Clause 5

Part of Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 28th January 2010.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 2:45 pm, 28th January 2010

Amendment 137 would remove the duty on local authorities or school governing bodies to provide support to parents who had entered into parenting contracts following non-compliance with the behavioural expectations set out in their home-school agreement. I  know that all hon. Members will agree that all children should be able to learn in an environment free from disruption. Pupils, school staff and parents share responsibility for ensuring that that is the case. All parents need to understand how they can help schools to manage poor behaviour in the classroom and what schools in turn will do.

Sir Alan Steer’s recent review of behaviour in school notes the fundamental importance of the engagement of parents in the education of their child, particularly when the child is experiencing or causing problems in school. To help with that, parents need to be able to understand how they can help schools to manage poor behaviour in the classroom. Once their child has been admitted to a school, parents will be expected to sign the home-school agreement every year, and they will face consequences if they fail to live up to the responsibilities set out in it. As long as the child behaves well and attends school regularly, no further action will be required.

However, a small minority of children can cause difficulties for schools and distress for teachers, and disproportionately affect the learning of other children in their class. Parents who do not fully understand their own and the school’s respective responsibilities can contribute to poor behaviour in the classroom. Clause 4 makes new provisions for the personalisation of home-school agreements that will allow schools to include behavioural and attendance concerns in the agreements as soon as they emerge, and outline parents’ responsibilities in helping schools to address them. If parents fail to adhere to the commitments that they have made to address those issues, and their child’s poor behaviour or attendance continues, the school can ask the parents to enter into a voluntary parenting contract. Clause 5 will amend the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 so that the personalised home-school agreement will form part of that contract, alongside any other action expected of the parent.

Parenting contracts are voluntary, two-way arrangements between parents and the school or the local authority, and the duty to provide support is dependant on which party signs the home-school agreement. We have not prescribed in legislation the type of support that a parent might require, and have left it to the individual local authority or governing body to decide. Our guidance on parenting contracts provides information on the type of support that could be provided to parents. It would be for academies to provide support to their pupils because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East knows, academies must have home-school agreements. It is also the case that we do not want people to evade their responsibilities in the way in which the hon. Member for Yeovil suggests. Citing parental support advisers or the offer of support as a way of trying to evade responsibility is not acceptable, and we do not want that to happen. However, we understand that some parents might need support to fulfil the obligations of a contract or the obligations that the home-school agreement sets out.

Whether children are in an academy or an ordinary school, there are parents who might wish to support them but struggle to do so. They deserve some additional support to help them fulfil the terms of the home-schools agreement. I realise—as, I am sure, do my hon. Friends and other members of the Committee—that there is a fundamental difference between parents who wilfully  do not try to support their children in school, and those who go out of their way to support their son or daughter but, despite their best intentions, struggle to do so. I have met such parents, as I am sure we all have. They use all the different means at their disposal, yet there are problems with that young person.

In such a situation, despite all the efforts that that parent has made, it would be appalling simply to say, “You have failed to honour the home-school agreement.” In some circumstances—when a mother or father has tried everything possible to ensure that their child goes to school, and has worked with the school with respect to homework, uniform and any of the other issues—it is only right and proper to provide support. There is a clear difference between those parents and others who simply do not give a damn. It would be irresponsible for us to ignore that difference, because we have all seen it ourselves. We are trying to say that parents sometimes need support to deal with the problem.

Providing parental support is a good thing—not so parents can evade their responsibility under the contract, as the hon. Member for Yeovil suggested, but because sometimes people need support to be able to deal with such situations. As parents, I am sure that we have all sometimes experienced that difficulty ourselves. That is what we are trying to deal with. This issue is really important, and we try to make that distinction all the way through the Bill.

Sometimes people’s responsible parenting does not achieve the desired outcome. Those people need support and help—sometimes not from the state, but from friends. There are other people who do not really put themselves out and a parenting contract and then a parenting order is appropriate for them. We would not want to see those who try, but have difficulties, made subject to a parenting order. We want a parenting support adviser or other type of support provider to work with them to try to help with the difficulties they have had, and that is the purpose of the measure.