HL Deb 25 June 1984 vol 453 cc624-6

3.4 p.m.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask her Majesty's Government in the light of their recent Green Paper Parental Influence at School— A New Framework for School Government in England and Wales (Cmnd. 9242) which powers will be increased so that parents may exercise a greater degree of influence over schools.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, the proposals set out in the Green Paper would increase parents' influence over, and involvement in, their children's schooling essentially by giving elected parent governors a majority on the governing bodies of county schools and maintained special schools. In the case of a voluntary controlled school, the parents and foundation governors together would form the majority. As to particular powers, it is proposed generally to define these more clearly than hitherto so that governing bodies can co-operate effectively with local authorities, heads and other teachers in promoting good education.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. In regard to parent governors, what are the Government's plans for ensuring that these elected parents get proper training for their job as governors?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, the Government fully accept the importance of governors being properly informed of, and trained for, their proposed responsibilities. Consequently, paragraphs 92 to 95 of the Green Paper propose an appropriate training duty on local education authorities.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, can I ask my noble friend the Minister whether he agrees that this representation of parents on governing bodies can legitimately and effectively apply to particular special schools, for instance, schools for maladjusted children, where the children come from a wide area over England, and it is difficult for parents to be represented on such a body?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, it is certainly the intention of the Government that wherever possible elected parent governors should be a majority on maintained special schools' governing bodies.

Baroness David

My Lords, can I ask the Minister for some assurance that this really is a Green Paper and that there will be proper consultation before any legislation is brought to us. particularly in the light of the fact that apparently a good many parent organisations and parental-governor organisations are not altogether happy about the proposals?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, yes. I can give that firm undertaking to the noble Baroness. I think that they have until 1st October to send in observations, which will be most carefully considered.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell me where this loose piece of phraseology ends or begins—"more influence". What kind of influence? In rural areas. if a farmer wants his boys to help pick swede and beetroot, who stops the farmer from taking them away? Or what action does one take?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am completely and utterly carfuffled by that question. I am sure that the noble Lord is trying to make a point but I do not really understand it. In rural areas, just as much as in urban areas, it is hoped that parents will be a strong influence in schools and education.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, they will connive at it.

Lord Somers

My Lords, will the noble Earl not agree that the presence of parents on governing bodies would be very much resented by teaching staff? Does he not also agree that the place where parents' influence is most important is in the home with their own children, not in trying to modify the school curriculum, or anything like that, about which they know absolutely nothing?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I would certainly not agree with the first point made by the noble Lord, Lord Somers. I see no reason why teachers should fear parents' influence in schools at all. I agree with him, too, that they also have enormous responsibility in the home, but I think that that is "as well as" and not "instead of".

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the national organisation of parent teacher associations has never asked for, and does not want, majority representation on governing bodies? What they want is adequate representation. Is he aware that many others see this proposal of insistence on parental majority as yet another attempt by the Government to cut down the powers of local authorities?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I would indeed be very sorry if people took that attitude, because it is just not the case. I do not think that local authorities have anything to worry about. Any organisation that does not agree with the proposals has until 1st October to make its position very clear to my right honourable friend.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, I hope that I shall not appear to be too much like a schoolmaster if I point out that we have taken 33 minutes on Questions so far. While recognising that the Questions were important and that there were some very important points to be put, I hope that we shall not consider it a precedent for the future.

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