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Lord Filkin: My Lords, I shall respond to Amendment No. 111, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, as well as to Amendment No. 110, so that we can have a more collective discussion.
The short answer to the examination question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in her amendmentI sought to make this point when debating with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, the other dayis that it is really the question that in policy terms we are asking ourselves in the department. I was signalling that we were looking in policy terms at what we want to promote and change in the relationship between parents and schools in future, in the interests of parents, children and the school itself.
I suppose, busking from the Box for a second, there are at least three legs to that stool in this context. One is the relationship of parents in the governance of the school. Clearly, we know where we are on school governors, and there is always room for further thought as to whether one should go further than that, or whether just having parent governors is in itself sufficient.
Secondly, there is the relationship of the parent to the school as a consumer. We broadly know what we mean by thatin other words, "You have got my child and what are you doing with him or her? Are we getting the educational attainment that we want? Is he or she safe and bully-free?". We know about the worries of parents; we know from our own experiences. One has walked out many a pair of shoes going to a school to say that one is not quite happy with the ambition of the schools in the
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past, at least in my day. There is a lot more to be done in that respect in terms of the relationship between schools and parents as consumers.
I shall put it politely, but some schools essentially see the job of the parent as to deliver the child to the door, fed and cleanand "Please keep away and do not cause trouble". I am being slightly crude, but I think noble Lords know what I mean by that. The parent is seen as a problem if they get involved, rather than as a partner in the educational development of the child. We are doing a lot of thinking on that area.
Thirdly, there is the parent him or herself as an educator. We know, from the discussions that we have had about the work of Charles Desforges, that that is absolutely fundamental. That is not about the parent getting involved in school governanceyou want that, but according to the evidence it does not do much for the educational attainment of the childyou want that for other reasons. How parents behave in terms of their child from the very early years onwards makes a significant difference to the educational attainment of their child. Therefore, public policy needs to establish more seriously how we support parents who have these ambitions for their children to know how to help them to do it better. This is not the long arm of the state reaching in; it would be by other mechanisms. Those three issues are part of an active, ongoing discussion that we were having this week with Ruth Kelly as part of our work programme on this.
I also agree with our disability lobby. I gave a speech earlier this week about the next stages on disabled children. Both parenting and disabled children are part of my day job, which is why I am probably going on longer than I should be. Clearly, we should consider how parents of disabled children feel that schools touch them. We had a discussion about SEN earlier. There is a thread running through all of that, about how the parent feels about the way in which that local institution, either the LEA or the school, affects their feelings about the services that they get. It is because of that, and because we think that there is a lot more to be done on that, that we are being difficult, as some noble Lords see it, by not thinking that the annual meeting is Valhalla.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is right in the sense that all of us agree on the vital importance of involving parents in school. It is better for the Government not to prescribe for schools the precise mechanisms through which they should involve parents. He is also right that schools may be well advised to continue producing an annual report and holding an annual meeting to satisfy the needs of the parent body if they wish to do so. His amendment clearly has a thrust in that direction. We really want to get across that it must go a heck of a lot further than that. If we just stay where we are and give inwhich we do not intend to doand say that we must have an annual meeting, the danger is that they will think that the job is done. That would be absolutely hopeless. We must go much further than we are going at present in
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just going through some formulaic process of issuing a dull annual report and having a non-attended annual meeting.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for intervening. Can he tell us where it says in statute that, to use his own words, they must go a hell of a lot further than that?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I gave the rodomontade that I did at the beginning because I was describing that we are in the middle of a policy process in which we are considering by what processes we stimulate the system to go furthermuch furtherinto the future. That is what I was saying in the Lord Northbourne debate. I am beginning my candour in opening up to the House. It is always a mistake.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, is there not a danger that, by not putting anything in the Bill, people will think it does not matter? That is our point. Although we all agree we want to go further, ignoring it totally in the Bill does not help at all.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I was seeking to say that we are not minded to change the removal of the annual meeting. According to evidence we have seen, that is a superfluous obligation and we should remove superfluous obligations. I was trying to treat the House seriously in indicating that and was not making a debating point by saying "No, we won't do that". I was signalling that there is some pretty serious work going on in our present discussions about the agenda of parental involvement in education. I and my officials are very keen on it; we hope to be in a position to have a wider debate during this year. Here is just a teeny element of that wider discussion, and I assure noble Lords that we will come forward with further thinking and debate it before too long.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that. The Bill does present an opportunity for the Government perhaps to provide a statutory framework for doing something later. Our Amendment No. 110 suggests, in that respect, that the Government,
"take such measures as they consider appropriate to promote and encourage the constructive involvement of parents in the education of their children at schools".
We may perhaps leave the amendment there, although in it we suggest including,
It is the sort of broad, statutory, permissive statement that we could arguably do with having within an Education Bill, on which subsequent developments can be built. Perhaps the Minister wishes to respond.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for giving way. The reason that I am not now leaping at that with both hands is because I clearly signalled that we are in the middle of a policy process. We have not concluded that process. Also, while I see
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its almost cosmetic attraction, that amendment would be difficult to enforce or police. It is difficult to know exactly what it would mean in practice. I suspect we will be looking for greater clarity about what should be done in futurehaving a richer dialogue with local authorities and schools about what they should do in consequenceand, on the back of that, we will see whether there is a need for legislation.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, it might be helpful to provide the Minister with a hook on which he can hang his subsequent developments. I imagine we will probably not get another education Act next year. I certainly hope we do not get another immediately.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I thought they were like immigration and asylum Acts; we are guaranteed one every year.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, we have had a very useful debate. There is a common understanding of shared objectives here. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 111 not moved.]
Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 112:
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