Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, before the Minister finishes, there is tremendous variation within local authorities, especially large ones such as Essex. One is looking for totally different improvements in Basildon compared with Chelmsford or Colchester, so it is not just a case of talking to local education authorities but actually looking at schools' improvement. I am sure that the same is the case within a London borough where there are different aspirations for different schools. The whole idea is improvement, but I did not quite get that from the Minister's reply.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. I have been chided by him at earlier stages to keep my responses crisp, but he is absolutely right. Intelligent conversation cannot just be about the average of the total of what is happening in a good authority such as Essex. There also needs to be a dialogue about where the ambition of schools needs to be raised across the piece on particular segments—whether there is a need for change in languages or maths or for geographic or particular social-class based reasons. The data allow for that sort of intelligent discussion between officials in the department and the authority and between the advisers and the authority. However, we are talking essentially about a dialogue between the department and the education authority—albeit going under the skin of the averages— not between the department and individual schools. I agree with the noble Lord on that. It ought to cover such discussions as well.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He seemed to accept what we said. What concerns us is that at the moment targets are set in public sector agreements for school attainment that nobody can reach—they are ridiculous targets. The targets to bear a relationship to the ones that might, as I said just now, help to bring about improvement in a school. That must be an important part and the Minister acknowledged that. It is a pity that that cannot be acknowledged on the face of the Bill so
24 Feb 2005 : Column 1428
that ridiculous targets cannot be set in the future as they have been set in the past. We shall reflect on what has been said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 100 [Removal of requirements for governors' reports and parents' meetings]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 110:

"( ) In section 22 of the 2002 Act (training and support of governors), after paragraph (b) insert—
"(c) take such measures as they consider appropriate to promote and encourage the constructive involvement of parents in the education of their children at schools, including in particular their membership of school governing bodies"."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I move Amendment No. 110, which is the first of three amendments dealing with annual parents' meetings and the school profiles. There was long debate on these issues on the fourth day in Committee, for which I was unfortunately not present because I was on a Select Committee trip, but I have read Hansard with considerable interest.

We tabled this relatively broad amendment in order to keep the debate open. During the debate there was considerable disquiet was expressed from the Opposition Benches about the proposal to do away with the annual meeting, although there was understanding on everybody's part that these annual meetings can sometimes be a waste of time. There was, however, a feeling that there is considerable importance in providing a mechanism for dialogue between parents and staff at a school about general issues in the school, but not necessarily about the specific issues of their own child, such as occurs at a parents' evening. In addition, there was considerable alarm at the prescriptive nature of the school profile as set out in Clause 101.

Since that debate, we have had considerable lobbying from a number of groups. The disability lobby, in particular, is very concerned that we need to keep some mechanism open for dialogue with parents. There is alarm among parents' groups. The National Governors' Council, the National Association of Governors and Managers and the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education are all asking that we should not do away with the annual meeting. As I say, we recognise the futility of holding a meeting where no parents turn up—which does happen from time to time. Yet you quite clearly need some mechanism if you are going to have elected governors playing a substantial part in the governing body of the school. You need some mechanism for electing those governors. You need some kind of coming together where people get to know who is who, and so forth. This poses something of a problem.

The advantage of the annual report to parents from governors was that there was an opportunity to reflect on what had happened during the year, and to report back to parents on that. Good schools, we know, have regular newsletters and, in some senses, do not need it. There are some schools, however, that do not do this. We have had
24 Feb 2005 : Column 1429
further discussion on the role of the school profile, and the Government have assured us—and we take these assurances at face value—that it is not just going to be a tick-box pro forma. Each school is going to be able to develop it into something which is special to that school, reflecting developments within it. We are reassured by what the Minister says.

Since that debate, the need for the school to have proactive policies for keeping parents informed and involved with the school has been emphasised by those who have lobbied us since then. We know, from all the research that has been done, that the more parents are involved with their own child's education, the better the child does at school. There is a great deal to be said for this.

In some ways, I am sorry that we did not manage to group Amendments Nos. 110, 111 and 112 because the issues are very similar, and we need to regard their debates as a whole. I think that my suggestion that we should group them came too late to be acted upon. I see this amendment as a minimalist amendment, and tabled it to keep the debate open. We had hoped that there would be some indication in Committee that the Minister might come back with a proposal, but that has not happened. We want to keep the debate open and try to ensure that after this debate we do not simply end up by doing away with the parents meetings and annual reports without having put something satisfactory in their place. I beg to move.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, in supporting Amendment No. 110, I shall speak also to our amendment, Amendment No. 111. We were suggesting that the governing body should have the power to call meetings. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said in Committee that people could have a meeting every week if they wanted one—and some of them might want a meeting every week. If something is included in the Bill, even if it is not obligatory and simply says that the governors should be able to call a parents meeting if they want one, there will be some encouragement to do it.

I want to support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in saying that it is imperative that parents should be seen to want to be involved in schools. By including something in the Bill about calling parents meetings, even if they are not always that well attended—in some schools they are much better attended than others; it is disappointing that they are not well attended in all schools—more parents meetings will be encouraged to happen than would be the case if nothing was included in the Bill. So I hope that the Minister will give some encouragement that such a provision will be included in the Bill, so that there will be parents meetings of some kind.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, a question. In subsection (2) of Amendment No. 111, does he mean "head teacher" rather than "headmaster"?

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I apologise—that wording must have been copied from when the matter last came up. I totally agree with the noble Baroness.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I support the intention of keeping all the issues open until we are
24 Feb 2005 : Column 1430
satisfied. I apologise that I was not able—if I was invited—to be at the meeting when the issues were discussed in detail.

Having real people gathered together who are concerned specifically about their own children but collectively about the quality of the education in those schools has a tremendous amount to be said for it. To go against that goes in the face of the idea, which is gaining pace every day, that more and more people should be consulted—that the views of this lot and that lot, and certainly children, should be taken into account when formulating decisions. That is at the coalface—the local level. We have also heard that NAGM—the National Association of Governors and Managers—and other organisations still feel strongly about the matter. Either we will be reassured that all is well, or we shall bring the matter back at a future stage.

The other point that I want to make strongly is that someone may come along to a meeting and believe that he or she has nothing to contribute; but when other people in the same position—in other words, parents—start talking, that can spark off ideas and thoughts that he or she would like to express. So there is an added plus in having people on the spot and not doing it all via a form or electronically. The collective approach to such things is valuable.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page