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Baroness David: Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord just so that he might read the amendment and so that he knows what it really says. Amendment No. 244 says:

Probably a child of three or four would not be consulted.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I accept the noble Baroness's correction. But it is on the face of a Bill. Who would decide "understanding" and so on? The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said that she wants flexibility and understanding on each side. I am worried about entering into detail on this. I agree in principle. We are now in a deep educational discussion. Fortunately we are free of the arguments of earlier in the afternoon. But it is a more complicated issue than can be developed in the clauses of a Bill. I would agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, on one hand, but I am torn. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, that of course children need rights. I do not want courts to make decisions in relation to parents of, for example, a child of eight, who objected to a school. On the other hand, I want headmasters to be able to work out good agreements with parents. Home agreements are a great development. But the understanding of a child and such matters may raise legal complications and I am quite worried about the whole issue. Contrary to my confidence earlier this afternoon, I am now in a state of angst over this matter. I believe that it may create a

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number of educational problems. Stipulating the age of the child will not solve the problem. Once a provision is placed on the face of the Bill, it becomes a matter for lawyers. All you need is a litigious parent and you are in trouble. Therefore, for once, the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, has my heart.

Lord Northbourne: Accepting as I do some of the criticisms of the amendment made by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, nevertheless it is important that the Government should indicate--if not on the face of the Bill, as least in guidelines--their support for pupil involvement in these decisions. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, chaired a commission on discipline in schools about 10 years ago. I remember him telling me--and indeed, I remember reading in the report--that one factor as regards which there was a consistent relationship with good behaviour was the schools where pupils were in some way consulted and involved in the behaviour policy. The involvement of pupils enables them not only to hear some of their concerns being considered but it enables them also to take ownership of the policy. I hope the Government will take that on board.

Lord Tope: I am distressed to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has been caused angst by all of this but he is right to say that we have at last moved out of the party political arena into the education arena. I thought that that was an interesting admission from the Conservative Front Bench, and it is a very accurate one.

I am certain that we are all in favour of partnership. The issue that we are discussing is how best to achieve it. I am quite certain that the noble Baroness, Lady David, desires the same outcome as does my noble friend and I. There may be slight differences as to how we wish to get there, although I was grateful to the noble Baroness for saying that she preferred our word "policy" to the word "agreement". I suggest that the difference between those words is rather more than just a difference between words. The whole point is that a policy is something which is discussed and developed through mutual agreement and is ongoing. The word "agreement" at least implies and usually means something rather legalistic and fixed. I know that that is not what the noble Baroness was talking about.

My noble friend Lady Maddock gave a trailer of what I was going to do at this stage. I have received quite a number of letters in support of our amendments and in support of the developing partnership in the way that my noble friend explained it. Rather than repeat what other members of the Committee have said, I wish to quote from some of the letters that I have received. I have received letters, perhaps not surprisingly, but very valuably, from CASE--the Campaign for State Education--and the Alliance of Parents and Schools. I have received a letter from the UK Education Forum which said among other things, that,

    "we have been vigorously opposed to the notion of a signed home-school agreement, believing this is not the way to encourage the cooperation of parents".

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I have received a letter from Family Education and Playwork making similar points. I have received another letter from NASUWT which stated:

    "There is little doubt that if the latter requirement",

that is, the requirement for the agreement,

    "is allowed to stand it will impose an additional administrative burden on already hard-pressed schools and could create division rather than partnership between school and parent".

I have received a three-page letter from the Parent Teacher Association of Wales. I wish to quote from that at greater length because it develops the argument contained in all the letters. I begin with an extract from the letter which will encourage the Government to listen. The letter states:

    "We fully endorse the priority afforded by the Government to education, and were heartened by the priority afforded immediately to education standards, and to the positive recognition in the White Papers that partnership between all those involved in schools would be an essential condition to achieving progress".

I am sure that I now have the attention of the Front Bench with an opening like that. The letter goes on to state:

    "However, we strongly disagree with the proposal that schools need to be required by law to have home-school agreements, in conjunction with a 'parental declaration' to be signed by every parent".

The letter continues:

    "The imposition of agreements will not improve relationships, will confuse existing arrangements, and will alienate the vast majority of supportive parents".

It goes on to state:

    "We therefore would like to see these clauses amended to reflect the true meaning of partnership ... We believe that it would be far more open and effective for representative Home-School Associations ... to agree jointly a home-school policy, after open discussion and consultation".

The letter continues in that vein.

I quoted that at some length because I thought it encapsulated very well the sense and meaning not only of what we have been saying this evening but what all the other letters that I have received meant to say.

I do not believe that the Government will accept our amendments this evening. But I hope they will consider this matter seriously. As I said, we are all in favour of partnership and the question is how best to achieve it. For the first time today we have here a consensus on all sides of the Committee. We have had strong representations from responsible organisations concerned with schools, with parents and pupils. I should like to think that by the time we reach Report stage, we should all--and if the Government cannot, the rest of us perhaps can--get together to achieve a better way of arriving at the outcome which we all want but which most of us believe will not be achieved if we follow the proposals contained in the Bill.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Perhaps I should enter into this very complex area. My position and the position of my colleagues is that we believe in home-school agreements. The problem is the relationship between the parent and the school. There is a difficulty with what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said,

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and this is where I may part company from him. If a school, with its parents and governors, agrees a home-school agreement, then the next clause which we shall be discussing provides that it cannot be valid. My view is that if a corporate community agrees it and the existing community of parents, governors, teachers and head teachers agree it, they should be entitled, like independent schools, to ask the children to accept it, particularly as there is diversity of choice. As I read the following clause, that would not be allowed.

We are agreeing that a home-school agreement is a good thing. The noble Baroness, Lady David, wishes to improve upon it but there is a mutual agreement that it is a very good thing. Is it enforceable? In other words, if a school which has set a certain ethos reached an agreement with its governors and everybody else concerned, is it entitled to demand acceptance by its future pupils? Historically, that has been the essence of good schooling. We are entering into a very complex area.

My view would be that it should be possible to do that. A school may demand particular patterns of behaviour but there is a choice of other schools. The school would then be entitled to say, "No, this has been agreed by the totality of the community". Therefore, this clause slightly contradicts the next clause. Therefore, we are becoming involved in a dilemma in relation to home-school agreements. We all agree that they are good but what if it is said that they are no good and parents reject them? I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply to this complex issue.

9 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: Perhaps I may assist the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. Our vision is that this is a process which is continuous and the dialogue goes on. It is a policy rather than an agreement. I believe that that will answer one of the noble Lord's points. It is clear that we have agreement in the Committee. However, if we are to incorporate it in a proper way in the Bill, it will probably not be by way of the amendments we are now discussing. Indeed, if we all agree, we will have to work on it between now and the next stage. We see it as an evolving policy rather than an agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, was worried about everyone having to stick to it forever. That is the whole point and why we think that that is rather better than an agreement.

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