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Mr. Coaker: Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. However, in the context of the discussion of the Bill, I am saying that given the changed circumstances—the rise in participation age in 2013 and 2015—it is only right and proper to consider whether that is the right thing to do. All that I am saying to the hon. Gentleman is that I think that there is an issue involving young people at school.
As we will see later when we come to the right to withdraw children from personal, social, health and economic education, there is a debate to be had about when young people are competent to take decisions for themselves and accept responsibility. That debate is difficult and serious. Home-school agreements are not insulated from that debate, but as the participation age will rise, the hon. Gentleman is certainly right to ask what difference that will make to home-school agreements.
Mr. Gibb: Given that we have already legislated to raise the participation age to 17 and 18, and that we in the House spent a lot of time doing so, it seems absurd to say now that we still have not considered the implications of that legislation for home-school agreements, given the link between the two. That seems to reveal poor policy development and a failure to consider the issue when officials drafted clause 4.
Mr. Coaker: The position is as I have stated. Clause 4 is important and will improve educational outcomes in this country.
Parents’ influence is crucial to children’s well-being, behaviour and attainment. It outstrips factors such as social class, ethnicity and disability for its impact in the classroom. Activities such as reading with children, talking to them and their teachers about what they are doing at school, helping with their homework, and discussing subjects and career options can make a difference.
Most parents want to help their children to do well at school, but many find it difficult to engage effectively with their children’s learning. Some parents might lack time or confidence in their own skills, or might not realise how they can help. Others might lack sufficient knowledge about what their child is doing at school or how they can help to reinforce the learning. Those who had negative experiences at school can often find it difficult to connect meaningfully with their child’s school. The Government are committed to helping parents and schools to become more effective partners in children’s learning and have set out a range of parental engagement commitments in “The Children’s Plan One Year On: a progress report”, which followed on from the White Paper “Your child, your schools, our future: building a 21st century schools system”, which was published in June 2009. We said that we would strengthen the legislation underpinning partnerships between parents and schools. The clause strengthens home-school agreements so that all parents understand better their responsibilities to follow the school rules, help their child to learn and support good behaviour.
All schools are legally required to have home-school agreements which, when used effectively, can establish trust and understanding between parents and schools. Most schools have generic whole-school agreements that parents are asked to sign once when their child is admitted to the school. They are not always regularly reviewed, so they do not always reflect properly changing expectations as children develop and progress through schools, and they do not outline the significant support parents can provide.
The new home-school agreements will build on the existing processes that all schools have in place for sharing personalised information on children’s behaviour, learning and wider well-being with parents, and they will continue to include the whole-school policies and strategies that all parents will be expected to agree to abide by. In addition, each child’s home-school agreement will be personalised so that it clearly sets out their key behavioural, learning and well-being goals and targets, together with the support the parents and school can reasonably be expected to provide to help the child work towards those targets.
Clause 4, notwithstanding our discussions on it, is an important part of the educational reforms that we intend to take forward, and it will help us to improve educational outcomes. I will always reflect on the points that hon. Members make to see whether more can or should be done, and to look the aspects of proposals that we discuss in relation to amendments. However, I think that, overall, clause 4 sets out an important objective.
Mr. Purchase: The Minister is making his case valiantly, and he is right to say that an important aspect of children’s welfare is their parents’ constructive involvement in their education. However, I honestly believe that the clause has not been thought through properly and that it has all the hallmarks of something that has been written by people without much life experience. His promise to reflect, cogitate and think again about how it might be made workable to achieve the excellent objective must be seen in the context of the vote on the clause, if there is to be one. I would like him to reassure me once more that he will rethink the outcomes of the clause as it stands and consider carefully how it might be made workable in the light of our discussions today and hon. Members’ experiences.
Mr. Coaker: Of course I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance, which I tried to give before made his intervention.
We have had a helpful debate. There are differences of opinion on one or two of the principles involved, but there is also a desire to ensure that the way in which we try to attain our social policy objectives is practical and workable.
I have taken several Bills through Parliament, and I will adopt the same approach for this Bill that I took for the others. One of the important aspects of parliamentary scrutiny obviously takes place on the Floor of the House, but the detailed, line-by-line scrutiny that takes place in Committee tests legislation and, in a way, aims to make it better. If amendments can be made without sacrificing the social policy objectives that we all want to achieve, which in this case is to ensure that all young people achieve the educational outcomes that they should and to involve parents in that as much as possible—because that helps—we will of course consider them.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, as it will save me from having to make a speech at the end.
In relation to the interesting issue of how long the home-school agreements will last, will it be possible for the Minister to update the Committee on the Government’s thinking about whether they will move upwards with the participation age before Report so that our debate can be informed by a clear understanding of their intentions?
Mr. Coaker: Of course that is one of a number of issues that has arisen, as has the practical consequences of having different home-school agreements for parents. I am sorry to repeat myself but this is such an important point for me. With the clause, my desire is to have something that is practical and workable. If we can deliver that, however difficult it is and whatever the challenges, we will be able to improve educational outcomes for young people in this country. I have already given a commitment to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East that we will reflect on the matter and take it forward. The hon. Member for Yeovil has raised a number of different points that I am happy to consider, and I will come back to the Committee in due course, if necessary.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 6.
Division No. 4]
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Flint, rh Caroline
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Linton, Martin
McCarthy, Kerry
Prentice, Bridget
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Brooke, Annette
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Laws, Mr. David
Loughton, Tim
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Wiggin, Bill
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Home-school agreements: parenting contracts and parenting orders
Mr. Laws: I beg to move amendment 137, in clause 5, page 7, leave out lines 1 to 3.
Clause 5 ties the discharge by parents of their responsibilities under home-school agreements to parenting contracts and orders under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. Amendment 137 is a probing amendment to explore the significance of local authorities and governing bodies being given responsibility in relation to the parenting contracts, because proposed new subsection (6A) of section 19 of the 2003 Act makes it clear that a parenting contract will impose a duty on the parent in relation to the discharge of the home-school agreement, but will also need to include a statement by the local authority or governing body that it agrees to provide support to the parent for the purposes of discharging those responsibilities. Although that is understandable, I want to test the Government’s expectation of the level of support that will be provided by local authorities or governing bodies and the circumstances in which that support is likely to be necessary.
I want the Minister to reassure us that in circumstances in which there are seriously negligent parents who have not been supporting the school or abiding by the home-school agreement, they will not simply be able to evade their responsibilities as a consequence of making an excuse about the support that the local authority or governing body is supposed to be giving under this provision. Clearly, the prime responsibility needs to be placed on the parents to abide by the home-school agreement. We do not want to create a system of policing the statements that allows people to unreasonably blame other agencies. Will the Minister explain the extent of the support that will be required under the proposal and the extent to which parents who are seen not to be delivering on their responsibilities will be able to argue for no action to be taken against them because the local authority or governing body has not given the support?
2.45 pm
Mr. Purchase: This is a useful probing amendment, and I want to explore what the Minister means and who is covered by the agreement and the statement by the local authority or governing body. In the case of academies, and possibly of foundation trusts, it might well be that the local authority has no locus whatsoever in the school. Therefore, it might not be able to offer its services to the individuals concerned because the governing body will take on the task, although it might be singularly unsuited to do so. Would a local authority have the right to intervene on behalf of the parent or child so that the child could get the full and proper counselling and assistance from the local authority to which a child in a community school would be automatically entitled?
Mr. Coaker: Amendment 137 would remove the duty on local authorities or school governing bodies to provide support to parents who had entered into parenting contracts following non-compliance with the behavioural expectations set out in their home-school agreement. I know that all hon. Members will agree that all children should be able to learn in an environment free from disruption. Pupils, school staff and parents share responsibility for ensuring that that is the case. All parents need to understand how they can help schools to manage poor behaviour in the classroom and what schools in turn will do.
Sir Alan Steer’s recent review of behaviour in school notes the fundamental importance of the engagement of parents in the education of their child, particularly when the child is experiencing or causing problems in school. To help with that, parents need to be able to understand how they can help schools to manage poor behaviour in the classroom. Once their child has been admitted to a school, parents will be expected to sign the home-school agreement every year, and they will face consequences if they fail to live up to the responsibilities set out in it. As long as the child behaves well and attends school regularly, no further action will be required.
However, a small minority of children can cause difficulties for schools and distress for teachers, and disproportionately affect the learning of other children in their class. Parents who do not fully understand their own and the school’s respective responsibilities can contribute to poor behaviour in the classroom. Clause 4 makes new provisions for the personalisation of home-school agreements that will allow schools to include behavioural and attendance concerns in the agreements as soon as they emerge, and outline parents’ responsibilities in helping schools to address them. If parents fail to adhere to the commitments that they have made to address those issues, and their child’s poor behaviour or attendance continues, the school can ask the parents to enter into a voluntary parenting contract. Clause 5 will amend the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 so that the personalised home-school agreement will form part of that contract, alongside any other action expected of the parent.
Parenting contracts are voluntary, two-way arrangements between parents and the school or the local authority, and the duty to provide support is dependant on which party signs the home-school agreement. We have not prescribed in legislation the type of support that a parent might require, and have left it to the individual local authority or governing body to decide. Our guidance on parenting contracts provides information on the type of support that could be provided to parents. It would be for academies to provide support to their pupils because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East knows, academies must have home-school agreements. It is also the case that we do not want people to evade their responsibilities in the way in which the hon. Member for Yeovil suggests. Citing parental support advisers or the offer of support as a way of trying to evade responsibility is not acceptable, and we do not want that to happen. However, we understand that some parents might need support to fulfil the obligations of a contract or the obligations that the home-school agreement sets out.
Whether children are in an academy or an ordinary school, there are parents who might wish to support them but struggle to do so. They deserve some additional support to help them fulfil the terms of the home-schools agreement. I realise—as, I am sure, do my hon. Friends and other members of the Committee—that there is a fundamental difference between parents who wilfully do not try to support their children in school, and those who go out of their way to support their son or daughter but, despite their best intentions, struggle to do so. I have met such parents, as I am sure we all have. They use all the different means at their disposal, yet there are problems with that young person.
In such a situation, despite all the efforts that that parent has made, it would be appalling simply to say, “You have failed to honour the home-school agreement.” In some circumstances—when a mother or father has tried everything possible to ensure that their child goes to school, and has worked with the school with respect to homework, uniform and any of the other issues—it is only right and proper to provide support. There is a clear difference between those parents and others who simply do not give a damn. It would be irresponsible for us to ignore that difference, because we have all seen it ourselves. We are trying to say that parents sometimes need support to deal with the problem.
Providing parental support is a good thing—not so parents can evade their responsibility under the contract, as the hon. Member for Yeovil suggested, but because sometimes people need support to be able to deal with such situations. As parents, I am sure that we have all sometimes experienced that difficulty ourselves. That is what we are trying to deal with. This issue is really important, and we try to make that distinction all the way through the Bill.
Sometimes people’s responsible parenting does not achieve the desired outcome. Those people need support and help—sometimes not from the state, but from friends. There are other people who do not really put themselves out and a parenting contract and then a parenting order is appropriate for them. We would not want to see those who try, but have difficulties, made subject to a parenting order. We want a parenting support adviser or other type of support provider to work with them to try to help with the difficulties they have had, and that is the purpose of the measure.
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