'After section 86 of the principal Act (local administration):—
All records on pupils kept by education authorities shall be available for inspection by parents or in the case of students over 16 by the students themselves provided seven days' notice is given to the Director of Education and the request is made in writing.".'— [Mr. O'Neill.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
§ >Mr. O'Neill
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause is simple and straightforward. One of the major factors in the Bill is the Government's attempt to make more information available to parents and students. Student records are beginning to assume a significance that they have not had for a long time, because in many instances the new forms of certification introduced by individual schools and groups of schools because of the disquiet concerning the Scottish certificate of education means that schools will be required to carry more comprehensive records of students for whom they are responsible.
The new clause seeks to provide parents of youngsters up to the age of 16 with the opportunity to inspect records. Students aver the age of 16 will have the opportunity to inspect the records themselves to discover what has been recorded about them. We do not think that it is a matter of great controversy. The requirement to provide seven days' notice in writing to the director of education fill not result in any administrative difficulties. It may discourage frivolous applications. It will go some way to allay the fears and misgivings of some parents about what is kept in the records of their children.
§ Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)
Is the hon. Gentleman proposing to provide, in addition to the clause, a way whereby teachers will be protected against living in an environment of possible legal actions? If they have made a report on a child which the parent does not like or believes to be wrong or in some way libellous, will the teachers be protected by privilege?
§ Mr. O'Neill
That may be the mark of paranoia of Conservative Members about the litigious ambitions of the teaching profession. The information that should be kept about youngsters in schools should relate to their academic performance, their state of health and any matters of a personal nature that are known either to the parents or to themselves. It is not the responsibility of schools to maintain records that could be the subject of legal actions. I do not wish that to happen. There will always be those who will take offence at the records. They would take offence at some school reports. That problem exists now. The new clause seeks to encourage the confidence of parents and students that the records are readily available for inspection and that their contents are of such a nature that they can be made available to them in normal circumstances. Seven days' notice in writing is all that will be required.
We do not see our proposal as opening up opportunities for legal action. It is a means to encorage parents to have trust in what will become a common occurrence in the near future—namely, the provision of reports that will be sent to employers and colleges. Those reports eventually may supplant certificates of education gained by examination. 110 The evidence on which they are based should be readily available in a form that is intelligible to parents and mature students.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
I wish to support the new clause. It is eminently acceptable. I suggest to the Government that it falls within the realms of the parents' charter—that part of Government policy that has been vaunted and trumpeted for a long time. It seeks to provide that parents of youngsters up to the age of 16 should have the right to examine the records kept by the school, and that after the age of 16 students should have an equivalent right.
More and more records seem to be kept. There are fears that many of us will be computerised out of existence. Every facet of our existence has been logged. The whole question of open government is something that society has to bear in mind.
At school level there may be worries about whether there has been victimisation or, on a more innocent level, whether assessments made in school reports, which are not always very informative, will be checked against a written record. The parent, having seen the record, may feel in a better position to discuss the progress or lack of progress being made by the child with the teacher concerned or with the director. It may prove to be an advantage in opening up channels of communication between parents and the school. Students of 16 years or over would have the opportunity of assessing for themselves where they were going. It is part of the extension of rights available under open government.
As the Government are so keen on having their parents' charter, I cannot see why they should not give the new clause a welcome. They may wish to change its wording. They may think that seven days' notice is not sufficient and that 14 or 21 days would be more appropriate. That is something that the Government could put right in another place. I lend my support to what is a worthwhile new clause.
§ Mr. Carmichael
I agree with the general principle that records should be available, but I am sorry that the new clause is so specific about a period of notice of seven days, and especially that it has to be given in writing. Some parents will be hesitant about making requests in writing. There is a great enough barrier between the ordinary member of the Scottish public and schools, and that is not to the credit of schools. Many parents have a fear of the schools. The idea that parents should ask for a record of their children in writing with seven days' notice will deter a section of parents from applying, and perhaps those parents will want to be able to get at the records and to know the general progress that their children are making.
I am sure that the Minister will agree with the principle of greater information being available to parents, and I hope that he will consider making the procedure much easier for parents genuinely seeking information about their children. As I have said, a definite barrier wall arise for many parents when they are asked to give seven days' notice. It is a flaw in our education system that there are many parents who will be terrified at the idea of writing to the school, and even more so to the director of education, to say that a week on Thursday, for example, 111 they would like to be able to inspect the records of their children. It is an unfortunate elaboration that has been inserted into the new clause.
I agree with the general principle, and I hope that the Government will accept it. If they do, I ask them to take the spirit of the clause to another place but to loosen it and make the procedure more simple for parents who feel worried and want to see the records but feel concerned and sense that there is a barrier between them and learning about their children.
§ Mr. Maxton
On the surface, the new clause may not appear to have the same importance as new clauses 1 and 2, but it is important. It is important at two levels. First, many of us believe that we live in a society that is far too secret and that too much is kept from members of the public. There are too many things that the Government and authority generally prefer people not to know. This is a small but important step that we should be taking, and it should be considered seriously. I hope that the Minister will take it seriously. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. O'Neill) said, the new clause is much in the spirit of the philosophy that the Minister has suggested is underlying the entire Bill—namely, parents' rights. That was the major theme of what he said throughout the Committee stage. That theme was the right of parents to choose and to know about what their children are doing.
The clause ensures that parents will have the right to know what is happening to their children in schools, how they are getting on and whether a black mark is put down against them that is affecting their progress. They should know whether that is being passed on through the school—that can happen—and whether reports are passed from primary to secondary schools, which could have an important impact on the way in which the child is treated in the secondary school. In that school the teachers may know nothing about the child, but if a report comes to the school from the primary school teacher or headmaster the child may find himself branded for something that may not be true.
As there is no way in which a parent can demand the information from the school, it is possible that such facts may never be taken off a child's record. Therefore, we must consider the matter seriously. I take the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) made about written applications, to which I shall refer later.
As I have said, two reports on secondary education were issued about three years ago. The Munn report dealt with curricula, and the second was the Dunning report. Some of us in education had problems in making sure that we did not talk about the Dunn and Munning reports and that we did not confuse the two. The Dunning report dealt with the assessment of children.
Many organisations in Scotland, including the Labour Party, made submissions to the Dunning' committee because we were concerned about the rigid system of external examinations upon which children's whole futures are often based. Many of us felt—many people still feel—that Dunning was weak on that matter and that a greater element of internal assessment of children should be carried out by the schools and not by an external examination system.
112 We felt that for several reasons. We felt that external examinations made a judgment of a child, often based on one day or on a series of days in the child's life. If the child was feeling off colour, for whatever reason, he could fail. Schools that are able to assess the overall performance of the child in terms not only of his academic ability but of his contribution to the general life of the school should increasingly be important to Scottish education. Coming from the English education system, you will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that some of the modules in the CSE examinations go some way towards such an assessment. The lower modules go very much towards internal school assessment. There is a need increasingly to introduce that in Scotland.
Dunning fudged the issue to some extent. If I may say so without treading too far on your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he introduced three specific levels of examination—band one, band two and foundation. Band one was for the bright pupils. Band two was for middle-range pupils. Within the foundation element of assessment, which was to be for pupils unable to take the other two bands of examination, there was a large amount of internal school assessment.
We should move towards an overall assessment of a child's abilities, both academic and otherwise, so that potential employers and others outside the school have a better assessment than they have through external examinations. Such examinations are a bad means of assessing even the children capable of passing them, and they do nothing for the children who do not sit them. The new clause becomes even more important if we are to move towards total assessment. It is vital that parents are aware of what is said at each stage of the assessment. They have the right to know.
At present, pupils leave secondary school at three levels, as Dunning to some extent said. First, there are those who stay on to do highers, which are the equivalent of A-levels. If they pass, they can go on to higher education. There are then those who sit O-grades and go on to further education, craft courses, apprenticeships or other training. However, only about 30 per cent. of pupils in Scottish schools sit O-grades and highers. About 70 per cent. leave school with only one or two O-levels, which are of no use to them.
§ Mr. Maxton
By no means all the 70 per cent. are incapable of obtaining employment, except under this Government. Most seek employment. How can a potential employer assess their abilities? Most school leavers give the name of their secondary school. [Interruption.] I am having difficulty with off-stage noises. I admit that I am an actor. An employer who is interested in a youngster's application writes to the school to ask about him.
The child's whole future may ultimately depend upon what the school says to the employer. If during the various stages of the child's education the school has put down a series of black marks that have never been able to be challenged, the report that is sent to the employer may damn the child in the employer's mind, so that he cannot obtain a job and joins the very long youth unemployment queue that we already have under the present Government.
The Opposition therefore seek to protect those pupils who, in our view, are the weakest members of our society 113 and have the greatest problems in obtaining employment. Although in the case of those who obtain higher and O- level certificates the employer or university may take a report from the school in some circumstances, basically it will rely upon the results of the external examinations to judge the worth of the pupil. The future of those without such qualifications, however, depends upon what the school says about them. It is therefore right that what is said about pupils should be available to parents.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the principle has already been conceded by the schools, in that they voluntarily provide reports on the educational and other progress of the child? The new clause seeks to extend that so that the main file is also available to parents so that they may go to the fountain from which all the other material comes in the quarterly reports.
§ Mr. Maxton
That is correct. It is the ability to know everything about the child throughout his whole school career.
As I have said, there is the important point that something that happens in the primary school may be passed on in the report to the secondary school and remain on the record. When the headmaster writes a report on the child to a prospective employer, he may make a comment about the child's character without referring to the original incident, about which he may know nothing. For example, perhaps due to problems at home, the child may have played truant for two or three months during his primary school years. He may never have done so again throughout the rest of his school career, but it will be on the record. If, however, the parent sees a report containing a comment such as "poor attendance record at school", he will have no idea when the incident in question occurred.
There is, therefore, a need in the case of this group of children—they are by far the majority of children leaving Scottish schools—who do not have examination results on which to rely and for whom the school's assessment is very important, for parents to know exactly what is on the record, so that if they wish to challenge something they are in a position to do so and to have it taken off the record. I believe that that right must eventually follow if the new clause is passed, so that parents will have the right to have expunged from the record things that they know and can prove to be incorrect.
In conclusion, I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove. I said that I would return to this point. I believe that there are some parents—certainly some of my constituents in Castlemilk—who will have difficulty in going through the procedure of writing to the director of education, and so on, unless we ensure that the schools are aware of this and lay down their own procedures so that it may be done. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire has taken my hon. Friend's point on board, and I hope that if the Government accept it the Bill will be amended accordingly in another place.
I therefore give my wholehearted support to the new clause. It is long overdue. It is necessary in educational terms. It is also, as I said at the beginning, a small step towards breaking down the barriers of secrecy that exist in our society.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) for 114 disturbing him slightly during his speech. I assure him that the disturbance was not unconnected with the progress of the Bill.
I also welcome you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the Chair. We are glad that Mr. Speaker has seen fit to bring in the night shift.
The new clause is significant in two ways. First, it is one of 11 new clauses that have been selected which attempt to put a little bit of flesh, meat or solidity into the Bill. It is a scrawny Bill which cannot stand alongside the Education Acts that we have passed over the years. It is one of the most amazingly despicable Bills introduced by any Government. I compared it earlier with the 1908 Act, which introduced social services in our schools, meals, nurseries, medical examination and superannuation for teachers. That was a reforming Act—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Wetherill)
Order. I do not think that we need go back to previous Acts. We are now discussing whether records should be available for inspection by parents and students. Perhaps we can return to that matter.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I accept your correction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and your putting me on the correct line.
The new clause is one of a number that we have tabled to make the Bill a more substantial piece of legislation, along the lines of the 1908 Act or the 1918 Act, which introduced free secondary education and raised the school leaving age. This puny Bill is one of privilege and prejudice. I shall not dwell on that aspect any longer as I do not want to test your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. O'Neill), the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart have pointed out, we are testing the Government's sincerity about the parents' charter. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) knows only too well the importance of parental involvement. We have been trying to elicit from the Government whether they will go beyond what they have introduced in the Bill, which allegedly is a parents' charter. The Government are suggesting that parents should be able to send their children to another school or perhaps have the choice of another school within a given area, but that is a totally illusory choice when they are giving no additional funds for parents to send their children to such schools.
That is the only element of parents' rights that the Government have conceded. In Committee we suggested parental representation on the examination boards, but Conservative Members voted down our proposal. We suggested parental involvement in the appointment of head teachers, and they voted that down. We suggested more powers for the schools councils, on which parents are represented, and they voted that down. Today we suggest in a later amendment more authority for parents by making parent-teacher associations mandatory.
All these suggestions test the Government about the statements that they are making around the country—all this "blah"—and, my goodness, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. 115 Fletcher), is the "blah" expert. We have tested the Minister by putting down amendments, and he is unwilling to accept them.
I have been listening carefully to the debate. I find the arguments that have been put forward immensely convincing. I have not heard some of them previously. They have convinced me of the importance of pupil records and the right of parents to see them. Therefore, I am convinced that the Minister will accept the new clause. I see no other alternative course open to him. Given the force of the argument and the weight and tone of the debate, and the way in which it has run, I cannot see any other course open to the Minister.
I am waiting expectantly for the Minister to jump up during my speech—because he has probably heard enough from me and from others—and say "We accept the force of the argument and we shall accept the new clause, and we can get on to the next one." It seems that the Minister does not intend to do that. I am disappointed. However, it allows me to continue to speak about the record files.
Records are a useful tool for teachers. It has been difficult in the past for teachers to make rough notes on their own scraps of paper to keep an understanding about the progress of a pupil. Pupils in primary schools will go on from one teacher to another. There needs to be some systematised way of passing on information. I have looked at the blank files. They are very well designed files and very comprehensive about pupil's attainments. It is an efficient and effective way of proceeding. With all the heads that appear on the files, I can see no heading under which a teacher would or should be embarrassed, concerned or fearful in any way of revealing information to parents.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Is there not a possibility that if the files were made available it would create an atmosphere in the teaching profession in which teachers would be likely to be more precise in the accuracy of the information? By not making the files freely available, there is a possibility that they will be treated without the seriousness that the subject demands.
§ Mr. Foulkes
My hon. Friend has raised a good point. If the teacher is aware that parents have a right to look at the files, he will think very carefully about what he puts into them, particularly to ensure their accuracy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart said, one of the prime purposes of parents seeing files is to check their accuracy and to make sure that what ought to be factual comments are in fact factual.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
My hon. Friend will be aware that, as Members, we are often approached by constituents who bring to us complaints about the inaccuracy of information that is lodged in official documents, and which invariably leads to their being penalised somewhere in the system. Therefore, it is crucial that whatever evidence or information is available in official reports, of whatever nature it may be, it is precise. This is a way of establishing that in principle for education.
§ Mr. Foulkes
That is an important point. I can give an example, using fictitious names. A constituent of mine came to see me because after receiving his income tax codings in his own name for a while—I shall call him Mr. 116 Hawkins—he suddenly began receiving them in the name of a Mrs.Brown of the same address. He had changed neither his name nor his sex. Such inaccuracies arise. That example is not an exact parallel of what might happen with pupils' records, but it shows that inaccuracies can arise.
Employers will be one of the principal recipients of information from these files. Therefore, in the long run, the whole career of a pupil can depend upon the accuracy or otherwise of what is included in the file. I hope that all of us see this as a matter of great importance.
It has been hinted—no more than that—in certain quarters that some teachers might include on the files the fact that a pupil had participated in an employment march, in the Faslane demonstration—
§ Mr. Foulkes
—or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr.McKelvey) said, it might be put down that a pupil seemed to have Communist tendencies.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Indeed, as my hon. Friend says, if the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) was one of the teachers involved in keeping the pupil records, he might put down that the pupil had a scruffy appearance, albeit that the Secretary of State for Industry gets away with that from time to time. But that is a different matter. All of these things can be written into the files and as a record of his school career are irrelevant to the pupil's ability, aptitude and capacity for doing a particular job.
My hon. Friends on the Front Bench have raised an important issue. In the light of the overwhelming arguments put forward by the Opposition—that this is not a major political issue, that it will not cause immeasurable problems either in the Scottish Education Department or among local authorities, and that it will not involve great additional expenditure on staff, in fact, will not involve any expenditure—I find it amazing that the Under-Secretary of State will not accept the new clause. It shows the House that he has little ability to accept rational arguments and does not seem to have the flexibility and understanding to say "It is a good case. I will accept it and let us get on to the next debate". As he has not, we shall continue.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I am becoming extremely worried at this early stage of our debates on the Bill at the way in which the Government are treating the House. This is the second new clause on which I have sat through the full debate. I am perturbed that this is yet another occasion when the Minister has not told us early of the Government's view.
On the last new clause we waited for three and a half hours before the Minister gave us an important piece of information that had been kept from the House during that time. We were led to believe that during the last debate what was being suggested was an exercise in which people could discuss changes in teachers' contracts. Until the last moment there was no suggestion that the Government were seriously contemplating changing the Education Act 1980 and removing section 88. That kind of behaviour destroys debate in the House. It destroys the Government's credibility and makes it difficult for the House to make 117 progress when we are not being told, even by a nod of the head, whether the Government wish to accept a new clause.
When I first read the new clause, it seemed to demand universal support. In my innocence I thought that it was aimed at the possibility of open government and allowing parents to have access to teachers' records or records of any sort in the education department on their children. When I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton)—I hope that he will not take this amiss—I wondered what had happened to the teaching profession between the last debate and this one. In the previous debate we were defending the teaching profession for all its good works, but my hon. Friend almost gave the impression that teachers were keeping all kinds of inaccurate records, which were passed from primary school through to secondary school, containing information that teachers had not bothered to check and which was damaging to children's careers.
§ Mr. Maxton
If I gave that impression, I must apologise to my hon. Friend and the teaching profession. But the reports do not contain only what teachers have said. They may include what the police or social workers have said, and even hearsay. Perhaps something that another child has passed on goes into the records. I accept that teachers should check the records as far as they can, but they are busy people and they are human. Most of them are competent, but they make mistakes in what is a busy life.
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. Friend is reinforcing the point. I was suggesting, not that teachers were maliciously keeping inaccurate records, but simply that they were keeping inaccurate records. There should be nothing on any pupil's file put there by a teacher, or by a social worker through the school secretary or headmaster, that is not checked. We accept that records must be kept, but they should be properly checked.
It has been said that one of the important aspects of the availability of records is that information that they contain can be challenged. We have heard of the difficulty that might arise if records contained items that could be regarded as libellous. People should have the right to see the records. If they contain information that is wrong, it should be challenged in court, though not necessarily in libel actions, to make certain that it is taken off the record.
One of the difficulties is that the people whom we want to see the records are often parents who are scared, for one reason or another, to see them. I am not so bothered about the articulate middle-class parent who takes an active interest in his children, because the chances are that such a parent will have an active involvement in the school, and as a result of that regular contact with the school any pieces of information will be checked with him or her.
Indeed, that applies to the active parent in any class of society. It is not only articulate middle-class parents who have an interest in their children. I should be careful about this. I know many working-class parents who perhaps would not be regarded as articulate in the sense of being verbally fluent, but who can express themselves. They may not be well educated, having left school at an early age, and they are working-class to the core, but they often have an active interest in their children's education.
The parent who is not so directly involved with the school is the most likely to suffer. The sad truth is that 118 when a teacher wishes to discuss a pupil's future education, well-being or behaviour with a parent and asks to see the parent, the parent may not turn up. That may be for all sorts of reasons, such as work difficulties, or simply because the parent does not know what it is all about. It is the child whose parent has lack of contact who has most to fear from inaccuracies in the records.
Equally important sometimes is not so much what appears on the record, but what parents think appears on the record. I would not hazard a guess about how many parents have told hon. Members that Johnny has not got a job because his pass teacher did not like him. There is no check, because records are not made available in many instances. The problem may not be so prevalent now, because selection has largely disappeared from schools. When selection took place, many pupils and parents went through life with a chip on their shoulders that Johnny would have got a proper transfer if only the teacher had put in a good word for him. It is a question of trust.
I wish to discuss whether the challenge should be made in writing or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) suggests, verbally. This is a difficult issue. Many parents are put off if they have to write a letter. That problem can be overcome if the parents have contact with the schools council, which should be able to give advice on putting the matter in writing. The answer might be a simple form that the parent has only to sign. The difficulty with "verbals" is that a parent who is not sure how to proceed may express to a teacher his or her desire to see the record. A teacher who is unwilling to make the record available will reply that the parent should see the head teacher. The parent screws up the courage to see the head teacher, only to find a similar unwillingness to make the record available.
The parent might be told that the best course is to see the deputy director of education, who, 99 times out of 100, will not be available after 5 pm. This means that the parent, if working, will have to get time off to see the deputy director. Where the request is made orally, many barriers can be erected to prevent parents from seeing the record. A parent who went to the school with the firm intention of asking to see the record might be talked out of the idea by a teacher or even by the school secretary. It would be preferable if the request were made in writing, construed and defined as a simple form made available through the schools council and directors of education.
My only further concern about the new clause is a matter of detail and not of principle. The clause proposes that seven days notice should be given. Why is a period of seven days specified? One would not expect a parent to demand to see records in the middle of classes, but a reasonable time is surely all that is necessary. If the implication is that records have been kept secretly and inaccurately and for a purpose that is not conducive to the good of the child, it is the fact that secret societies can alter records. If we are saying that people have an absolute right to see the records, they should be made available at 24 hours' notice. If there is no pressure on the record-keeper, they should be made available there and then.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. O'Neill) moved the new clause with the intention of persuading or inducing a reluctant Government to accept it. Perhaps he was a bit too modest. There is nothing wrong with that, and that is 119 not a harsh criticism. I am criticising him only because he was being too helpful. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister will be willing to accept the new clause in principle. If there are one or two technical details to be resolved, I hope that he will at least give an assurance that the Government will put forward an amendment to correct them. If he wants the Bill to make progress, he should let us know his response and his objections soon. In that way, we might make better time.
§ Mr. McKelvey
I support the new clause, because it is sensible. I, too, am somewhat surprised that the Minister has not yet said that he will accept it. This is his opportunity to demonstrate his claim that he believes in free and open government.
I have little experience of the records that may be kept in schools. However, I support the new clause because I worked in a multinational firm that kept records on its employees. They were kept rather surreptitiously and secretly. Had we not, during a night shift, stumbled on the fact that records were kept, we would never have known of their existence. However, we insisted on proper negotiations with the firm, and we also insisted that the records should be placed before the individuals concerned for their perusal. In addition, we insisted that an employee should sign the record to show, not that it was correct, but that he had seen it. We said that any objections should be recorded.
At that time, as a young shop steward, my record was somewhat lengthy. Our intervention proved a godsend. Every six months I was called to look at my record and I discovered, like Mark Twain, that I had, almost overnight, turned into an excellent employee. Despite its previous contents, the record suddenly began to show that I was an admirable operator who had never given the management any trouble. My suspicious mind led me to believe that if the record had not been open its contents might have been erroneous.
Therefore, it is right that records should be open. However, I accept that, blood being thicker than water, it is sometimes difficult for a parent to realise that the record of his son or daughter is correct. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Minister will agree that, democratically, parents should have the right—if they are sufficiently interested—to challenge the record. If they cannot convince the recorder of their point of view, perhaps the record should be allowed to stand.
Students over the age of 16 should be given an opportunity to look at the records. Without placing them under any duress, they should be asked to sign the contents as a true record or to add any thoughts that they might have. That is important and it is also democratic. If the Minister is listening, I am sure that he will agree with that.
It is not only in this area that record keeping is important. Our way of life now means that all our transactions are recorded on computers and sometimes mistakes are made that may be detrimental to the individual. It is well known that some firms have records of bad debts that do not exist. Individuals have found themselves being prevented from entering into hire purchase agreements because of a computer error.
The same thing could be happening with school records. If records are to be useful, it is only right that the parents and the children involved should have access to 120 them. It was said that there may be some difficulties because the request must be made in writing. That might have been the case some time ago, but nowadays it should present no problems. Parents are sufficiently articulate to make their points of view known. They ought to be able to apply in writing, although if, as was suggested, there is a form that could make this easier, such a system would be welcome.
The strands running through the clause make it one of which the Government ought to approve. I await the Minister's reply with interest.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher
When the new clause was tabled I asked what volume of complaints had been made on this matter. I found out that there was almost a nil return. That includes special education, where one might have thought people would have complained about the inaccessibility of records. It certainly applies to correspondence from Members of Parliament. There does not appear to be any incidence of complaints coming to the Scottish Education Department. That is not in itself a foolproof test of the importance of the matter, but it says something when one considers the wide variety of comment and complaints made to the Department about various matters affecting local authorities.
§ Mr. Maxton
The Minister says that he does not receive many complaints from individuals. Has he looked at the submissions to the Dunning committee in terms of the internal school assessment and the need for parents to know what is on file? He will find that there is a different story if he does that.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I have referred to the number of complaints that have come to the Department over the years. There is virtually a nil return.
I remind the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), who has some knowledge in these matters—I confine my remarks to that simple statement—that we are talking about a professional assessment of children, not a gossip column. The points made to build up the hon. Gentleman's argument were filled with comments about the extra activities of pupils that had nothing to do with a professional assessment of a child, a pupil in school, studying a variety of subjects. That is the most significant aspect of the record.
I do not deny that remarks, either official or unofficial, may be kept about a child at school, but the matter of substance is the professional assessment of the child. It is perhaps not fully appreciated that education authorities have full power to tell parents—if they ask—what is contained in records on their children. Local authorities normally make that information available. That is why I said that I had received no complaints from parents that they had been denied information about their children from schools.
The Opposition are in grave danger of creating a problem and then trying to solve it. The problem is largely one that they have talked themselves into. Local authorities normally provide information to parents who request it. We should remember that we are discussing the professional assessment of children and a record that concerns the education of children. Therefore, it would be wrong to accept the new clause and upset the established position that I have outlined, certainly without full consultation on the implications of the rights of access.
121 I remain of the opinion that there is no problem in Scotland about parents receiving information about their children from the professional assessment record or anything else that the schools have. I therefore suggest that my hon. Friends should not support the new clause.
§ Mr. Canavan
The Minister's reply was amazingly complacent, even by his shocking standards. He says that a local education authority has power to give parents information, but he does not seem to understand the distinction between a power and a duty. At present there is no duy, statutory or otherwise, on the part of local education authorities to give information to parents, who, rightly, want to have the maximum amount of information about their children's education.
In November 1979 my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) sought leave to bring in a Bill to establish a right of access by parents to their children's school records and for connected purposes. The Minister did lot vote against the introduction of that Bill. In fact, no hon. Members on either side voted against leave being given to introduce it. It is strange, therefore, that hon. Members were willing in November 1979 to give unanimous approval for the introduction of such a Bill, yet now seem to have changed their minds. It is almost as if they were trying to hide something.
The Minister claims that the whole philosophy of the Bill concerns parental rights, parental choice and parental freedom. He has even described the Bill as a parents' charter. If he is so much in favour of parental rights and freedom and a parents' charter, why is he so reluctant to give parents the statutory right of access to information about their children?
I hope that hon. Members on both sides agree that parental involvement in education should be encouraged. At one time, many parents were reluctant to seek information. They depended almost entirely on end-of-term reports. Today, more parents want to have a say in the education of their children. [Interruption.] I wish that the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) would shut up and listen instead of behaving like one of his former pupils.
There are great educational arguments for giving parents the right of access to information. Employers might have access to information that is denied to either the parents or the young person over the age of 16. That is unjustified. Information in a school record is not always factual, because it might contain a judgment about the pupil's behaviour or attitude to life or to politics. It is unthinkable that such information, whether accurate or not, should be passed on to an employer without the parents or pupil being given the opportuntiy to see it, if for no other reason than to check whether it is accurate. If inaccurate information is passed on, it could have a detrimental effect not only on the young person's school career but on his future.
The Minister seems to have an obsession with secrecy. He wants to hide behind the professional judgment of teachers and to leave it to them to decide what information should be given to parents. In the interests of better relationships between pupils and teachers and parents and teachers, parents should have access to the records.
As a teacher and a Member of Parliament, I believe that one should tell people what one thinks about them face to face rather than write about them behind their backs. The 122 Minister does not seem to agree. Parents should be told what is in the records, even if it is bad—whether it concerns anti-social behaviour, lack of attainment in a subject or a bad attitude to life.
If there is any reluctance among teachers to accept our proposal—although I have not detected any reluctance—we should offer them the statutory right of access to their employment records, which are held by the education authority. I know of instances when teachers' careers could have been destroyed if certain inaccurate information had not been erased from their records. It was almost by sheer chance that the inaccurate information was discovered. What is good for the pupils is good for the teachers and also for the parents.
I shall vote in favour of the new clause, to which I have put my name. However, I have certain misgivings about the requirement of seven days' notice in writing to the director of education. I do not understand why he should be entitled to seven days' notice. That would give him time to doctor the files if he was so inclined. I would give parents the right to visit the school at any time to look at the records to see what teachers and head teachers were saying about their children and also to see what the director of education might have on record in his office. The Opposition should put the clause to a vote.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 42, Noes 116.123
|Division No. 209]||[11.50 pm|
|Beith, A. J.||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N)||McKelvey, William|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Proven)||McTaggart, Robert|
|Campbell, Ian||Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Maxton, John|
|Canavan, Dennis||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Carmichael, Neil||O'Neill, Martin|
|Cowans, Harry||Penhaligon, David|
|Craigen, J. M.||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Crowther, J. S.||Prescott, John|
|Cryer, Bob||Radice, Giles|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)|
|Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dewar, Donald||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Dormand, Jack||Strang, Gavin|
|Eadie, Alex||Walker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Welsh, Michael|
|Ewing, Harry||White, J. (G'gow Pollok)|
|Foulkes, George||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Mr. Walter Harrison and|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Mr. James Hamilton.|
|Alexander, Richard||Cockeram, Eric|
|Ancram, Michael||Colvin, Michael|
|Atkins, Robert (Preston N)||Cope, John|
|Benyon, Thomas (A'don)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Dover, Denshore|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Dunn, Robert (Dartford)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Dykes, Hugh|
|Blackburn, John||Eden, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Bright, Graham||Fairgrieve, Russell|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Faith, Mrs Sheila|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)|
|Budgen, Nick||Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles|
|Butcher, John||Fraser, Peter (South Angus)|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Goodhart, Philip|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Grist, Ian||Raison, Timothy|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hannam, John||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Hawksley, Warren||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Henderson, Barry||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)|
|Hurd, Hon Douglas||Rossi, Hugh|
|Jessel, Toby||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Kitson, Sir Timothy||Sims, Roger|
|Knox, David||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Lang, Ian||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Sproat, Iain|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Stevens, Martin|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Major, John||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Mather, Carol||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Thompson, Donald|
|Mellor, David||Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Viggers, Peter|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Waddington, David|
|Moate, Roger||Wakeham, John|
|Monro, Hector||Walker, B. (Perth)|
|Murphy, Christopher||Waller, Gary|
|Needham, Richard||Wells, Bowen|
|Nelson, Anthony||Wheeler, John|
|Neubert, Michael||Wickenden, Keith|
|Newton, Tony||Wolfson, Mark|
|Normanton, Tom||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Onslow, Cranley||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Page, John (Harrow, West)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)||Lord James Douglas-Hamilton|
|Page, Richard (SW Herts)||and Mr. Robert Boscawen|
§ Question accordingly negatived.