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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I recognise that the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness,

13 Jul 1998 : Column 39

Lady Maddock, seeks to address the concerns expressed during our debate on Report by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and others, about the number of parents required to set up a parents' organisation. The Government never believed that the threshold was the major problem--that is the suggestion made in the amendment--and even if we had, I am sorry to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that her amendment is defective. I almost said "hopelessly defective" in order to secure her attention. The amendment states,

    "give reasonable assistance to parents who wish to establish an organisation within the school to represent parents when 20 per cent. of those parents"--

in other words, those parents who wish to establish an organisation--

    "have petitioned for it".

The amendment should have referred to 20 per cent. of all parents rather than the parents who have expressed that wish. I am afraid the amendment does not work in the sense that the noble Baroness intends.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt. A petition sets a rather poor tone for the partnership between parents, the school and the governing body. We are all agreed--we always have been--on the importance of parental involvement in their children's education. I can say this in particular to my noble friend Lord Peston since we were involved together in these matters. I accept his excuse for not taking part in the Report stage; his reason for not doing so, as opposed to his excuse, was that there was a football match on at the time.

When on Report we debated an amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady David, we made it clear that the Government are committed to working with parents and to increasing parental participation. We are increasing that participation in other ways; for example, by encouraging parents to become more involved in what is happening in schools through, for example, our literacy strategy. We are increasing the number of parents on governing bodies; we are providing parent representatives on education committees; and we are involving parents through our proposals for home-school agreements. All of those changes implement commitments we made in our manifesto.

Of course we agree that parents should be consulted and have the opportunity to make their views known to the governing body. The changes I have already mentioned will mean that schools and governing bodies will need to develop new ways of working with parents. Governing bodies need to work in partnership with parents. By increasing the number of parent governors we hope to ensure that parents' views are firmly reflected within the governing body.

During the debate on her amendment on Report, my noble friend Lady David quoted the Alliance of Parents and Schools as saying,

    "Many headteachers and governing bodies still do not permit parent groups within schools".

We have no evidence that head teachers and governors block the formation of parent groups. However, we would certainly be against such action. We would be

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very happy to look at any cases which are brought to our attention where head teachers and governors have acted in this way.

I am sure that head teachers will want to follow the advice of their professional associations. The Secondary Heads Association has assured us that it supports the establishment of representative associations of parents which have the objective of supporting the school and giving effective expression to parental opinion. The National Association of Head Teachers has also assured us that it is not opposed to parent associations. Indeed, the NAHT has done much to encourage home-school partnership. It pioneered the whole idea of home-school partnership agreements.

I accept that there may be a few head teachers who have not yet accepted the need to involve parents in the work of the school. However, the requirement for all schools to have home-school agreements, drawn up in consultation with all parents of pupils of compulsory school age, will encourage schools to work more closely with parents. Our guidance--I am able to say this for the first time--on home-school agreements will highlight the value of parents' associations. It will also include examples of good practice to encourage governing bodies to give parents a voice. The draft guidance will be issued for consultation this month and I look forward to suggestions from parents' associations on how the guidance can best address that issue.

I suggest to noble Lords who have spoken with great sincerity and passion that it is more sensible for this provision to be in the form of guidance rather than as a more authoritarian duty laid down on the face of the Bill. I do not suggest that there is a great burden involved. However, the principle of local determination which runs through the Bill means that it is more appropriate to make provision through guidance than by legislation. I am not convinced that there is a need to formalise the school-parent relationship through primary legislation in the way proposed. I hope that I have assured noble Lords that we are committed to working with parents and to increasing parental participation.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answer. He delights in pointing out to the House the inadequacies of my amendments. I heard mutterings under the breath to the effect that someone thought that that was a little petty. I appreciate that the Government have not been in power for a long time. However, when Members who are not lawyers or draftsmen did not manage to get amendments right the previous government were in the habit of being rather more generous than the Minister has been today. Giving that as a reason for refusing the amendment does not go down well with people outside the House. I made my intention clear in my introduction and I believe that everyone outside will recognise that.

I am disappointed. The Government have the support of a large number of people; they have a huge majority in the other place; and they appear to be popular in the country. I do not understand why they are so diffident about giving in to suggestions from anywhere other than their own Benches. That is a terrible shame.

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The Government have stated how they want to work with people and that they want school standards raised. I agree with them, but some of the most important partners in that are the parents. The Government appear to be saying, "Yes, we want parents to be partners and to help us raise standards, but only where we say and on our terms". That is a terrible shame. Although the Government are popular, it sends a terrible message from a government who do not need to behave in that way. I do not believe that people outside will understand.

I am not convinced by the Government's argument. We have received support from all sides of the House, even from Members on the Government's own Benches, and I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.

5.2 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 33; Not-Contents, 115.

Division No. 3


Addington, L.
Ailesbury, M.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Avebury, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Carlisle, E.
Charteris of Amisfield, L.
Chichester, Bp.
Dholakia, L.
Falkland, V.
Geraint, L.
Goodhart, L.
Halsbury, E.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Hooson, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
McNair, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.
Orr-Ewing, L.
Ripon, Bp.
Rochester, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E.
Sandberg, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B. [Teller.]
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Tope, L. [Teller.]
Tordoff, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.


Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Amos, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Blatch, B.
Blease, L.
Borrie, L.
Braine of Wheatley, L.
Broadbridge, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Burlison, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Coleridge, L.
Courtown, E.
Cox, B.
Cranbrook, E.
Currie of Marylebone, L.
Davies of Coity, L.
Dean of Beswick, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B.
Desai, L.
Dilhorne, V.
Dixon, L.
Donoghue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Eatwell, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Fitt, L.
Gallacher, L.
Gilbert, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Glenamara, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Gregson, L.
Grenfell, L.
Hacking, L.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Islwyn, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Judd, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Kennet, L.
Lauderdale, E.
Leigh, L.
Levy, L.
Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Longford, E.
Lovell-Davis, L.
McCarthy, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Mallalieu, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Molloy, L.
Monkswell, L.
Montague of Oxford, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Newby, L.
Nicol, B.
Orme, L.
Paul, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Rogers of Riverside, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Serota, B.
Sewel, L.
Shepherd, L.
Shore of Stepney, L.
Simon, V.
Simon of Highbury, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Taverne, L.
Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Tenby, V.
Turner of Camden, B.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Weatherill, L.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winston, L.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

13 Jul 1998 : Column 42

5.10 p.m.

Clause 63 [Staffing of foundation, voluntary aided and foundation special schools]:

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