measure is part and parcel of that policy.
Mr. Coaker: That is an interesting point, with which most of the teachers in the country will disagree. They see that the way in which the curriculum is laid out ensures that we do things not at the expense of other equally important things.
Mr. Gibb: The Minister misunderstands me. It is not a debate between skills and knowledge in that sense. Of course, if someone is learning to read, they have to develop the skills of reading, and in maths, they learn the skills of maths. However, there is a division in the profession and in the public about the outcomes-based approach. That is what is so distressing about the Government’s centralising approach. They foist the method on the large number of teachers and head teachers who do not agree with that philosophical approach to education. That is why there is such hostility to a centralising approach to education out there, and what we have before us is part of that.
Mr. Coaker: It will be interesting to see what the hon. Gentleman does if he takes up that position on the teaching of phonics. I understood that he was very much in favour of central direction in respect of phonics. If he were schools Minister, it would be interesting to see how he responded if all the schools in the country decided not to teach reading by phonics. No doubt he will tell us that it is up to each individual school, even if they do not do phonics.
Mr. Gibb: The schools would be expected to use best practice, and they simply would not get their children—[Laughter.] That is the policy. All the evidence from the States, this country and Scotland shows that phonics is absolutely the best method of teaching children to read. Schools will not be able to pass the test that we are proposing unless they use best practice. If schools can teach children to read within several months using another method, fine; they are very welcome to do so. We can learn from that and the children will do well in the tests. However, if they do not use best practice, they will not get through the tests.
Mr. Laws rose—
Mr. Coaker: I think that the hon. Gentleman is about to intervene on me and say something about the interesting comment of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton.
Mr. Laws: Yes. Does the Minister think that the counter-proposal in the hon. Gentleman’s policy is that synthetic phonics should be compulsory or compulsory only if things go wrong?
Mr. Coaker: It was unclear exactly what the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton was saying. I do not intend to be disrespectful, and I mean it in the nicest possible way, but we all know that the hon. Gentleman is a fanatic about synthetic phonics. He believes with a passion that synthetic phonics should be used in all classrooms in every situation. He was chiding me about central direction. I hope that it never happens, but if he was Minister I wonder what his position would be if schools up and down the land rejected his approach. Would he say that that was fine and tell them to get on with it? Hopefully, he will not be able to make such a decision, but it is an interesting thought.
There will be an annual review of the home-school agreement, but the agreement will not necessarily be changed as a consequence. It is reasonable to require schools to review home-school agreement along with the individualised learning plan, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley describes it, once a year to see what progress has been made and to discuss it with the parent at the parents’ evening or whatever. Most parents sign home-school agreements and, if individualised learning plans were part of them, most parents would expect somewhere along the line—if the documents were to mean anything—to have a discussion about the progress that their son or daughter had made. It is reasonable to review the agreement at least annually, which will be the case for the majority of pupils. I put the caveat to the Committee again: just because the agreement will be reviewed annually, it does not mean that it has to be changed.
Mr. Gibb: Will the individual learning plans in the home-school agreements have a plan for each curriculum subject?
Mr. Coaker: The fact that the learning plan is individualised will mean that it will be put together in the best interests of the children in order for them to learn at the school. The priorities might be in different subjects or they might be behavioural objectives, but the words “individual” and “personalised” make it difficult for me to say what would be set out in each plan. The school would put something in the plan that was appropriate and relevant to the individual child. It would be discussed and agreed with the parents, reviewed annually and, as we know from discussions with parents, it would be popular and make a significant difference. With those remarks, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
Mr. Laws: I will move swiftly over amendments 45, 135 and 136 because I do not agree with what the Minister said about the degree of compulsion, and I might bore the Committee if I repeat my arguments about that now. We shall have a stand part debate in a moment.
The Minister was teasing me about amendment 46. I did not say that I supported it, but that I would be extremely interested to hear his reply to it. Given that he has tried to divide me from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, from whom I cannot be divided on any issue, I want to throw back at least a couple of matters. He said that, when young people reach the age of 16, they should be treated as adults and have no obligation to be part of the home-school agreement policy. But, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton pointed out, the participation age will go up to 18 from 16 under the Government’s plans, so I am unclear whether that changes the Minister’s view.
The Bill states:
“A home-school agreement lapses when the pupil to whom it relates...ceases to be of compulsory school age.”
When the participation age goes up, will the home-school agreements be extended up to 18 by default, which is what the Minister appeared to suggest might not be necessary? What are our and the Government’s expectations of whoever takes responsibility under a home-school agreement post-16? Is prime responsibility expected to transfer from the parent to the child? Should the child then be expected to sign the home-school agreement? We would not want that to be compulsory. Should they be taking over from the parent? Do the parents’ rights and responsibilities, as have been stated up until then in the home-school agreement, simply come to an end because the pupil happens to be at an age at which they start to acquire adult rights? Much of what is embedded in the home-school agreements is presumably about parents accepting the responsibility that they actually have. Do we really want them to drop all responsibilities simply because the young person has reached an age beyond 16?
In spite of the Minister’s teasing, there are questions that the Government must answer. I hope that there may be an opportunity today to tease out the solutions to those questions.
Mr. Coaker: Perhaps I will come back to that in the clause stand part debate.
Mr. Gibb: We have not had satisfactory responses from the Minister on any of the amendments. It is a huge burden on schools around the country to require them not only to produce bespoke agreements but to review each one every year, and potentially more than once a year if there are changes in the child’s circumstances. The Minister has not revealed an understanding of the burden that the clause places on schools already burdened by weekly missives from his Department, which head teachers and teachers are meant to read, absorb and apply.
The Minister has not answered the question about what happens after a child reaches the end of compulsory schooling. As the hon. Member for Yeovil pointed out, the ASCL Act 2009 extended the compulsory participation age to 18. Under that Act, from my memory of it, many responsibilities remain with the parents. It seems inconsistent for home-school agreement requirements not to apply until a child leaves school.
However, I do not intend to press amendment 45. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Laws: This is a terrible clause, as we explained on Tuesday. It builds on a policy that is already, according to the impact assessment, and in contrast to what the Minister told us previously, a complete flop. The home-school agreement is bureaucratic and not worth the paper it is written on, which is more or less a paraphrase of the impact assessment. The clause succeeds in making matters much worse. It imposes an obligation on every head and make agreements compulsory; it ensures that home-school agreements have to be personalised for every child; it obliges head teachers to review them annually, even if they think them a waste of time; it obliges every home-school agreement to be signed, even if that is considered a waste of time; agreements might or might not go up to 18—we will find that out shortly; and there might or might not have to be separate personalised agreements for different parents. It is a bureaucratic nightmare and a complete waste of money. The context in which we are debating the Bill is one in which every political party is considering what cuts it must make to services that are valued by our constituents. In that new environment, we should not be legislating for anything that will not make an impact for the better on the front line.
2.30 pm
We should bear in mind when called to debate measures involving additional costs, as the clause does, whether those costs are worth bearing in the current financial environment, considering all the other things that we want to fund. We should bear in mind the impact assessment and the Government’s own estimate that the clause will require schools to spend an additional half hour on bureaucracy for 7.3 million pupils, for gains that seem highly debatable. For all those reasons, I will seek to divide the Committee on the clause.
Mr. Coaker: We have had an interesting debate. I will make a couple of points before I make my more formal comments. With respect to the compulsory school age, we are trying to give ourselves a bit of time. The age of participation does not go up to 17 until 2013 or to 18 until—[Interruption.] It is 2013 for 17 and 2015 for 18; that is what I thought I said. In terms of considering how the measures relate to that, we will obviously need to consider—
Mr. Laws: Having teased me earlier about the issue, saying that it would not be sensible to extend the home-school agreement duty beyond 16, is the Minister now saying that that might be done?
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