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Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I am totally confused by the procedure. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is trying to achieve but I suggest to him that what he proposes will not achieve what he wants. The very parents whom he wants to exhort to sign the agreements are the very parents who will not co-operate in signing up to them. Every school will have a home school agreement. What will happen to the children of unco-operative parents, parents who never go near the school? Much as I can see the merits of trying to get as many parents as possible to sign home-school agreements, the sanctions being proposed are extremely unsatisfactory for the children who will be on the end of them. It will be a challenge for every school to try to establish an ethos so that parents understand what the school requires of them.
I am reminded that when the poll tax was put forward many people believed that, however much one agreed with the arguments for it, it could not be made to work. I feel exactly the same about this amendment. However much people might agree with the arguments being put forward, to make this work would be to the detriment of the children whose parents do not care and who do not go near the school. For that reason, I feel I have to support the Government.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, flattered though I am by the noble Lord's belief that I might finally succumb to his intellectual rigour and recognise the importance of his argument, I cannot do so. Were he simply to propose a dot or comma, I would, in view of his kind words, consider it very seriously. However, what he proposes runs counter to the way in which we see home-school agreements working.
The noble Lord said that he supports Clause 118, which is welcome to us because at one point his colleagues in another place voted against us. However, in this House we always give a great welcome to a conversion. The noble Lord also supports the concept of partnership. So now we all agree that home-school
The noble Lord has made this explicit. He is saying that the sanction is to keep such a pupil out of the school or presumably expel him from the school if he is already there. He asked how the child could prosper in those circumstances. Is it the way for the child to prosper that he or she does not get into the school or is excluded from the school? As the noble Lord indicated, these will most likely be difficult areas, with possibly difficult children, and certainly difficult parents. If this sanction were to be applied, it would surely make the situation far more difficult for the child whom I genuinely believe the noble Lord is seeking to look after.
These home-school agreements are not about sanctions. They are designed to ensure that schools, parents and pupils understand what is expected of them. They will be morally though not legally binding. There is a moral authority, but the moral authority is never recognised by everyone. We know that some parents will refuse to sign these agreements. Whatever their reason, should the parents' attitude be taken out on the child?
We made these considerations clear in the discussion on Report. We need also to put them in a wider context. The clause requires governing bodies to have regard to guidance on home-school agreements from the Secretary of State. We are still consulting widely on that draft guidance. But the guidance will make clear that we expect the agreements to include expectations about the standard of education, the ethos of the school, regular and punctual attendance, discipline, homework and so on. The guidance will also make it clear that agreements must be fair and balanced and must maximise the spirit of partnership. But sometimes there will be those who do not respond to that approach.
We want to use home-school agreements to demonstrate to children the importance of education by declaring their commitment to work in partnership. We do not want to threaten sanctions on them if their parents refuse to be co-operative. The more this approach is accepted the more parents will accept it. But there will always be some who refuse to be co-operative and they will be in the most difficult cases. Therefore, employing or even threatening sanctions will jeopardise the future of the child in those most difficult cases.
I should also mention that the clause forbids the use of certain words which would have a particular effect if included in home-school agreements or parental declarations. For example, it might be necessary to make clear that a school could not request or put pressure on parents to contribute regularly to any school fund. We need such a safeguard in the clause. We do not believe that it is right to allow admission authorities to base their decisions on admission on whether a parent has signed or is willing to sign. We uphold the principle that an
There is also the legal dimension to this matter. Failure to comply with the terms of a home-school agreement should not be treated as something which could give rise to a liability in one direction or another. We certainly do not want to see home-school agreements as potentially subjects of litigation between parents and schools. The clause therefore includes important safeguards for parents and pupils and puts in place an important new mechanism for strengthening and clarifying the partnership to raise standards. It is a partnership which some will refuse to accept; but for the sake of the children we should not employ sanctions here.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, will accept the logic of my argument in this case. Even though he has astounded us by some of the constructions that he has put on other parts of the Bill which has caused us on occasion to think again, if not entirely to accept the force of his argument, I hope that on this occasion he will accept that the deletion of the clause would make vulnerable pupils more vulnerable; and none of us wants that. I ask him to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I shall be brief. My first point is that I mention to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, our beloved Durham. When he and I went to school, there was no question but that one had to accept what the school laid down, and we all did. I make that point. I realise that the age of hierarchy is over, but the schools were very effective.
The second point is this. As regards those schools which have had enforceable home-school agreements, as far as I can gather--this is more anecdotal than absolute fact--almost always people have signed the agreement and kept to it. There have been very few expulsions, as the Government will find if they make a study of those schools.
The third and last point I make is that, whatever the noble Lord says, I cannot, as a former schoolteacher, ever envisage an educational process working if the parents are so adamantly opposed to the very simple and honourable ideals set out in a home-school agreement. Unless it is stuffed with Archangels Gabriel no school will be able to do anything with a child. I served for six years on the Parole Board dealing with the products of such families. In my experience, they might have been helped if at an early stage pressure of the kind that I am suggesting had been put on them. Idealism is fine for the children of the Minister's honourable and right honourable friend, but in the harsher areas of the city which many of us have long left, sanctions can often make worthy people of the pupils admitted.
I would love to leave this Bill in an atmosphere of friendliness and kindness. I have enjoyed the debates, although they have limited my social life a great deal. But I have to ask the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.