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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: It would be possible for the local education authority to become involved. However, the purpose of the contracts is to allow a school in that situation to enter into an appropriate contract on a voluntary basis with the parent to try to restore the relationship to enable the child to take up again the proper education opportunities.
The clause can also involve a child who has been excluded for a very short time, so it need not be a permanent exclusion. The noble Baroness will know that sometimes children are excluded for the afternoon, for the end of a week or a shorter period. They can be excluded as a result of very poor behaviour on one occasion; for example, they can be told on a Friday afternoon that they can come back on Monday.
There is a question mark as to whether it is appropriate at that point, when the child is excluded for a few hours, to have the parents come to the school and to try to discuss with them whether a parenting contract is the most appropriate approach.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, will know that there is a difference between that sort of short term, temporary exclusion and one that is expressed initially to be a permanent exclusion from the school for some very serious behaviour; quite often after several short-term exclusions.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: Earlier on, the Minister made a distinction between those parents who were receptive, with whom voluntary contracts could very easily be concludedwe on these Benches see voluntary contracts as the right way forwardand
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I understand, but I must emphasise that parenting contracts are all voluntary. A parent cannot be compelled to enter into a parenting contract, and can refuse. When we come to amendments later on, your Lordships will see that, if a parent refuses to enter into a contract with the school, that can be taken into account when an application is made to the court for a parenting order. Some parents will enter into a parenting contract very willingly and will welcome it, but there are others who will have to be encouraged and will need a more formalised arrangement.
It will be explained to those parents that they must decide whether to engage in the contract on a voluntary basis. However, if there is no improvement in the child's behaviour and the way in which the problem progresses, the school and/or the local education authority may have to consider whether to apply for a parenting order.
At the moment, there is no medium term. With regard to the problem of truancy, the noble Baroness will know that, if a child does not go to school on a regular basis, the authority decides whether to take proceedings before a magistrates' court to bring about compliance. This policy gives the school a tool that it is not compelled to use. However, the school can use it, if it is deemed to be appropriate, with parents who will have been persuaded voluntarily to enter into a contract. Although I say "voluntarily", it is a bit like the armyone feels that one must volunteer before one is made to comply.
This will provide an opportunity for the school to engage with the parents in a constructive, formal way, explaining to them what the possible outcome will be. That must be the best way forward. We would like parenting contracts to be used to prevent a child's poor behaviour or attendance from becoming any worse. Sometimes, if we can get in early, just as behaviour is starting to go over the brink, we can nip it in the bud.
In many cases, the school has the most involvement with children with behavioural or attendance problems, and also with their parents. It therefore makes sense to allow schools to arrange contracts with parents if they think it might be helpful. If the teaching staff and the head teachers do not think that it is the most appropriate way forward, there is nothing in the Bill that would oblige them to do so. It merely gives them the ability to do so should they so wish and if they deem it the most
Amendments Nos. 87 and 93, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, seek to ensure that the head teacher should be involved in this process. We agree that head teachers who deal with parents, often on a daily basis, should be involved in negotiating and delivering a parenting contract. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent that happening.
Clause 19 refers to the governing body and not the head teacher because the party entering into the contract with the parent must meet the cost of providing any counselling or guidance programmes provided through parenting contracts and, under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, the governing body and not the head teacher has control of the school budget. Therefore, the overall policy decision of whether the school will enter into parenting contracts must be taken by the governing body.
I should therefore like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that although head teachers are given no separate powers with respect to parenting contracts directly in the Bill, they will most certainly play a significant role in implementing the provision. It would also be likely that the governing body would delegate the day-to-day responsibility for negotiating, drawing up and signing the contract to the head teacher.
The issues regarding the role of different agencies in parenting contracts raised by these amendments will be covered in guidance. I therefore urge both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord not to press their amendments. In the amendments which follow we shall look at what happens when and if the parenting contract does not succeed and we then have to look at further issues in relation to parenting orders. However, that may now be for another day.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I thank the noble Baroness for her response and assure her that she has made it very easy for me to sit on my hands when the appropriate moment does arise, even if it does happen to be on a different day.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for her very detailed and lengthy response to this group of amendments. I think that she has persuaded me that the school itself and the school governing body should be involved in these contracts. However, I should like to ponder the matter a bit further and we may return to it on Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
A message was brought from the Commons that they have ordered the committee appointed by them to meet with the Lords committee on Tuesday 16th September at half-past nine o'clock, as proposed by this House.
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