Clause 4 takes us back to the debate on home-school agreements, which we touched on in Tuesday afternoons sitting. Because we had quite a wide-ranging debate, and because I assumed we would have a brief stand part debate, I will restrict my comments to amendment 132 and amendment 44, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. The amendments have a similar effect. They question whether it is really necessary for head teachers to have the discretion to provide different parents of the same pupil with different home-school agreements. I accept the spirit of much of what was said previouslywe believe that schools and head teachers should have as much flexibility and freedom as possible. Our criticism of home-school agreements concerns central prescription and head teachers being told to do things even if they do not want to.
Amendment 132 is a probing amendment. It invites the Minister to tell us under what circumstances he thinks it would be sensible for head teachers to take the time and energy to provide different parents of the same pupil with different home-school agreements. It tests out, in the interests of parents, whether there is a clear benefit in two parents of one child being required to sign up to different agreements. Depending on the nature of the differences, parents who expect equality of treatment might feel aggrieved to discover that there are two separate home-school agreements. I want to hear from the Minister whether there is a clear justification for that particular freedom in the Bill.
Clause 4 replaces section 110 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 with new section 109A. Section 110 is left to apply to Wales only, which is nice for them because new section 109A changes the whole nature of home-school agreements, though not in a good way. I have rehearsed the arguments about the lack of effectiveness of home-school agreements, which is acknowledged by the Government, and I do not intend to rehearse them again now. The lack of effectiveness could be remedied by making the signing of a home-school agreement a condition of admission to the school. Again, I do not want to go over that argument.
Amendment 44 removes subsection (3) from the Bill. That subsection says:
Where the head teacher considers it appropriate to do so, the head teacher may provide different parents of the same pupil with different home-school agreements.
Not only is clause 4, in the words of the explanatory note,
intended to increase the personalisation of home-school agreements for each child in the school, but some pupils may actually have two home-school agreementsone for each parent. Paragraph 15 of the policy statement says:
HSAs must capture each childs personalised goals and targets around learning, and the childs wider well being. Instead of the whole school HSAs which currently exist, every child will have their own HSA, which sets out how schools, parents and children will work together to achieve both whole school and key personalised goals and targets; and which is renewed annually to reflect the childs progress from the time they enter reception until they leave secondary school.
The subsection goes on to say:
In some cases, HSAs will need to be reviewed more frequently that is, more frequently than annually. Perhaps if a child has a stepfather or a stepmother, there will be more than two agreements as they will incorporate all the adults involved in the childs upbringing.
As the Association of School and College Leaders says in its brief,
it is unrealistic to require home-school agreements to be personalised for each individual pupil. Such a proposal will be wholly impractical in secondary schools, which may have over 1,000 pupils, and will consume a great deal of school resources.
John Dunford said in his evidence to our Committee last week:
A requirement that the home-school agreement should be personalised seems to place an impossible task on a secondary school with 1,500 pupils.
The school is getting bigger, but so is the concern. Mr. Dunford continues:
Surely a home-school agreement sets out the ethos of the school to parents, and to which parents should sign up. It is not a matter of negotiation between the school and the parent or the school and the pupil.[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 17, Q25.]
I think that home-school agreements are a good idea. The issue for me is that their personalisation seems completely unnecessary, and far too much effort and work. Heads should be working with staff to improve the quality of teaching and learning, not worrying about personalising the home-school agreement.
That is why, no doubt, the Harris Academy at Crystal Palace was recently graded as perfect by Ofstedsome 99 per cent. of its pupils achieved GCSEs grade C and above, and the school has 2,000 applications for just 180 places every year. Dr. Moynihan continued:
The thing that you want people to sign up to is the common approach to discipline, to pastoral care and so on. Those are things that are in common for the school. I think it is difficult to have home-school agreements that are personalised, because it is a common ethos that you want people to sign up to.[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 34, Q45.]
Picking up the point made by the ASCL about the personalisation of home-school agreements consuming a great deal of resources, the impact assessment states that the policy will result in additional, mainly transitional costs
from staff training...following implementation; and admin time to amend HSA templates. all in all, £12.5 million, including just £127,000 to amend all templates in all 17,000 primary schools and 3,400 secondary schools. John Dunford was asked about the likely costs. His response was:
I do not have a figure for the cost because it would largely be the time of senior staff in the school. As I say, in large schools, that would be massive.[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 18, Q26.]
We need to get away from the idea of bespoke home-school agreements, which offends against the whole notion of the agreements. The amendment would take out the even more absurd position of a different home-school agreement for each parent of a child. The tailored lists of objectives and targets for a pupil to aim for in their academic work, personal development and sport should be matters between the pupil and their tutor or teacher, not a matter for home-school agreements.
I would welcome it if the Minister clarified the meaning behind different parents of a child being provided with separate home-school agreements. Given our earlier discussion about whether parents will or will not sign the agreement and the consequences either wayif they do not sign it, or if they sign it but do not complyhow will the measure work in practice? I would have thought that in most circumstances, it is the resident parent with care who would be ultimately responsible. For example, if a child was playing truant from school, that would be followed up by the education and welfare officers and others.
If the motivation behind the measure is a recognition that, in todays world, unfortunately families break down, but both parents still want to be involved in and contribute to their childs education, I understand it. Where it is appropriate, providing information about parents evenings or school report cards to the non-resident parent is worth while, with the caveat that there can be particularly sensitive issues if the non-resident parent does not have custody, or if there is a protection order for the resident parent and the childrenI have known such cases myself, and it can create many difficulties. When a non-resident parent asks for information, there can sometimes be a wider story of concern that makes it quite difficult, undermining other injunctions against that non-resident parent.
I would welcome clarification of the purpose of subsection (3). Will the Minister say, as he has in earlier debates, that he will consider the wording and what it might mean? I cannot see the reason anywhere in the statement or explanatory notes.
Some important points have been made. To begin with, allowing different home-school agreements for resident and non-resident parents is entirely at the discretion of the head teacher. I would think that the hon. Member for Yeovil would welcome that, because most of his later amendments berate us for not allowing discretion, and the clause provides for discretion.
The Minister is right that proposed new subsection (3) allows discretion:
Where the head teacher considers it appropriate to do so, the head teacher may provide different parents of the same pupil with different home-school agreements.
However, it is compulsory for the school to
provide each registered parent of the pupil...with a home-school agreement, which must be tailored. Proposed new subsection (1) says that each head teacher shall issue home-school agreements.
The desire and intention behind the Bill is that a head teacher may decide whether it is appropriate to give a home-school agreement to the resident or non-resident parent. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley made a point about information sharing. There is specific protection to ensure that the home-school agreement can be tailored to prevent inappropriate sharing of information. That is why there might be different home-school agreements for each parent.
Well, the resident parent might not want the non-resident parent to know exactly where the child is or the various things that they are doing with the school, but the non-resident parent might still want to be involved in their sons or daughters education. My right hon. Friend makes an important point when she says that there are considerable difficulties now. There are many different types of families. The intention of the arrangements that we are discussing is to ensure that people with parental responsibility and those without direct responsibility who are non-resident can still be involved appropriately in their sons or daughters education.
My experience in schools shows that there are sometimes huge tensions between the natural mother and natural father, to the extent that they will hardly speak to each other, yet they are both devoted to their son or daughter and want to help them with their education. That is what the measures will allow for, and that is why we have provided discretion.
That is absolutely admirable, and the many different relationships that we see in society today make us wonder how to gain clear consensus about who should know what, when and why. Will my hon. Friend assure me that it need not be the head teacher who does all the explaining, perhaps to obstreperous parents who would disagree in any event about which direction matters should take, but that such a task can be delegated to someone with the time to do it?
In practice, the head teacher would make a decision whether such action was a good thing but, of course, others might work with the non-resident parents to draw up the home-school agreements. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We cannot expect the head teacher to be involved in drawing up the agreements in each circumstance, but they are in a position to decide what agreements should be drawn up, because they understand the needs of a particular child, while others will help in drawing up the details.
I want to give my hon. Friend an example. My youngest daughter is now in her 40s, but when she was in her final year at primary school, she was the only child in a class of more than 30 children with two parents extant. I am sure that he can understand the work load that could be involved with non-resident parents.
I cannot agree more with my hon. Friend. Notwithstanding the parents difficulties, most of them still want to be involved in the education of their son or daughter, and we frame measures with that in mind. The home-school agreement could be difficult in such circumstances, and I absolutely accept my hon. Friends point about the challenge that it could bring. He was right and proper to cite such an example from his personal experience but, from my professional experience, it was really difficult to ensure that we involved both natural parents who could not stand the sight of each other, but who both wanted to be part of their sons or daughters education. It is important when framing provisions for home-school agreements to recognise that they must be sensible and proportionate. I take into account what my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley said about the sharing of information, and that should be allowed. That is why such matters should be discretionary.
The right hon. Member for Don Valley referred to an important matter that I was about to bring to the Ministers attention. Notwithstanding the pertinent comments made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East about spending a lot of time on the agreements, the Government need to issue clearer guidance. I have had to write to a school on behalf of a non-resident father to ask it to release his childs report, to which he was entitled. There was some confusion in the school about what it could release because of what the resident parent had told it, which might not have been within the confines of a court order.
Surely the default position must be that, unless there is a protection order set by the courts, non-resident parents should be entitled to a record of what is going on with their child at school. Concomitant with that, they should be involved in some form of the home-school agreement so that they are providing their side of the bargain, particularly when the child might occasionally be resident with that parent.
I agree. Is that consistent with the amendment? Amendment 44 would remove the provision enabling head teachers to provide
different parents of the same pupil with different home-school agreements.
That is, if the head teacher considers it appropriate to do so. We are trying to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman outlined. Of course, home-school agreements should be appropriate for resident parents as well as non-resident parents. This is about sharing information. Of course we want to involve non-resident parents. They have an absolute right to be involved. However, if there are protection or child safety issues, of course information should not be shared. He is right to make that point.
However, I thought that the hon. Gentleman was making the pointif I am mistaken, he can replythat provision should be made for separate home-school agreements, because different information for the resident and non-resident parent might be wanted.
There are two completely different issues. My hon. Friends amendment seeks conformity in home-school agreements. Children should be treated differently within the same school. My point, which is an adjunct to that, is that there is a clear problem about non-resident parents involvement and entitlement to information about their children. This debate has not clarified the matter, so my plea to the Government, aside from the clause but relevant to it, is to think further and give clearer instructions so that parents know exactly what their entitlements arethat feeds into home-school agreementsin order to avoid ding-dong battles between parents within the school where the child is in the middle yet again, being used as a pawn. That is the problem at the moment in too many cases.
Nobody disagrees with that. Interestingly, what we are debating is how to make home-school agreements for different parents appropriate while ensuring that those with parental interest and responsibility can be involved with their children. Of course we will take on board the hon. Gentlemens comments about clarification and guidance, but this debate is not about having separate home-school agreements for different people.
I was asked to justify having different home-school agreements. Maybe resident and non-resident parents will have different agreements, but the fundamental principle is to keep people involved in their sons or daughters education. All the evidence points to the fact that that is good for fathers and for the young people themselves. It is interesting that as this debate has gone on, we have begun to debate how to make different home-school agreements for different people work rather than debating the principle.
The Minister is being open and helpful with his answers, but I return to my earlier point. Our previous debate was about what happens when somebody does not sign a home-school agreement and what that might lead to in terms of further action and the courts getting involved. What if one parent signs, whether before or after the child starts school, and the other parent does not? Who will the head teacher decide is primarily responsible for the delivery of the home-school agreement?
It seems to me that part of the home-school agreement will be standardgetting to school on time, good behaviour and what the school offers to the parent and pupil. The other part is personalised. For want of a better phrase, I call it an individualised learning plan. The agreement gives information, but there is also a responsibility to help deliver it.
In an ideal world it would be great for parents to come together to agree on the personalised home-school agreement, whether or not they were together. I am again trying to think of a scenario. The resident parent might agree with the plan, which could include provisions to meet the childs special educational needs, for example, but the other parent might not, even though they are not there every day to look after the child, check homework and ensure that they get to school on time. That is a bit worrying.
In my wildest imagination, we might end up in a situation where one parent has signed and the other has not, and a head teacher could be accused of deciding that they do not like the child, going for the parent who has not signed and does not live with the child and commencing proceedings to exclude the child from school. There are some issues tied up with how the home-school agreements are made, and I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with them.
Many of the points that have just been made are reasonable. In the end, there will be issues regarding who is responsible for signing home-school agreements, but that will be easy to deal with when it is clear who has parental responsibility.
I hate to be awkward, and the Minister is doing a wonderful job of replying, but the material that he has to work with might, in this instance, defeat even him.
I have already referred to my youngest daughters school experience with regard to children with only one parent extant. We all know of many instances in which the father has managed to dodge the column for any number of years and has not paid maintenance of any kind, but has suddenly turned up and said that he is interested in his child. We have to try to level that and say that there is something in the old-fashioned idea that people stay together for the benefit of the children. It is tough in the modern world, and the pressures are far different from when that saying had real meaning. No one expects people, with all the social pressures of modern life, to stay together just for the benefit of the children, but I wonder whether we are running a little too far away from the idea that children must come first. We should think about that before we get to this stage.
That is a perfectly reasonable thing to say. There will be guidance alongside the provision. I appreciate the compliments that my hon. Friend paid me, and I take his serious point. I think that all of us agree with the point about people staying together for the benefit of the child, whenever that is possible and it makes sense. I am trying to articulate to the Committee that notwithstanding the difficulties of the modern world, in which some people unfortunately split up, there will be a parent with whom the child is resident. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley makes the perfectly reasonable point that such a parent has responsibilities, such as getting the child to school and in relation to homework, that a non-resident parent does not have, for obvious reasons. The parent with whom the child resides will have a home-school agreement and will be involved in their childs education, but that does not mean that that does not apply to the non-resident parent. If we can find a way of doing thisthat is why it is discretionaryall the evidence shows that it will help with the education and growing-up of the young child. Our attempt to meet this challenge throws up the sorts of problems that have been articulated by Committee members. However, the question is whether we say that we will not try to address the matter because it is difficult and challengingeven though we know that it is better if both parents are involved with their children.
I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East that we have to live in the real worldhe is right to remind us of that. This is not wishy-washy liberal thinking about being nice to each other and getting involved. We are saying that having different home-school agreements for the mother and the fatherif that is appropriate and if it can be donewould improve the educational entitlement of their child in school. If it is not possible to achieve that, however, the head teacher will decide that it is not worth doing, and it will not be done.
That proposal represents a social policy challenge and a strategic choice. This is difficult, but we should not make the system over-bureaucratic. We must ensure that only the right information is shared. If we can do that, however, we will make a significant contribution to educational opportunity, as well as making some people face up to their responsibilities.
I am still grappling with how home-school agreements might differ for the same child, and why one would make them different. Under the old arrangements, the assumption was that the agreements just implied a set of general rights and responsibilities. Will the Minister give us two or three examples, leaving aside issues of privacy and where parents may live, of why someone would want to[Interruption.] Well, if that is the major reason, I am pleased to have that information, but I am still struggling to understand how a school would wish two home-school agreements to differ.
The only reason I shrugged was because it is so easy to say, I know there has been one example but can we have some more? I would do the same in the hon. Gentlemans place, and if he was in my place, he would have shrugged as well.
Let me try to explain. Imagine being a head teacher, or the person whom the head teacher delegates to draw up a home-school agreement. Imagine a home-school agreement that for most people would be a generic document about the ethos of the school and the various other bits that my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley talked about, alongside which is the individual learning. The resident parent sees the child every day of the weeksees them home from school, gets them off to school, packs their lunch and is responsible for their uniform. Let us say that the resident parent is the mother, while the father is 180 miles awayI am exaggerating to make the point. The home-school agreement drawn up for that father would be significantly different because he might not see the child from one month to the next. However, the important point is that we would still be trying to involve that non-resident parent in the education of their son or daughter. I hope that that practical example at least attempts to answer the question that the hon. Member for Yeovil posed.
In all such cases a custody order will have been made by a court. This might not work, but if there is a dispute that the head teacher is unable to resolve, perhaps he could ask for sight of the custody order to deal with the difficult situation of one parent being 1,000 miles away yet insisting on the same rights as the parent with custody.
I am not sure what the law is in that respect, but I think that we should look at anything that would help to overcome the difficulty that we are trying to address.
It is clear from the consensus in the room that grappling with modern families and keeping absent parents in the loop is vital. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed to a Division, but I also hope that my hon. Friend will hold further discussions with his colleagues in the Department about how the policy will work in practice, given the seriousness of the responsibility on both parents if further action has to be taken against them. They should also consider the way in which the agreements will fit in with other information that should be provided when appropriate, such as school report cards, notification of parents meetings and so on, because there is a lack of clarity in that area, too. If he can assure the Committee that he will hold such further discussions, perhaps that will help us to move on and return to the matter at a later date.
The social policy challenge is as I laid it out, but the practical details of how it is met are a matter for debate. I am perfectly happy to hold discussions with whoever to get things right and to ensure that we achieve our aspiration and policy objective to which, I am sure, no member of the Committee is opposed. People are concerned about the detail of how the system will work and the practical consequences.
The intention behind the amendments is to move away from the concept that the head teacher might decide, for the educational benefit of the young person, that different home-school agreements for the parents would benefit their son or daughter. I do not want to lose that flexibilityit is the prize. However, if we need discussions to understand better how this will work in practice, I am happy to go along with that.
I am grateful to the Minister for being so patient with hon. Members. Will he clarify that the issue will arise only when a non-resident parent requests that he or she should be party to a home-school agreement? I assume that there will be no element of compulsion in respect of a non-resident parent.
The policy is a bit more proactive than the hon. Gentlemans describes. It will be about contacting and working with the non-resident parent. The crucial point is discretion, and we shall consider what he said about that. I am grateful for the latitude that has been allowed in respect of our debate on the amendment. We have had an important discussion and lots of pertinent issues have been raised.
I go back to what I have just said in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley. I want to achieve the social policy objective of ensuring that, when appropriate, both parents are involved with their childrens education at school. Notwithstanding the difficulties, what a prize that would be. Of course there are practical difficulties that we need to understand and, as I said when I gave my commitment to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley and the Committee more generally, I am happy to consider how the policy will work in practice. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Yeovil to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response and for his usual patience in taking a wide range of questions. Although I still have a few worries about the way in which the provision will work in practice, I accept two of the hon. Gentlemans points: first, that this is one of the few aspects of the clause that is an option and that a duty will not be placed on head teachers and schools, which is at least one welcome thing; and, secondly, that all of us accept that so many original parents have broken up that there is a real problem with involving them in their childs education and encouraging them to be part of it. We obviously want to do that, but I am still struggling with a number of issues.
Although the provision is an enabling power, there might be expectations among parents that they should be able to have individualised home-school agreementsdifferent ones for different parents. Schools will be expected to consider that, so they will need a clear understanding of what is intended and how they should respond. Parents might worry when they understand that the home-school agreement of which they have sight is not the same agreement that the other parent has seen, and that might cause a lot of resentment. I would like the Minister to ponder these points and respond to them today or in writing.
Will the Minister tell us as clearly as possible when such a possibility will arise? I assume that the duty that we have been talking about is one to supply a home-school agreement to every registered pupil, but I am not quite sure what that means. Is that presumed to be the parent with care, or is there possibility, as the Minister indicated, that schools will have to be proactive by tracking down non-resident parents throughout the country to give them an option of a personalised home-school agreement? That would represent a pretty horrendous bureaucratic burden. If there was an expectation for both parents to sign different agreements, things could get complicated. Indeed, under a Conservative amendment, if one parent signed the home-school agreement and the other did not, we would not know whether the child would be able to attend any school at all. There are some serious concerns.
I would also like to know whether there will be an entitlement for a parent to see the home-school agreement that the other parent has signedalthough I assume that the answer is no. However, if I was a parent in such circumstances, I would want to know the arrangements and understandings relating to my child during the part of the week that they were not with me, but with the other parent. I would be quite concerned about things being kept secret, and the process could end up being part of a war between parents who have broken up, which is often pursued through a number of different routes, such as the Child Support Agency. The process could get messy and complex, so we need to be clear about the expectations and entitlements.
I am still quite nervous about why the measure is in the Bill. I do not believe that it is there simply so that the addresses of parents should be kept secret, for reasons that many of us will understandbecause of the disagreements that may arise. I assume that there would be some sort of provision to deal with that. I can only assume that the matter has arisen because of the Governments intention for the home-school agreements to be personalised and to have all sorts of detailed information about expectations. However, are we really going to encourage head teachers to break down the parents responsibilities for delivering the expectations so that the agreement states that one parent will be responsible for delivering them on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and the other parent on for the other days, because a child is with one parent for part of the week and with the other for a different proportion? Will there be an expectation that one parent will do a bit more maths or English, with the other doing geography? That sounds rather silly, but I do not understand why we would want to get down to that degree of distinct personalisation between parents, because it would create a nightmarish, complex mess. While head teachers could opt out of the process, they might decide to opt in, or be encouraged by parents to do so, and once they have opted in, they might face such problems regarding the responsibilities of a non-resident parent. This seems to be a bit of a minefield that needs clarification.
I would like to confirm what I said at the end of my speech. Many members of the Committee agree with the hon. Gentleman about some of the difficulties that he is raising. I agreed that I would look at them and see what we could do. As with the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, I will look at his points. For me, the prize is not saying in Committee, We will need to look at this to see how we can deliver it in a more practical and sensible way, but delivering the social policy objective of involving both parents as successfully as possible.
That is helpful. Will the Minister write to members of the Committee before the Bill is considered on Report so that we can decide whether to table further amendments?
Mr. Coakerindicated assent.
That is also helpful.
I would like to underline the issues that we particularly need to understand: the possible extent of the personalisation; whether the non-resident parent has to opt in or whether there is any compulsion to try to get them to sign home-school agreements; and whether a parent is entitled to see the other parents home-school agreement. Given the Ministers helpful assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
The head teacher...(a) may review a home-school agreement from time to time, and shall review each home-school agreement at least once in every school year after the one in which it was first provided... (b) may revise an agreement following a review.
Subsection (9) states that consultations with parents
must form part of any review.
The NASUWT brief summarises its position and ours:
The Union is...concerned about the potential for these agreements to become a hugely bureaucratic and unmanageable process and is particularly concerned by the proposal that they should be reviewed annually and signed following the review. The administration of the home school agreements must not place excessive and unreasonable burdens on schools. Therefore the provision to review every agreement annually should be on the basis of change in circumstances.
Not only do home-school agreements have to be bespoke for every childthere might be more than one for every child, as we have just debatedbut they need to be reviewed every year, perhaps redrafted every year, and signed every year. The absurdity becomes more and more obvious as the debate continues.
The right hon. Member for Don Valley made an interesting point about personal learning plans. Will the Minister tell the Committee what kind of things will be in a personalised home-school agreement? Will they relate to the behaviour of the child or their educational achievement? Paragraph 15 of the policy statement says:
HSAs must capture each childs personalised goals and targets around learning.
Does that mean that every piece of curriculum knowledgein history, geography, the sciences, maths and Englishwill be set out in the home-school agreement? Will a particular years home-school agreement state that we expect the child to have learned about Bismarck, or that we will be disappointed if he has not learned quadratic equations by the time he is 15? Will they address all the knowledge in the curriculum? I suspect not.
The policy is wrong not just because of its bureaucratic nature, but because it is an extension of a wider approach to education that has been tried time and again in this country, Australia and America. It is called outcomes-based education, and it is a progressive approach to education in which what matters is not the knowledge of the child, but their outcomes and their skills, so it is a skills-based approach rather than a knowledge-based approach. Kevin Donnelly talks about the complaints about an outcomes-based education in one of his excellent books, stating:
The excessive number of curriculum outcomes, especially at the primary school level...overwhelm teachers and promote a check list mentality in deciding what should be taught.
He says that the outcomes are jargon-ridden and generalised too much, that they are superficial and patchy and that the
nature of the outcome statements...work against students learning essential knowledge, understanding and skills associated with traditional subjects. We will come back to that when we talk about the primary curriculum.
The concern here is that the statement goals will have nothing to do with the curriculum knowledge that children are expected to learn by a certain date. They will be amorphous targets for skills that are understood by very few peopleparents, teachers and children. Even if the targets are understood, they do not relate to the actual curriculum knowledge of the child. The approach is not only bureaucratically heavy on schools, but something that has failed children wherever and whenever it has been tried around the world, and of course it always fails children from the least privileged backgrounds the most.
Amendment 45 would remove the requirement for an annual review. Amendment 46 would remove from the Bill the provision that the home-school agreement lapses when the pupil
ceases to be of compulsory school age.
I do not understand the need for that provision. Surely the home-school agreement lapses only when the pupil ceases to be a pupil at the school, whether that is at the age of 13 because they move house, the age of 16 because they leave school, or the age of 18 because they are going on to further education. Surely a 17-year-old in a sixth form needs to conform to the rules of their school every bit as much as a pupil below the age of 16.
As the hon. Gentleman explained, amendment 45 would remove proposed new subsections (8) and (9), which relate to the head teacher reviewing the home-school agreement and having to consult parents. We have tried to achieve something similar with amendments 135 and 136, by turning a shall into a may and a must into a may. In other words, we do not see why head teachers should, under such a bureaucratic, dreadful and centralising provision, be compelled to review the home-school agreements each year for the sake of it, and nor do we understand why it is necessary for them to consult parents about that as a matter of course. In an education system in which we have some faith in head teachers, such things should be devolved to them.
We agree that amendment 46 raises interesting issues about whether the home-school agreements should lapse when pupils cease to be of compulsory school age, and we will be interested to hear the Ministers response to what has been said.
I want to say a couple of things before I read out some information to the Committee. On amendment 46 and the idea of home-school agreements, there is an interesting debate around when a home-school agreement should finish. The maximum impact of a home-school agreement and parental involvement comes at compulsory school age. We have to judge whether a home-school agreement is as effective and necessary for students of 17 and 18. I draw the Committees attention to the maturity of those 17 and 18-year-olds. Notwithstanding the important parental involvement that we would expect to continue, part of what we are trying to achieve with education at that age is individual responsibility rather than parents always trying to support their children.
The hon. Member for Yeovil might disagree with me, but at what age is it appropriate to say that a young person has responsibility for their own education? We would always want parents to be involved, but is the correct way of doing so through a home-school agreement when a 17 or 18-year-old is in the sixth form? As for the age of compulsory education, while of course we want parents to be involved in the education of young people, part of their education experience is the individual responsibility that they should take for themselves. I know that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole always talks about the importance of listening to what young people say. The voice of young people is clear at the ages of 17 and 18. Of course, the involvement of parents is important, but young people always have the desire to be seen as responsible for themselves.
I thought that the Minister would have heard my quiet comment that there would be issues other than the home-school agreement when a student was 18. A school might want pupils who were not fulfilling expectations in the sixth form to sign up to something, but such a policy would be difficult to undertake at about the age of 18, given all the work that they have to do generally.
The amendment that the Minister is talking about is a Conservative one, not one that we tabled. What I said is that I was interested in his response. There are some interesting issues that arise between our expectations of pupils and of parents. We are not necessarily dealing with one unit. There is no reason why we cannot regard a young person as having reached adult age at 16 or 18, but we might still have some expectations of their parents.
I know that it is a Conservative amendment. However, I have just heard the sound of retreat. I made my remarks because the hon. Gentleman appeared to be supporting the Conservative position. If I have misrepresented him, I apologise profusely. We are saying that home-school agreements should be for pupils of compulsory school age for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman gave.
The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton asked what would be laid out in home-school agreements. He will no doubt have read new section 109A(4), which lays out the sort of things that one would expect in a home-school agreement, such as the schools aims, values and responsibilities and parents responsibilities. Sub-paragraph (d) mentions the schools expectations of the pupil. That is the interesting part of the discussion, where there will be considerable differences between pupils and personalisation. It is about the schools expectations of the pupiltheir conduct and education.
I do not agree with the view of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton that schools ignore and do not want to teach knowledgethey want to teach knowledge and skills. Schools are about both those things, not about one to the exclusion of the other. They are both important parts of an education for young people.
I am not talking about what schools want, but the general direction of this Governments policy and of the education administrators who advise the Government. The general thrust of policy has been towards an outcomes-based education. The early years foundation stage and the revisions to the key stage 3 curriculum are all outcomes-based. When we come to debate clause 10 and go through the curriculum objectives in lesson plans, we will see that they are all outcomes-based objectives, and have nothing to do with curriculum knowledge, skills or development of literacythey are all to do with broader outcomes. I think that that is a retrograde step, and the measure is part and parcel of that policy.
That is an interesting point, with which most of the teachers in the country will disagree. They see that the way in which the curriculum is laid out ensures that we do things not at the expense of other equally important things.
The Minister misunderstands me. It is not a debate between skills and knowledge in that sense. Of course, if someone is learning to read, they have to develop the skills of reading, and in maths, they learn the skills of maths. However, there is a division in the profession and in the public about the outcomes-based approach. That is what is so distressing about the Governments centralising approach. They foist the method on the large number of teachers and head teachers who do not agree with that philosophical approach to education. That is why there is such hostility to a centralising approach to education out there, and what we have before us is part of that.
It will be interesting to see what the hon. Gentleman does if he takes up that position on the teaching of phonics. I understood that he was very much in favour of central direction in respect of phonics. If he were schools Minister, it would be interesting to see how he responded if all the schools in the country decided not to teach reading by phonics. No doubt he will tell us that it is up to each individual school, even if they do not do phonics.
The schools would be expected to use best practice, and they simply would not get their children[Laughter.] That is the policy. All the evidence from the States, this country and Scotland shows that phonics is absolutely the best method of teaching children to read. Schools will not be able to pass the test that we are proposing unless they use best practice. If schools can teach children to read within several months using another method, fine; they are very welcome to do so. We can learn from that and the children will do well in the tests. However, if they do not use best practice, they will not get through the tests.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is about to intervene on me and say something about the interesting comment of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton.
Yes. Does the Minister think that the counter-proposal in the hon. Gentlemans policy is that synthetic phonics should be compulsory or compulsory only if things go wrong?
It was unclear exactly what the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton was saying. I do not intend to be disrespectful, and I mean it in the nicest possible way, but we all know that the hon. Gentleman is a fanatic about synthetic phonics. He believes with a passion that synthetic phonics should be used in all classrooms in every situation. He was chiding me about central direction. I hope that it never happens, but if he was Minister I wonder what his position would be if schools up and down the land rejected his approach. Would he say that that was fine and tell them to get on with it? Hopefully, he will not be able to make such a decision, but it is an interesting thought.
There will be an annual review of the home-school agreement, but the agreement will not necessarily be changed as a consequence. It is reasonable to require schools to review home-school agreement along with the individualised learning plan, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley describes it, once a year to see what progress has been made and to discuss it with the parent at the parents evening or whatever. Most parents sign home-school agreements and, if individualised learning plans were part of them, most parents would expect somewhere along the lineif the documents were to mean anythingto have a discussion about the progress that their son or daughter had made. It is reasonable to review the agreement at least annually, which will be the case for the majority of pupils. I put the caveat to the Committee again: just because the agreement will be reviewed annually, it does not mean that it has to be changed.
The fact that the learning plan is individualised will mean that it will be put together in the best interests of the children in order for them to learn at the school. The priorities might be in different subjects or they might be behavioural objectives, but the words individual and personalised make it difficult for me to say what would be set out in each plan. The school would put something in the plan that was appropriate and relevant to the individual child. It would be discussed and agreed with the parents, reviewed annually and, as we know from discussions with parents, it would be popular and make a significant difference. With those remarks, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
I will move swiftly over amendments 45, 135 and 136 because I do not agree with what the Minister said about the degree of compulsion, and I might bore the Committee if I repeat my arguments about that now. We shall have a stand part debate in a moment.
The Minister was teasing me about amendment 46. I did not say that I supported it, but that I would be extremely interested to hear his reply to it. Given that he has tried to divide me from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, from whom I cannot be divided on any issue, I want to throw back at least a couple of matters. He said that, when young people reach the age of 16, they should be treated as adults and have no obligation to be part of the home-school agreement policy. But, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton pointed out, the participation age will go up to 18 from 16 under the Governments plans, so I am unclear whether that changes the Ministers view.
The Bill states:
A home-school agreement lapses when the pupil to whom it relates...ceases to be of compulsory school age.
When the participation age goes up, will the home-school agreements be extended up to 18 by default, which is what the Minister appeared to suggest might not be necessary? What are our and the Governments expectations of whoever takes responsibility under a home-school agreement post-16? Is prime responsibility expected to transfer from the parent to the child? Should the child then be expected to sign the home-school agreement? We would not want that to be compulsory. Should they be taking over from the parent? Do the parents rights and responsibilities, as have been stated up until then in the home-school agreement, simply come to an end because the pupil happens to be at an age at which they start to acquire adult rights? Much of what is embedded in the home-school agreements is presumably about parents accepting the responsibility that they actually have. Do we really want them to drop all responsibilities simply because the young person has reached an age beyond 16?
In spite of the Ministers teasing, there are questions that the Government must answer. I hope that there may be an opportunity today to tease out the solutions to those questions.
We have not had satisfactory responses from the Minister on any of the amendments. It is a huge burden on schools around the country to require them not only to produce bespoke agreements but to review each one every year, and potentially more than once a year if there are changes in the childs circumstances. The Minister has not revealed an understanding of the burden that the clause places on schools already burdened by weekly missives from his Department, which head teachers and teachers are meant to read, absorb and apply.
The Minister has not answered the question about what happens after a child reaches the end of compulsory schooling. As the hon. Member for Yeovil pointed out, the ASCL Act 2009 extended the compulsory participation age to 18. Under that Act, from my memory of it, many responsibilities remain with the parents. It seems inconsistent for home-school agreement requirements not to apply until a child leaves school.
However, I do not intend to press amendment 45. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
This is a terrible clause, as we explained on Tuesday. It builds on a policy that is already, according to the impact assessment, and in contrast to what the Minister told us previously, a complete flop. The home-school agreement is bureaucratic and not worth the paper it is written on, which is more or less a paraphrase of the impact assessment. The clause succeeds in making matters much worse. It imposes an obligation on every head and make agreements compulsory; it ensures that home-school agreements have to be personalised for every child; it obliges head teachers to review them annually, even if they think them a waste of time; it obliges every home-school agreement to be signed, even if that is considered a waste of time; agreements might or might not go up to 18we will find that out shortly; and there might or might not have to be separate personalised agreements for different parents. It is a bureaucratic nightmare and a complete waste of money. The context in which we are debating the Bill is one in which every political party is considering what cuts it must make to services that are valued by our constituents. In that new environment, we should not be legislating for anything that will not make an impact for the better on the front line.
We should bear in mind when called to debate measures involving additional costs, as the clause does, whether those costs are worth bearing in the current financial environment, considering all the other things that we want to fund. We should bear in mind the impact assessment and the Governments own estimate that the clause will require schools to spend an additional half hour on bureaucracy for 7.3 million pupils, for gains that seem highly debatable. For all those reasons, I will seek to divide the Committee on the clause.
We have had an interesting debate. I will make a couple of points before I make my more formal comments. With respect to the compulsory school age, we are trying to give ourselves a bit of time. The age of participation does not go up to 17 until 2013 or to 18 until[Interruption.] It is 2013 for 17 and 2015 for 18; that is what I thought I said. In terms of considering how the measures relate to that, we will obviously need to consider
Having teased me earlier about the issue, saying that it would not be sensible to extend the home-school agreement duty beyond 16, is the Minister now saying that that might be done?
Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. However, in the context of the discussion of the Bill, I am saying that given the changed circumstancesthe rise in participation age in 2013 and 2015it is only right and proper to consider whether that is the right thing to do. All that I am saying to the hon. Gentleman is that I think that there is an issue involving young people at school.
As we will see later when we come to the right to withdraw children from personal, social, health and economic education, there is a debate to be had about when young people are competent to take decisions for themselves and accept responsibility. That debate is difficult and serious. Home-school agreements are not insulated from that debate, but as the participation age will rise, the hon. Gentleman is certainly right to ask what difference that will make to home-school agreements.
Given that we have already legislated to raise the participation age to 17 and 18, and that we in the House spent a lot of time doing so, it seems absurd to say now that we still have not considered the implications of that legislation for home-school agreements, given the link between the two. That seems to reveal poor policy development and a failure to consider the issue when officials drafted clause 4.
The position is as I have stated. Clause 4 is important and will improve educational outcomes in this country.
Parents influence is crucial to childrens well-being, behaviour and attainment. It outstrips factors such as social class, ethnicity and disability for its impact in the classroom. Activities such as reading with children, talking to them and their teachers about what they are doing at school, helping with their homework, and discussing subjects and career options can make a difference.
Most parents want to help their children to do well at school, but many find it difficult to engage effectively with their childrens learning. Some parents might lack time or confidence in their own skills, or might not realise how they can help. Others might lack sufficient knowledge about what their child is doing at school or how they can help to reinforce the learning. Those who had negative experiences at school can often find it difficult to connect meaningfully with their childs school. The Government are committed to helping parents and schools to become more effective partners in childrens learning and have set out a range of parental engagement commitments in The Childrens Plan One Year On: a progress report, which followed on from the White Paper Your child, your schools, our future: building a 21st century schools system, which was published in June 2009. We said that we would strengthen the legislation underpinning partnerships between parents and schools. The clause strengthens home-school agreements so that all parents understand better their responsibilities to follow the school rules, help their child to learn and support good behaviour.
All schools are legally required to have home-school agreements which, when used effectively, can establish trust and understanding between parents and schools. Most schools have generic whole-school agreements that parents are asked to sign once when their child is admitted to the school. They are not always regularly reviewed, so they do not always reflect properly changing expectations as children develop and progress through schools, and they do not outline the significant support parents can provide.
The new home-school agreements will build on the existing processes that all schools have in place for sharing personalised information on childrens behaviour, learning and wider well-being with parents, and they will continue to include the whole-school policies and strategies that all parents will be expected to agree to abide by. In addition, each childs home-school agreement will be personalised so that it clearly sets out their key behavioural, learning and well-being goals and targets, together with the support the parents and school can reasonably be expected to provide to help the child work towards those targets.
Clause 4, notwithstanding our discussions on it, is an important part of the educational reforms that we intend to take forward, and it will help us to improve educational outcomes. I will always reflect on the points that hon. Members make to see whether more can or should be done, and to look the aspects of proposals that we discuss in relation to amendments. However, I think that, overall, clause 4 sets out an important objective.
The Minister is making his case valiantly, and he is right to say that an important aspect of childrens welfare is their parents constructive involvement in their education. However, I honestly believe that the clause has not been thought through properly and that it has all the hallmarks of something that has been written by people without much life experience. His promise to reflect, cogitate and think again about how it might be made workable to achieve the excellent objective must be seen in the context of the vote on the clause, if there is to be one. I would like him to reassure me once more that he will rethink the outcomes of the clause as it stands and consider carefully how it might be made workable in the light of our discussions today and hon. Members experiences.
Of course I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance, which I tried to give before made his intervention.
We have had a helpful debate. There are differences of opinion on one or two of the principles involved, but there is also a desire to ensure that the way in which we try to attain our social policy objectives is practical and workable.
I have taken several Bills through Parliament, and I will adopt the same approach for this Bill that I took for the others. One of the important aspects of parliamentary scrutiny obviously takes place on the Floor of the House, but the detailed, line-by-line scrutiny that takes place in Committee tests legislation and, in a way, aims to make it better. If amendments can be made without sacrificing the social policy objectives that we all want to achieve, which in this case is to ensure that all young people achieve the educational outcomes that they should and to involve parents in that as much as possiblebecause that helpswe will of course consider them.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, as it will save me from having to make a speech at the end.
In relation to the interesting issue of how long the home-school agreements will last, will it be possible for the Minister to update the Committee on the Governments thinking about whether they will move upwards with the participation age before Report so that our debate can be informed by a clear understanding of their intentions?
Of course that is one of a number of issues that has arisen, as has the practical consequences of having different home-school agreements for parents. I am sorry to repeat myself but this is such an important point for me. With the clause, my desire is to have something that is practical and workable. If we can deliver that, however difficult it is and whatever the challenges, we will be able to improve educational outcomes for young people in this country. I have already given a commitment to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East that we will reflect on the matter and take it forward. The hon. Member for Yeovil has raised a number of different points that I am happy to consider, and I will come back to the Committee in due course, if necessary.