With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 14—Annual parents’ meeting—
‘(1)It shall be left to the discretion of the governing body of each maintained school in England and Wales to decide whether or not to hold an annual parents’ meeting.
(2)The governing body and headteacher shall decide on the nature, length and style of any meeting which is to be held.’.
I rise to speak to new clause 14, which relates to the annual meeting of the governing body and parents, to be held at their discretion.
In the interests of parental involvement and continued contact between teachers, governing bodies, parents and schools, the facility should be available to them to hold an annual parents’ and governors’ meeting if they want to do so. As governors, we have all been to annual meetings at which the teachers and governors have outnumbered the parents—very often, they do so by two to one. The ones who turn up are the usual suspects, but there may be circumstances in which there has been some crisis or something unusual has happened at the school. Indeed, the school might be doing exceptionally well, and the parents will want to come to the meeting.
We often take it as a compliment that parents do not come to the annual parents’ evening, and regard it as a sign that they are all very happy with what is going on in the school. If someone does have a serious complaint, they ensure that they are there. There should be an annual parents’ meeting if there is a demand for it in the circumstances, and it would be up to the school and the governors to test whether the parents wanted a parents’ evening. It is quite easy for them to test opinion to see whether there is a demand. They could decide that if x number of parents wanted to attend an annual parents’ meeting with the governors, they should be able to do so. If only individual parents wanted a meeting, they could have one on an individual basis with the head teacher or governors.
Subsection (2) of the new clause states:
“The governing body and headteacher shall decide on the nature, length and style of any meeting which is to be held.”
Clearly, that would depend on the level of demand, the reason for wanting the meeting and the likely outcomes. I feel that the facility should be available so that anyone who needed it could take advantage of it.
Again, I think that the new clause falls under the heading of legislating for what can happen anyway. I do not think that anything in the Education Act 2002 bans schools from engaging in these rather strange rituals that have been so horrendously unsuccessful ever since the Conservatives introduced them. I should hate to create a presumption in their favour, because local authority after local authority has pleaded to discontinue them. They are extraordinarily wasteful of resources. I think that schools and head teachers have the capacity to hold meetings, and to decide on their nature, length, style and objectives. I remain unconvinced that new clause 14 is needed, because I cannot see that it would achieve much.
As was reflected on Second Reading as well as in the other place, hon. Members across the House agree that parental engagement in education is critical. The only debate between us is about how best to achieve that. As the hon. Gentleman said, the governing body has the discretion to hold an annual parents’ meeting. Nothing in the Bill would prevent a school’s governing body from deciding that it wanted to maintain an annual meeting with parents.
We cannot accept the new clause for two reasons. First, it would be wrong to legislate to give a discretionary power to governing bodies when that discretion already exists. That may fetter governing bodies’ discretion in other areas. At present, governing bodies may do anything that appears to them to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of the conduct of the school. To provide specific powers in certain areas such as those proposed in the new clause could lead governing bodies to question their wide powers and to make them look for explicit powers in statute before doing anything. In addition, it could be construed by the courts as narrowing those wide powers.
Secondly, there is a specific point with regard to Wales that explains why we cannot accept the new clause. Governing bodies in Wales will still be required to hold an annual parents’ meeting under clause 103. The introduction of discretion for the governing body on whether to hold annual parents’ meetings would be in direct conflict with that requirement. One cannot impose a duty and give discretion over the same matter. In the light of what I and the hon. Member for Southport have said, I ask the hon. Lady not to press the new clause.