New Clause 2 — Acceptance of school rules a condition of admission

Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 23rd May 2006.

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Votes in this debate

'An admission authority may make it a condition of a child's admission to a school that the parent of a child agrees to secure compliance with any school rules made by the headteacher of that school.'. — [Mr. Hayes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 10— Home-school contracts—

'(1) Section 111 of SSFA 1998 is amended as follows.

(2) Omit subsections (4)(b), (4)(c) and (5)

(3) After subsection (4) insert—

"(4A) A governing body of a school to which section 110(1) applies or the local education authority where it is the admission authority for such a school may make it a condition of being admitted to the school that the parental declaration is signed in respect of the child."

(4) In the heading of sections 110 (home-school agreements) and 111 (supplementary provisions about home-school agreements) for "agreements" substitute "contracts".'.

New clause 11— Home-school contracts (no. 2)—

'(1) SSFA 1998 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 111 insert—

"Home-school contracts

111A Home-school contracts

(1) The governing body of a school which is—

(a) a maintained school, or

(b) a city technology college, a city college for the technology of the arts or an Academy, may adopt a home-school contract for the school, together with a parental declaration to be used in connection with the contract.

(2) For the purposes of this section and section 111 a 'home-school contract' is a statement specifying—

(a) the school's aims and values;

(b) the school's responsibilities, namely the responsibilities which the school intends to discharge in connection with the education of pupils at the school who are of compulsory school age;

(c) the parental responsibilities, namely the responsibilities which the parents of such pupils are expected to discharge in connection with the education of their children while they are registered pupils at the school; and

(d) the school's expectations of its pupils, namely the expectations of the school as regards the conduct of such pupils while they are registered pupils there; and 'parental declaration' means a document to be used by qualifying parents for recording that they take note of the school's aims and values and its responsibilities and that they acknowledge and accept the parental responsibilities and the school's expectations of its pupils.

(3) The governing body shall take reasonable steps to secure that the parental declaration is signed by every qualifying parent.

(4) An admissions authority may make it a condition of a child being admitted to the school that the parental declaration is signed in respect of the child.

(5) An admissions authority may not—

(a) invite any person to sign the parental declaration at a time when the child in question has not been admitted to the school, or

(b) make any decision as to whether or not to admit a child to the school by reference to whether any such declaration is or is not likely to be signed in respect of the child.

(6) Subsections (3) and (4) do not require the governing body to seek the signature of a qualifying parent if, having regard to any special circumstances relating to the parent or the pupil in question, they consider that it would be inappropriate to do so.

(7) Where the governing body considers that a registered pupil at the school has a sufficient understanding of the home-school contract as it relates to him, they may invite the pupil to sign the parental declaration as an indication that he acknowledges and accepts the school's expectations of its pupils.

(8) The governing body shall discharge its duty under subsection (3)—

(a) in the case of a pupil attending the school on the relevant date, as soon after that date as is reasonably practicable; and

(b) in the case of a pupil admitted to the school, as soon after the date of his admission as is reasonably practicable.

(9) The governing body shall from time to time review the home-school contract.

(10) Where the home-school contract is revised by the governing body following such a review, subsections (3) to (8) shall, in the case of pupils admitted to the school after the revision takes effect, accordingly apply in relation to the revised contract.

(11) Before adopting the home-school contract or parental declaration, or revising that contract, the governing body shall consult—

(a) all qualifying parents, and

(b) such other persons as may be prescribed.

(12) In this section—

'qualifying parent' means a registered parent of a pupil at the school who is of compulsory school age;'admission authority' has the meaning given by section 88(1).

(13) Section 110 does not apply to a governing body that decides to have a home-school contract.

111B Contents of home-school contracts

(1) In discharging any function under section 111A the governing body of a school shall have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.

(2) If the Secretary of State by order so provides, the governing body of a school to which subsection (1) of that section applies shall ensure that any form of words—

(a) specified in the order, or

(b) having such effect as is so specified, is not used in a home-school contract or (as they case may be) in a parental declaration.

(3) An order under subsection (2) may apply—

(a) to any school specified in the order, or

(b) to any description of school so specified.

(4) A home-school contract shall not be capable of creating any obligation in respect of whose breach any liability arises in contract or in tort.".'.

New clause 72— Burden of proof in cases of confiscation—

'(1) In any proceedings brought against a person in respect of his seizure or retention of an item in circumstances to which section 86 applies it shall be presumed that such seizure or retention was lawful unless the contrary is shown.

(2) In any proceedings brought against a person in respect of his disposal of an item in circumstances to which section 86 applies it shall be presumed that the disposal of the item was lawful if the item could not reasonably be restored to its lawful owner or, if a pupil, to that pupil's parent or guardian without thereby facilitating the commission of an offence or of creating the possibility that further disciplinary action might need to be taken in relation to the pupil.'.

Government amendment No. 58

Amendment No. 100, in page 64, line 36 [Clause 81], after 'measures', insert

'to ensure zero tolerance of disciplinary and behavioural problems'.

Government amendments Nos. 59 to 65, 68 and 78

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

This group of new clauses and amendments deal with discipline in schools. If the objective of the Bill is to increase school autonomy, the Government should agree that a school must be completely in control of discipline. That is why the new clauses would make home-school contracts enforceable. If parents and children do not sign up to a code of behaviour, and stick to it, it would surely be inappropriate for those children to attend the school.

My proposals are also in line with the Government's White Paper. It set a clear direction and that is why Opposition Members, who share the intent to drive up quality in our schools, have broadly supported the Government since it was published. We certainly support the Government in as much as they are determined to improve discipline in our schools for the benefit of children and teachers.

The White Paper states:

"Home-school agreements can be a powerful tool in making clear to parents what they can expect from their child's school particularly when they join a new school and also setting out parents' own responsibilities in supporting the school."

It also states, in paragraph 5.14:

"Home-school agreements have been a requirement since 1999, but many schools have not yet exploited their potential."

As an example of home school agreements that work, the White Paper draws attention to Oulton Broad primary school in Suffolk. It says:

"The home-school agreement is displayed in the school's entrance hall, and sets out clearly the expectation that both the school and the family will play their part in the child's education. The school consults parents about reviewing the agreement every three years, and it is used in day-to-day conversations, where necessary, with parents to clarify responsibilities, and emphasise the role that both sides play."

That is so important in an age when people are prepared to bleat about their rights, but have little regard to their responsibilities, still less their duties.

It is in a spirit of consensus and co-operation, and of wanting to improve discipline in schools, that we suggest these improvements to the Bill to enable the Government to achieve those objectives.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

We discussed this matter in Committee, when it was noted that many people—such as those who cannot read and write, and those who do not speak English as a first language—would find it difficult to sign a home-school contract or agreement. Has the hon. Gentleman taken that into account in his new amendments?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The hon. Lady, and the whole House, will know that the protection of the vulnerable is always my top priority. I would not want to disadvantage any group of people who find it difficult to understand what is required of them, but I am sure that any good school or reasonable governing body would put in place measures to allow those who are illiterate or unable to speak fluent English to participate in the school's life. In that way, such people could understand and agree to their responsibilities in respect of pupils.

Sarah Teather is right that we need to be sensitive about this matter and that it needs to be handed with appropriate care, but that is no reason to vote against the new clause. Given the spirit of consensus that has emerged in the course of consideration of the Bill, I hope that she will join us in fighting for good discipline in schools, and that she will support our teachers, and good teaching and learning.

Good discipline is vital in school, but in a minority of schools and classrooms, discipline is in a state of crisis. Teachers and learners face real problems; it is estimated that 270 serious assaults are carried out on teachers every year. More than 60 children are suspended or expelled for violent behaviour every day in London schools, according to an investigation conducted in 2005 by the Evening Standard—[Interruption.] I am sorry that Ms Barlow seems to make light of a problem that has such an effect on the life of schools, the progress of other learners and the morale of teachers. It is the responsibility of all hon. Members to stand by those whose lives are being made a misery by the small minority of people who are determined to disrupt good practice in our schools. The Government have recognised that, in the White Paper and in the Bill, and have introduced measures to give additional protection to schools.

The hon. Member for Brent, East has also tabled important amendments in this group that deal with confiscation. She recognises that teachers should be able to confiscate items such as mobile phones, which can cause immense difficulty. More seriously, they should be able to confiscate objects that are weapons or could be used as weapons.

It is sad that violence is on the increase in a minority of schools and classrooms, but we must not deny that most schools in this country do a great job. We should celebrate the work of our teachers accordingly, but it would be irresponsible of us not to deal with the real problems of violence and indiscipline that permeate too many schools.

It is therefore vital that we enforce home-school contracts and link them to discipline and pupils' expectations. If pupils know what is expected of them and the conditions attached to their attendance as soon as they join a school community, there will be little doubt about their responsibilities should problems arise later on.

Sir Alan Steer, the head teacher of Seven Kings high school in Ilford, was appointed by the Government to report on these matters. He said that schools should be "comfortable, warm, sociable places". To achieve that, we must get the right balance between discipline and security, so that students can enjoy the freedoms that they want, in the proper school atmosphere.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Does my hon. Friend think that the Bill deals adequately with the case not of sex offenders who might or might not be employed in schools, but of sex offenders who may be pupils? Will it protect other pupils from such offending pupils?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

My hon. Friend has great knowledge of educational affairs, on which he always speaks with great authority, and he is an immense champion of the interests of the people of the Isle of Wight. He is right to point out that offences such as he describes can not only disrupt the life of a school but ruin individual lives—they can be committed pupil against pupil as well as teacher against pupil. The new clause and this group of amendments do not deal with those specifics, and if I were to stray into them I have no doubt that you would call me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, my hon. Friend is right to suggest that when creating a disciplined environment in schools and setting out pupils' responsibilities and expectations such issues should be addressed. I have no doubt that in the Minister's expansive response to this short debate he will want to comment on that matter and to refer to some of the detailed measures that the Government propose for guidance in addressing it.

Throughout our consideration of the Bill, the Opposition have done the right thing, because we believe that for the most part the Government have done the right thing. That is good, responsible opposition—but it is also responsible opposition to challenge the Government and to try to improve legislation when it comes before the House. In my judgment, and in the judgment of teachers, learners, parents and families throughout the country, the amendments would improve the Bill still further, and in that spirit I commend them to the House.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

With an eye on the time, I shall simply say that I would like to take up further aspects of new clause 72 with the Minister in writing, because we were not happy with the answer he gave us in Committee. If the Conservatives push new clause 2 to a vote we shall oppose it. I shall now let the Minister respond, in the three minutes that Mr. Hayes has left him.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State, Department for Education and Skills, Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Schools and 14-19 Learners)

I am grateful to Sarah Teather for indicating that she wants to take up new clause 72 in writing, which is what I wanted to do anyway.

New clauses 2 and 10 would prevent a child from being admitted to a school if the parents were unable or unwilling to sign a home-school agreement. We agree that home-school agreements are an important tool in maintaining discipline and improving behaviour in schools, but we fundamentally disagree with Mr. Hayes on the issue.

In Committee, it was clear that Members making that proposal believed that if parents declined to sign a home-school agreement their child should be refused admission to a school. I cannot accept a provision that would penalise a child by refusing them access to a school because their parents had not signed a document stating that they agreed with its rules and ethos. It is much better for discussion about home-school agreements to take place after the offer of a school place has been accepted; whether a parent signs the agreement should have no bearing on the security of a child's place.

I am also concerned that allowing some schools to make signing a home-school agreement compulsory could discourage some parents from applying to those schools. Such a scheme is best undertaken as part of the process of building a positive relationship between the school and family when parents know that their child will be attending the school in question. We have no wish to see home-school agreements used as another means whereby schools can select pupils, so I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new clause.

S

If a "home-school agreement" is optional, how does it have any value? Presumably the point of such a document is to get parents to commit to behaviour that they would not ordinarily be required to do. It seems that there is likely to be a strong correlation between parents who won't sign these agreements and parents who are the very people whose behaviour is the problem that these agreements need to address.

Submitted by Sam Evans

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The hon. Gentleman has just told the House that he thinks people should go to schools without agreeing to their rules and respecting their authority, because they are not prepared to sign up to the ethos of the school. That is nonsense, as he must know. He is sending the message that he does not really care about discipline as much as he pretends. That is not a good message and it is not one that teachers or learners will welcome. Parents up and down the country will be very disappointed with him.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State, Department for Education and Skills, Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Schools and 14-19 Learners)

The hon. Gentleman knows well, as will any Member who chooses to read the Hansard report of the full arguments in Committee, how seriously the Government take discipline in schools. That is demonstrated by all the measures on discipline in the Bill, which will really move things forward so that every child in the country can have a secure experience of school. Those powers will liberate teachers to exercise discipline without having to resort to common law. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his new clause

It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 166, Noes 372.

Division number 249 Education and Inspections Bill — Acceptance of school rules a condition of admission — rejected

Aye: 166 MPs

No: 372 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 102 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.