HL Deb 13 March 1991 vol 527 cc182-220

3.4 p.m.

Baroness Davidrose to call attention to the role of parents and governors in education; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, five years after the 1986 Education Act this seems a good moment to take stock and consider how the new governing bodies set up under that Act are working.

A year ago we had a short debate on the case for balance on governing bodies. I spoke of the bad practice that had existed in some authorities in which only about a third of schools had their own governors. In some cases the council simply nominated a single governing body to act for all its schools. The 1980 Act required every school to have a parent governor, but it was not until the 1986 Act that the recommendations in my noble friend Lord Taylor's 1977 report, A New Partnership for our Schools, which recommended equal shares for parents, teachers, LEA members and the community, were partially realised. The 1986 Act did not give teachers their quarter of the membership but the greater involvement of parents was assured.

In my speech I shall rely heavily on the excellent National Foundation for Educational Research survey published last November. It was based on a questionnaire returned by 1,000 head teachers, 614 chairmen and 2,686 governors. Just over half of those governors were women. The average governor had served for only two years. That is not surprising as the altered composition meant many changes in membership.

I was pleased to discover that 51 per cent. of governors were aged between 30 and 44. One would guess that many of those were parents. Parents resigned less frequently than LEA and co-opted governors, but unless there are several children in a family going to the same school a parent's life as a governor is not likely to be longer than three years. In a sixth form or tertiary college it can only be two.

The need for home/school partnership has been recognised for over a century but the 1918 Education Act was the first to put anything into law with the formation of the Central Parents' Committee. In 1921 the first official parent teacher association was formed in Arundel School —later St. Christopher's —at Letchworth. In 1956 the National Federation of Parent Teacher Associations was formed. In 1967 the Plowden Report recommended that schools, LEAs and the DES should encourage all parents into a far more active involvement in their children's education.

The value of parental influence is also recognised in many HMI reports. One, The Teaching and Learning of Reading in Primary Schools, published last autumn stated that: The quality and extent of parents' support for children's reading have a positive effect on their standards of reading. In just over half the schools where standards were satisfactory or better there was strong parental interest in reading and close co-operation between the home and the school".

Close co-operation is now generally recognised as a necessity, but there are still problems for parents who feel nervous about approaching the head and the staff. They find the atmosphere off-putting or perhaps they themselves had a bad experience of education at school. They lack the confidence to come forward. That is what we should be trying to change, and I do not believe that change is happening fast enough. We need to work harder to open up our schools to parents.

Michael Marland, the head of the excellent North Westminster Community School, supported that view in an article in the Guardian last month in which he wrote: It is one of the failures of our education system that this needs saying today. The great Matthew Arnold foresaw this before the first compulsory Education Act (1870). He insisted that the education offered must be 'of a kind that will evoke the appreciation of parents'. The Newsom Report, Sir Edward Boyle (Conservative Minister of Education), the Plowden Report and the Taylor Report all echoed this [but nothing happened]".

Michael Marland also quoted a primary school head giving evidence to the Auld Committee in 1976: Parents? Don't talk to me about parents. We're the pros in this business".

I hope that we have advanced in 15 years. We should recognise that teachers are the pros and we should not interfere with them in their teaching role, but parents have their rights and their obligations.

For that reason the Labour Party is planning to give parents more rights in relation to their children's education and greater involvement in it. Michael Marland's article reviewed a book entitled Involving Parents by Alastair Macbeth in which he shows how a home/school contract could work and how practical such a scheme could be. The Labour contract aims to establish the parents' rights but also gives them challenges and responsibilities. Parents must be aware from the moment their child enters a school not only of their rights but also of their duties to the child and to the school. My noble friend Lady Blackstone will enlarge on that in her speech.

I should like to mention a few pilot projects already in existence. This week Hackney has opened a parent centre which will enable parents to meet together, seek advice and use resources and will encourage them to be involved in the life of their children's schools. A booklet entitled It's All Happening in Hackney (which I have if anybody would like to see it) is full of excellent suggestions and advice. Humberside has a home school liaison team. Forty-two teachers were appointed to primary schools as part of a much wider strategy to tackle the problem of under-achievement. Community rooms have been established as a base for pre-school work and day-time education for parents. Adult education courses, including study for GCSEs, are encouraged, the spin-off being an obvious demonstration by parents of the importance of education.

The DES has produced Our Changing Schools, a handbook for parents, and its latest leaflet How Is Your Child Doing At School?, which has not yet been circulated to LEAs but is understood to contain suggestions about how children could do better. A survey found that only a quarter of parents recognised a copy of Our Changing Schools. I should like to ask the Minister whether in her reply she can tell us the cost of those leaflets and their distribution, and whether the DES intends to do any further research into their effectiveness and the efforts such as Hackney's being made by LEAs to involve parents. Equally, is DES going to update its guide to the law, which is 17 months out of date? Quite a lot has happened since then.

There is evidence that some parent governors are unaware of their role and powers. Joan Sallis (who was a member of Lord Taylor's Committee) has for two years been answering governors' questions in the TES. In an article in January summing up the experience she quoted some rather worrying queries —for example: "I'm only … a parent-governor. Can I speak at meetings?"; "Can I speak about things other than dinners and uniform?"; "Is it true I'm not eligible to interview candidates for a job?". Joan Sallis guesses at some of the reasons behind those questions —perhaps it is the old hands being unwelcoming and off-putting. It seems it is nobody's job to tell governors about rules designed to protect their right to involvement on equal terms. She comments: The postbag is full of 'somebody'. Somebody put all that junk on the agenda, and we couldn't discuss anything important. Somebody elected Lady Wofflington or Colonel Fixit to the chair again. Somebody didn't tell us we had to decide how we were going to be represented on the group selecting the new head. Somebody said in the minutes that we were 'a little concerned' when really we were hopping mad".

It is important that the LEA is aware of those feelings and can improve the governors' training. The recent award of DES funding to the National Association of Governors and Managers should improve the standing and understanding of governors. In fairness I have to say that it is clear from the findings of the NFER report in the section on training that almost all governors had been offered places in sessions run by the LEA and about two-thirds had attended such sessions. The training materials provided by the LEAs and the Advisory Centre for Education were the most highly respected, so we should congratulate the LEAs on that.

I come to the vexed question of parental contributions. The evidence is pretty strong that six years ago when the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations conducted a survey into the activities of PTAs, £40 million a year was being contributed to schools, most of which went on luxury items like new mini-buses. A new survey is being conducted, whose findings will not be available until April. However, it seems certain that a great deal more money is being given and much less of it is being spent on luxury items and much more on essential items, such as textbooks and equipment for the national curriculum.

Parents are feeling pressured into contributing to the school budget. In the past they were adamant they would not raise money for items which should be provided by the LEA. Now they feel blackmailed into doing so for fear that otherwise their children's education will suffer.

LMS adds to the confusion. It comes as a shock to parents to discover that schools are being forced to choose between buying the books and employing an extra teacher. Mrs. Mountfield in a Directory of Social Change publication entitled State Schools: A Suitable Case for Charity? concludes that between £130 million and £230 million of money and money's worth may be going into state schools from parents, business sponsorship and charitable trusts. Voluntary money comes easiest to schools in relatively wealthy areas, so charitable money may be going to those least in need, thus increasing, rather than reducing, inequity between schools. In the interests of children whose childhood comes only once, charities should do what they can to help the poorest schools and pupils rather than the richest and should draw public attention to the inadequate public provision that has led them to contribute. She says that parents and teachers should be encouraged to channel their activities into home/school activities that develop voluntary community involvement in schools in ways not limited to fund raising, and should take an active part in the encouragement of educational innovation and experiment rather than gap-filling.

I give examples of the unfairness. Highfield School in Letchworth raises about £8,000 a year from parents, but the headmaster, Peter Jackson, does not like it. He says: "I have been here for 25 years. When I see this I am filled with disgust. But we have to go to parents with the message that no government in Westminster is going to give us much more money".

In contrast, Daphne Gould, headmistress of Mulberry Girls' School in Tower Hamlets, says: I don't receive any money from parents, and it would be wrong to ask them. Ninety per cent. of our pupils have free dinners and uniform. The level of poverty is considerable. If I was in some leafy glade, or if I had a wonderful building I could let out for weddings, life would be very different".

The NFER report deals adequately and convincingly with the turnover, make-up in age and occupation and training of governors, so I do not want to spend time on that. I simply mention some of the weaknesses found where improvements could be made. There are still far too few governors from ethnic minorities and the blue collar sector. Half the governors who responded said that their level of responsibility was about right, but a significant minority (40 per cent., and 60 per cent. of head teacher governors) believed they had been given too much. I quote from paragraph 5.3.4: The areas in which governors were considered to have too much responsibility were (in order of frequency): resource allocation/LMS; appointments/other personnel issues; and the National Curriculum. Governors and chairs were asked if they had any further comments on the organisation and responsibilities of school governing bodies. The main points made were that governors had too much responsibility, their tasks were too time consuming and that it was difficult to recruit and retain governors".

Some who responded indicated a need for more training on the roles and functions of parent governors. The NFER clearly thought it would be useful to carry out a more detailed analysis of those responses. I would like to ask the Minister whether the DES will be asking for that analysis.

Of course, one does not know whether the results of the survey —which I confess were rather better than I expected —depended on the fact that it was the responsible and the literate who took part. It is interesting that 44 per cent. of those responding had a degree or professional institute qualification. The largest single group (39 per cent.) were employed in a school, college or university. One wonders whether the less highly educated responded to the same extent. I have already mentioned satisfaction with the training provided by LEAs. Where more information was requested it related to the local management of schools. When LMS has been established everywhere for two or three years it will be interesting to carry out a similar survey and see the results.

Governors seemed remarkably unaware of schemes whereby expenses could be reimbursed and whether child-minding facilities were offered. Only one-third said they were aware, one-fifth said there were no schemes and two-thirds did not know. There seemed to be ignorance of Section 58 of the 1986 Act, which enables LEAs to pay travelling and subsistence allowances. Her Majesty's Government have still not implemented requests for paid time off for governors to visit schools and carry out their duties, which would enormously enhance their activity and ability to become effective governors. Significant features of the work that governors have to do, such as making staff appointments, cannot be carried out during evening meetings.

If we are to enlist more governors from the ethnic minorities and blue-collar workers, paid time off is important. My final question to the Minister is this: if the Government are serious about greater involvement and choice for parents, are they going to take any action on that point? I beg to move for Papers.

3.20 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am sure that we all want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady David, for introducing the debate this afternoon. All noble Lords who take an interest in education are in complete agreement about the importance of both parents and the governors. There is no doubt that every piece of educational research shows that children do better educationally when they have the support of their parents at school and if there is a real partnership between the family and the school. Indeed, the converse is true. In the annual report of the senior chief inspector of schools, in paragraph 46 he says: Poor behaviour is most often associated with factors such as lack of depth, interest and pace in the work; ambivalence in establishing and applying standards and codes of behaviour across the school as a whole; a high turnover of teachers; and" — the most important point — a lack of support from parents for the standards sought by the school". There is no doubt at all that parents want to be able to choose the school which their child attends and that the school in its turn should account to parents for what it is doing. That brings into play the role of governors, teachers and parents, which should be a partnership.

One can see from the records since 1979 how far the Government have legislated to help parents, to give them a far greater freedom of choice and say in what happens in schools and to give far greater powers to school governing bodies. I agreed very much with a number of the detailed points and questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady David. I noticed however that it was not until she came to the last paragraph of her speech that she mentioned the word "choice". That is a matter to which parents attach great importance.

The 1980 Education Act gave all parents the right to choose a school for their child and if disappointed to take their case to an appeal. That freedom was later extended to parents who had children with special educational needs. It was further extended by the whole policy of open enrolment, which means that local education authorities can no longer say that places may remain empty in a popular school when there are parents who wish to send their children to it. That policy is already operating in secondary schools and is to be extended to primary schools in 1993.

We have provided more choice in many other ways: by integrating children with special educational needs into the educational system; by preserving the grammar schools; by the establishment of city technology colleges (seven are now open and seven more have a firm starting date); and in particular by the establishment of grant maintained schools. So over a tremendous range parents have been given more choice and, if one considers the changes that have occurred in the role of governors, more opportunity to influence schools.

It was only when I came to consider what I might say in this debate that I realised how great had been the changes since I was a governor of a maintained school when I was in local government. In the first place every school has to have a governing body which consists of parents, others from the local community, governors from the local education authority, teachers and the head teacher. Their duties are extensive and important. Probably what is most important is that they are represented on the selection panel for head teachers and deputies. I am sometimes asked what I think is the most important duty of a governor and I always reply without hesitation that it is the appointment of the head of a school, rapidly followed by the appointment of other senior staff. It is the head of the school who sets the tone and the standards and who is able to recruit the teachers, involve the parents and do all the things that we want.

Besides that, now they have power to spend a sum of money allocated by the local education authority for books, equipment and stationery. They must prepare an annual report for a meeting of all the parents. They may modify a local education authority's policy on the curriculum. They may decide the school policy for subjects such as sex education. They have a general oversight of discipline. They have very great responsibilities indeed. The 1988 Education Reform Act further extended the powers of government by promoting higher standards of education, increasing parental involvement and raising the expectations of what schools should achieve.

The Act did that quite particularly by the delegation of budgets. That makes the role of parents and governors much more significant. I was disappointed to hear from the noble Baroness that there are still so many schools which either do not like the delegation or parents who do not understand it. I believe that more than any other reform that will change the way in which teachers and head teachers go about their work. It represents both a challenge and an opportunity. It gives an opportunity for heads to determine the priorities in their school; it gives an opportunity for parents to take part in those decisions in the governing bodies; and now local education authorities will only control certain essential teaching materials.

It represents a very great change of responsibilities. I understand that there may well be new governors on governing bodies who do not know their duties and are somewhat alarmed at the prospect. That is why it is very important that local education authorities should have schemes for training governors, giving them an explanation of their duties and powers and including matters such as allowances, travelling expenses, and so on. The governors have to realise that if they are in any doubt about such things, they must ask. It is no use expecting to be told what they are supposed to say at a meeting of the governing body. They are put on that body to do a very serious job of work and have a great opportunity before them.

But perhaps the biggest extension of parental choice lies in the development of grant maintained schools. It is a development which I greatly welcome. Schools can now opt out of local education authority control, although they remain as maintained schools paid for directly by the Department of Education and Science. A total of 56 have so far done so. It is interesting to note that those schools which have become grant maintained have seen the applications for their schools rise by an average of 40 per cent; they have had no problems in filling staff vacancies and have been able to spend more on the curriculum. Those seem to me to be three very important points which should help parents and reassure them that, when they have a greater control over what the school is doing, standards will rise.

As I said at the beginning, co-operation between parents and school is the key to raising education standards. However, parents need the opportunity to be involved. That is why it is so important that they should be involved in governing bodies. I very much welcome the new development of bringing parents into school not only for parents' evenings but also the setting aside of special rooms, and so on. I am sure that those are helpful developments.

In a primary school that I know of there are regular parents' evenings. Parents are welcome in the school at almost all times to see the work that is being done. However, some schools are still unenthusiastic about this new direction, with greater choice of schools and greater responsibilities for schools. There are heads who are prepared to manage their schools and to take parents into their confidence. I accept that it is not possible to offer choice to all families; there may be only one school within reach. But such choice is possible for the vast majority and extending that choice is enough to effect a change in the climate of opinion.

One of the tasks that I have taken on is to become chairman of the Independent Schools Joint Council. I am glad to say that we work closely with the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers to see whether we can share our management experience. It is important that we consider the issue together to see how best we can arrange it. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend who will reply one question on that point. It is important that teachers coming into schools are trained in that context. It would be helpful to know whether the training institutions have taken that matter on board as a necessary part of the preparation for teaching. If they have not, I believe that they should. We should certainly consider other means of helping teachers on the big management issues which are relatively new to them.

In conclusion, I believe that this is a most important debate. In order to raise standards it is essential that there should be close co-operation between parents and schools, that the governing bodies should work effectively and that the decisions of the school should devolve down to the lowest level —that is, to the school. Those who have children in a school have responsibility not only for the appointment of teachers but for the ethos and discipline of the school and all that it does. That is the best way to raise education standards. I welcome the many steps that the Government have taken to that end. I feel sure that we shall see more in the future.

3.34 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, we on these Benches are not opposed to the local management of schools. Indeed we approve of it. However, we are not totally happy with the current position. We would prefer a stronger linkage between local education authorities, with more pooling of resources and assistance in budgetary exercises. At present the authorities tend to be more directly concerned with the maintenance of school buildings than anything else.

On the role of parents in the education system, attention has not yet been drawn to the fact that parents are fundamental to the education process in or out of the school system. It has been pointed out to me that if children do not know how to ask questions because they have not been taught to do so at home, the teacher might as well pack up and go home. We must encourage parents to become involved in teaching their children how to learn at the very earliest stage, thus encouraging the parents to become involved in the teaching process.

I have heard many horror stories from teachers about children being told by their parents that teachers are the people who will teach manners, and so on. We must encourage parents to be involved from a child's earliest age. Once we have such involvement there is a two-pronged approach to leaving. It is important that we encourage parents to take an active interest in the schooling process, not only in results. If parents are concerned only with results of examinations, the child suffers a huge handicap. Parents must have an input throughout the education system.

The issue of parents on governing boards lies at the heart of the debate. I believe that it is what the noble Baroness had in mind when she brought the matter forward for debate. We must encourage such participation. The noble Baroness quoted extensively from the report. I had wished to quote from it myself. However, much of what I would have said is now irrelevant. The report gave a better picture than I had expected, but it highlighted a series of problems that have been manifest in virtually all education arguments.

It tends to be those from a middle-class background who, as parents, give a better input. I believe that 44 per cent. of governors have a professional qualification at degree level or equivalent. A high percentage of those involved in school boards —about 37 per cent. —were involved in the teaching process. Therefore schools with middle-class students have a high calibre of trained professional parent governors involved. We do not seem to be giving enough encouragement or incentives to those who are the traditional non-middle-class, non-participating parents to become involved in the system.

We are also giving governing boards a difficult job to do. The report stated that people were finding considerable difficulty in the amount of paper work and the application of, for example, the accounting process required for budgeting for the national curriculum implementation. The Government should give far greater emphasis to making bursars and finance directors available for school governing bodies. We cannot expect people who are not professionals in this field to be able to manage the problem as well as professionals can.

Approximately one third of all those who have left school governing bodies say that it was because of pressure of work. The same figure applies to natural wastage. I refer to pupils leaving school and people moving away. I suggest that those two issues are closely linked. We must give professional guidance where we can to those bodies. We cannot expect expertise in, for example, accountancy among the majority of those on school governing bodies. We have a good representation of teachers. I speak of the reverse side. People undergo training, but we must give assistance with the managerial process. If we wish to encourage parents to play an increasing part on the school body, they must have the technical assistance so to do.

Many of the points that I would have raised have already been covered by the noble Baroness. I conclude with one further comment. We must ensure that those parents who are elected to the board must have all the assistance that they require. Otherwise the governing bodies in half the schools will fail, because, especially in the inner cities, they do not have the professional pool of parents with sufficient expertise to sit on governing bodies. They do not have a tradition of such involvement. It will lead to less parental involvement if things go badly wrong and if people find themselves overworked. Unless one gives those parents the chance to participate at a high level, they will not do so.

3.40 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady David, has rightly called attention to a number of issues on the role of parents and governors arising from the report published by the National Foundation for Educational Research in November last year. Generally I welcome many of the changes that have been made in the role of parents and governors through the recent education Acts. Increased parental involvement is a healthy move away from the earlier pattern of parents' involvement in the management of their children's schools ceasing at the school gate. Although there continues to be a role for parent-teacher associations in our schools these are now complemented by the new and more important responsibilities for parents on governing bodies. The increased involvement of the local community that these changes may bring about is to be welcomed.

Nevertheless, they are major changes which have been undertaken in a short period of time and therefore many new demands are being made upon teaching staff, governors and parents. The new responsibilities require new skills and new relationships between head teachers and governing bodies. With the advent of the local management of schools there is an extra workload on all concerned. We need to be sure that we are providing the fullest support in resources and training. If we do not we may be unable to avoid schools where the parents do not have a high level of professional skills and other resources being unduly disadvantaged.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, is right to call attention to the issue of governor training. I was pleased to note that the report states that 70 per cent. of governors of voluntary schools were satisfied with the training that they were receiving. I am grateful to the Department of Education and Science for its recent approach to the Catholic Education Council and to the General Synod Board of Education with the offer of funding towards the cost of approved governor training in the voluntary sector. In my own diocese of Guildford we have in the past two years created the equivalent of two new full-time posts in large part to assist with training and resourcing of governors in voluntary schools. That is an indication of the demands that the increased responsibilities on governors are making in other directions.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, referred to the difficulties experienced in recruiting and maintaining adequate governors. I wish to underline her comment. Some Church of England voluntary schools are experiencing difficulty with some clergy who find that they cannot adequately discharge their responsibilities as governors in addition to their other full-time responsibilities. That is an indication of the extent of the burden imposed by the new governorship.

When combined with an increasing desire on the part of the Government to promote grant maintained status, the increased local responsibility, although it is to be welcomed, increasingly leaves in my mind questions about the role of local education authorities. I shall be grateful if the Minister can reassure the House about that matter.

The new arrangements for governing bodies were made in the context of what was anticipated as being a continuing partnership between the vast majority of schools and local and national government. On Monday the Independent reported the Secretary of State for Education as saying that by the end of the next Parliament he hopes that the majority of schools will have opted for grant maintained status as a step towards all schools being grant maintained. He went on to say that this was necessary because LEAs are "making a terrible mess" of their responsibilities in the management of schools. I come from an area where there is an effective, conscientious and consultative education authority which is Conservative controlled. In reply can the Minister say whether her right honourable friend the Secretary of State is implying that all local education authorities have made a terrible mess of their responsibilities?

Our LEA in Surrey is at present involved in a tricky double process of reducing 11,000 surplus places and at the same time changing the age at which pupils transfer from one school to another. This will undoubtedly involve amalgamations of some schools and the closure of others. That is a painful process for teachers, governors and parents, not to mention children. The planning, consultation and decision process is difficult enough at the best of times. It is good in this context to have greater parental involvement and improved governing body responsibility. However, the disadvantage is that it becomes increasingly difficult to ensure an outcome which achieves justice for all children and parents concerned. The risk is that unless we are careful that will limit parental choice. It would be a great help to me to be clear about how the Minister envisages that the overall planning role can be undertaken by an authority other than an LEA. If nearly all schools are to be grant maintained how is an LEA to fulfil that role?

I also have an anxiety about children with special needs. The welcome increased responsibility for local governors inevitably means that they will want to do their best for their own particular school. In some measure they will view themselves as in competition with others. However, in their proper desire to be leaner and more cost effective they must consider the children who have special needs and who as a consequence are more expensive to nurture and educate. Whose responsibility is it to see that such children are properly provided for? Is this a role for the local education authorities and how do they secure it if nearly all the schools are to be grant maintained? I am sure the Minister is aware of an increasing anxiety about the future of local education authorities and that concern is not limited only to those who serve or work on them or are involved in local politics. Those of us who believe that in some measure we have a responsibility for an overall pattern of education across the country are anxiously wanting clarification.

I welcome the greater parental involvement and increased responsibilities for governors that the recent Acts have brought. I welcome greater choice for parents. However, those working in education need urgently to have a clearer understanding of the Government's intentions for grant maintained schools and for the role of LEAs in that context. I see LEAs as having a crucial role in the areas that I have mentioned: planning and providing for a proper spread of schools; provision for special needs; and the provision of equality of choice for all parents and not just for some.

It would be a great help if the Government could provide the clarification that I seek.

3.49 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, it is not a truth universally acknowledged that every bright idea is an invention of the present Government. That is certainly the case in the realm of education and especially so as regards the government of schools. From time to time we need to remind ourselves that school governors existed long before the Education Reform Act. In many cases they did a superb job far from the limelight of the law and the oxygen of publicity. They did so without initiation courses, training schemes, working parties or specialist seminars. School governors are and always have been a necessary part of government in education; and, as my noble friend Lady David said, it was that great and good man, Matthew Arnold, who pointed that out well over a century ago.

Indeed, in so many professional activities it is dangerous to leave everything to the experts. Just as science is too significant to be left to the scientists, just as health is too vital to be controlled by doctors, so education in its broadest sense is far too vital to the human spirit and national economy to be entrusted solely to the tender hands of teachers. I say that as a teacher for nearly 40 years, as a university professor and as a fully paid up member of the Association of University Teachers. On this matter, if on not many others, I know what I am talking about.

The principle of lay participation in education at every level is generally agreed. That is as important in the nursery school as it is in the university. I have seen what a creative contribution lay members make to the government of a university and I am convinced that, mutatis mutandis, the same creative input can be made in nursery education. Indeed, in some ways it is more important there than anywhere else.

It is not only parents who must be encouraged to guide pre-school playgroups and community nurseries and to develop the long-term planning so essential to their survival and success. At that level parents tend to come and go with their children and independent disinterested lay participation must be present to ensure proper continuity and sensible planning. Too little thought has been given to the government of nursery education. In that respect we have a great opportunity to foster the positive relations between school and home which will follow the child throughout his school life.

Therefore, in the words of 1066, And All That, school governors are "a good thing". However, at the levels at which they are most active, there is still cause for concern on a wide number of issues. The Education Reform Act can be seen in retrospect to have been obsessed with the question of balance and representation. Perhaps that is not surprising but it is nevertheless regrettable. The Government's terror lest some wild Trotskyian, Marxist, Leninist, fractionalist, deviationist, dogmatist councillor should gain power and become regnant and rampant among the governors of Little Puddlecombe Comprehensive, may have caused them to legislate with too heavy a hand. The result is that perfect balance is now sometimes achieved at the expense of common sense. In order to recruit the right people, we sometimes sacrifice the best people. We can probably all give examples of where it has been necessary to appoint a second-class reluctant lady Labour councillor instead of an absolutely first-class eager and enthusiastic Conservative male person; and, much more commonly, vice versa.

There exist some schools where governors have for many years formed an effective and happy team and who have tacitly agreed to sit somewhat lightly to the new regulations on the grounds that the school is best served that way. I hope that they will not be persecuted and harassed because they may have departed slightly from the purity of the principles of balance as laid down by the commandments of the ERA.

That freedom is important because there is still cause for concern about the turnover of school governors nationwide. Statistics on this matter are not easy to collect or to interpret but it has been reliably estimated that turnover is somewhere between 2.5 per cent. and 10 per cent. Wherever the higher figure can be shown to obtain, there is the need to question. To paraphrase a great dramatist, "to lose 2.5 per cent. of governors may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose 10 per cent. looks like carelessness".

We must think carefully also about the socioeconomic background of our school governors. I hesitate to invoke that outmoded word "class" but even the Minister, Mr. Fallon, is reported as saying: I remain concerned that there are not enough 'blue-collar' worker governors. I hope that they, with the support of their employers, will represent a growing proportion of governors in future". Let us inspect those words more closely and look at the implications of them. Let us consider the prejudices which they all so unsuspectingly reveal. "Blue-collar workers" are hardly a scientifically defined group of our fellow citizens, but we know what Mr. Fallon means. Professional people, businessmen, tycoons, managers and captains of industry wear crisp white collars of the hue favoured by many, if not all, of your Lordships. Blue collars are reserved for the factory worker, the labourer, if he wears a shirt at all, and for the horny-handed sons of toil. Blue collars earn less than white collars. In spite of all symbolism, blue collars have an embarrassing tendency to vote red.

Is it surprising then that comparatively few of them are eager to become school governors? Many find it extremely difficult to make ends meet or to retain their grasp on employment or to pay the mortgage. They will be likely to afford a higher priority to balancing their household budget than to the resource allocation procedures of their local school. Shall we blame them for that?

Mr. Fallon is even more nakedly self-revealing if we palpate his subordinate clause. He says: I hope that they, with the support of their employers will represent a growing proportion". How else can those employers provide that support other than by giving paid leave of absence to the blue collar governors to go to see their schools in action during working hours and, where necessary, by paying travelling costs and any other out-of-pocket expenses. That is precisely what the Government have failed to do. They have not publicised opportunities for governors to be reimbursed for all expenses actually and necessarily incurred. Therefore, if the blue collar governor wishes to see children being taught or school sporting activities or to attend training courses, he or she must dig into a personal pocket which may well not be very deep.

If Mr. Fallon wishes the factory workers, the labouring classes or the unemployed to march forward and present themselves for service, he has an easy incentive in his own hands. Let him permit paid time off work at the Government's expense, let him sanction travel costs where appropriate and let him permit claims for genuine out of pocket expenses.

However, I do not imagine that such action is close to the front of the Government's mind. Their preferences, prejudices and predilections are starkly clear in their own publicity. A recent issue of DES News announces proudly that governors and chairs are very well qualified in terms of educational and professional qualifications. In one survey: 57 per cent. of the chairs and 44 per cent. of the governors held either a degree or a professional institute final qualification. Very few held no formal qualifications". It went on to announce that: about 21 per cent. of the chairs and 18 per cent. of the governors were employed in industry or commerce", and, most revealingly: about 39 per cent. of the governors and 14 per cent. of the chairs were employed in education/training occupations (including teaching)". Therefore, nearly four out of every 10 school governors in that survey are in teaching or allied occupations. They are people with degrees or professional institute final qualifications. It seems that that is exactly what the Government want.

That may do very well and be properly representative in the lush pastures of the Tory heartlands; but such boards of governors would be of little use in the run-down schools in the inner city areas of the deprived conurbations elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The Government must make immediate, sustained and successful efforts to recruit governors who will fairly reflect the society and community which each individual school serves. They must pay expenses and must allow paid time off work. They must shed their blind prejudice that any person with a university degree is, ipso facto, going to be a good governor of a school. I know hundreds of university graduates whom I would not trust to manage the proverbial whelk stall, although some of them would be among the most brilliant graduates. Intellectual ability is not the same as managerial skill. There is no likelihood greater than chance that he or she who has the one will also have the other.

The Government have constantly preached that fact in encouraging young people to set up their own businesses. When it comes to school governors, let them hear their own sermon.

Perhaps I may briefly turn to the role of parents in schools. We all agree that parents have a great part to play in the education of their children. It needs no ghost from the grave to tell us that. Some parents should become school governors; all parents can take part in the educational process. They can read to children; they can take part in school assemblies, play musical instruments, accompany staff on out-of-school visits, demonstrate crafts in the school, help to run school bookshops and, as they always have, they can make sandwiches and serve tea on open days and PTA occasions.

There are also things that parents should not do. They should not allow themselves to be hijacked by underfunded and understaffed head teachers as part-time, unpaid, untrained extra teachers. I know of a school in a Conservative constituency in Derbyshire where the head inveigled parents to go to the school on a regular rota basis to supervise children's reading. They were to hear the children read, correct their mistakes, report their progress and analyse the reasons for difficulties. Not one of the parents concerned was a trained teacher. Some may even have been described as "blue collar" workers. Yet the highly technical skills of teaching children to read were required of them simply because the head master had no staff time for such matters.

God help an autistic or dyslexic child, a slow learner or a child developing any sensory impairment in circumstances like those. Parents are often pulled in to assist in primary schools in other subjects, even mathematics. If, by sheer fortune, one parent happens to be a vicar or a minister, then the head teacher thinks that it is his birthday and he need look no further for teaching in RE.

That is wrong. It is against the best interests of the children and must be sternly discouraged. Similarly, parents must not be used as vigilantes to provide security or enforce discipline. Alas, we live in a society where it is all too often essential for a parent to deliver a child to the school gates in the morning and collect that child every afternoon for fear of sexual molestation, kidnapping or murder. But discipline and good order on the school premises, including the playground and the playing fields, must remain the responsibility of the school and the education authority.

The Government are in many ways strangely bereft of ideas in this area. On the other hand, the Labour Party put forward creative and imaginative plans for involving parents effectively in the work of their community's schools. We propose that parents should be invited to join in a formal home and school partnership which would clarify rights and responsibilities and encourage parents to participate in school activities. Similarly, parents and other adults need reliable advice about schools and need it quickly. We propose to introduce education advice centres as a useful and easily available resource. We believe also that local authorities should be encouraged to establish an independent education ombudsman to deal with any complaints unresolved between parents, schools and local education authorities. We want to bring the governing of our schools into the open so that decisions are not made behind closed doors but in open court.

That will bring new ideas, new partnerships and fresh air into the education system, where it is still sorely needed. The issue is important. It is vital for our future. If our children ask for bread, shall we give them a stone?

4.4 p.m.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, I was most impressed by all that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. However, I must confess that I did not understand one or two points. I did not understand his reference to, on the one hand, the poor minority of women, and on the other, the first class male. I am sure I misunderstood. It seems rather curious when, in this debate, I count six women speakers and three men.

Before I embark on what I planned to say perhaps I may comment on what the noble Lord said in regard to the teaching of reading. There is a great need today for children to be listened to and be read to. Mothers do not necessarily possess degrees or qualifications. Parents coming into school can help enormously simply by hearing the children read. The noble Lord perhaps would not approve of what we did at St. Paul's. We sent our sixth formers —not even as good as parents —all over London quietly to help in schools; they were doing as they were told and I hope not causing trouble or muddling people's reading ability.

Lord Addington

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will give way. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, made one valid point regarding children with special learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Teachers often have difficulty spotting the problem. Somebody who is not qualified stands virtually no chance unless he has actually come across it before. That is a valid point and displays what could be a weakness if a school is attempting to cover up with non-qualified staff.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, I take that point. I hope that I made the point that the help would be under the supervision of the teacher. I thank the noble Lord for his comment.

Today I wish to speak about governors. I should like to advise the noble Baroness, Lady David, that the Labour Party does not have a total monopoly on the participation of parents and the wish to involve parents more. The City technology colleges have been one of the great successes of this Government. One of their main qualifications for entry is that the parents should be committed and state that they are committed to the education of their children until the age of 18.

In the Netherlands a system of parent participation was tried. I am told that it has not been altogether successful. It consists mainly of training mothers to help with reading. In Denmark I am sure that everyone will be delighted to know that the chairman of the governors must be a parent.

Since 1976 when the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, initiated the great education debate, strenuous efforts have been made to improve the education and training provisions in this country. Reforms have accumulated —GCSE, the national curriculum, BTEC, CPVE—some of which are still at the discussion stage. Questions arise such as whether we should keep A-levels, develop AS-levels or move on to the IB. What of RSA, HNC and HND? I am deliberately using initials to emphasise the confusion and bewilderment of it all. Those of us in the MFLWG —Modern Foreign Languages Working Group —are reduced to referring to it as "mufflewug". As a professional I find it confusing. I have been a student, a teacher, a parent, a head teacher and a school governor. What must it be like for the parents and governors who, quite rightly in my opinion, are now being asked to take a more prominent role in our schools?

It is particularly appropriate that the noble Baroness, Lady David, should initiate this debate on this very day. If we need an example of the confusion and the worrying situation that may exist with lack of co-operation and understanding between governors, parents, staff and pupils, we need only to look at what is happening in the Bishop Llandaff school in Cardiff. The members of the NAS/UWT —National Association of School Masters/Union of Women Teachers —are on strike. The NUT staff members are refusing to teach any class which includes a certain two boys. The school is disrupted and very unhappy.

There was an incident involving three boys molesting, I imagine, a girl. I do not know the exact details of the incident. The headmaster considered it right to suspend and exclude the three boys. He wanted to exclude them permanently. A subcommittee of the governing body considered the matter. It heard evidence from the parents. It decided properly —it was its responsibility so to do —that there should be a limited exclusion and not a permanent one. That limited exclusion finished at half-term. Since then the boys have been taught in the headmaster's study. Again, quite properly, the headmaster was using his responsibility to keep the children separate from the staff who had made it clear by this time that they did not want to teach those children. They thought that the boys should be in another school.

As I understand it, the governors sent a letter informing the staff what was happening, but that did not matter. The staff were adamant and they went on strike. In my view those boys could have gone to another school. The parents of one of the boys was adamant. It was a pure example of a lack of co-operation and understanding. The governing body exercised its powers in accordance with Section 25 of the Education Act.

How are governors to cope? I referred to the Education Act and saw that governors are responsible for the curriculum in accordance with the policy of the local education authority. There is a special responsibility for sex education or for not giving sex education. The governors have to take note of representations from persons connected with the community —for example, the chief officer of police; and they have to provide parents with information about syllabuses and educational provision. As I have mentioned, they have to consider the reinstatement or otherwise of any pupil who has been excluded by the head teacher.

As we have heard already this afternoon, the governors must have some help, but help and training are not enough. Perhaps they can help with the complex problems of employment, redeployment, redundancy, appointing the head teacher and so on, but there is more to it than that. The way to have avoided the impasse and the great unhappiness for the Bishop Llandaff School would have been if those concerned; namely, the governors, the head teacher, the parents and the staff, had understood and trusted each other more. But how does one give a course in co-operation: how does one legislate for trust?

4.15 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, as usual, when one reaches this stage in a debate on education, one finds that everything one intended to say has already been said. I prepared quite a long speech concerning the matters which I have been looking back at over the 15 years since my committee was formed and at all the changes that have taken place in that time. I am surprised, when I think how we started with that committee and what were the terms of reference, to find how many of our recommendations have been implemented. The Taylor Committee tried to get away from party politics. In those days there were far more politics in schools in certain areas than there are today. We tried to get away from that situation and to form a partnership for co-operation, understanding and for liaison between parents and local authorities about which the noble Baroness spoke earlier.

That partnership is there, but if one wants Utopia in any organisation one has a long while to wait for it. If it is not attained in schools, it will not be achieved in industry and so on. We simply have to wait for that state of affairs. When the report was published, we had a change of government. I did not expect that the recommendations we put forward would be implemented in the way that they were. According to the latest figures from the DES, about 98 of 140 recommendations that we made have been enacted. I am grateful to Members on the Government Benches because quite a number of them helped to enact the recommendations that we made. One has to remember that many of these recommendations were made by a committee set up under a Labour Government which were then taken over and implemented by a Conservative Government.

Partnership was our main theme. We chose the title, "a partnership". To me a partnership means working together with equal shares all round. Our main recommendation was that there should be no one body on that committee in a majority, but that there should be equal shares. The Government did not accept that, and they included more parents than we required at the time. I believe the Government are beginning to see that there is not the same need now that they thought there was at that time. That situation is something which the Government have to live with now. We also wanted the right number of teachers, but we did not get the balance right in the Act. We wanted the same number of representatives from the local authority. We did get that right. We also wanted to include the community.

One of the matters that we emphasised and which has been referred to during the course of the debate this afternoon, is the training of governors. We realised how important it was for them to be trained. I repeat what I have said before: we did not want governors to be trained to the standard of Bachelor of Education. We wanted governors to be trained to know what education was about. We wanted them to know the fundamental principles and no more than that. We wanted governors to know their rights, where they could go, what they could do, and how they could advise. We did not want them to run the schools in the sense of being teachers because we want professionals to do that. We wanted the governors to assist and to be part of a partnership with teachers and to work with them.

There is a partnership today in many schools and with the governors in the area where I come from. I am quite happy about that. We wanted to make sure that there were not professional governors; namely, people who were going from one governing body to the next. We wanted people to realise that their responsibility was towards one, two or three particular schools where there is a primary school, a junior school and a secondary school serving a particular community. They could be worked in together. That is what we wanted; but we are still not getting it. When I look at the figures for the whole country, they show that there are people serving on many bodies. I do not know how they do it these days. With agendas being as they are, I find that it is difficult being a governor of one school. I am transgressing a little on this, but one of the things which does frighten governors is the jargon that is used. One hears quotations which mean a lot to people in education. However, a lay person going on a governing body has to ask what certain parts of the agenda mean. I was amazed by the agenda sent to me by one governing body. Three quarters of the agenda seemed to be in a foreign language. To someone not involved in education, it would seem to be a completely foreign language. We have to have agendas that governors can understand.

I feel very sorry for the right reverend Prelate and his clergy who cannot find the time to serve on governing bodies. If a clergyman who is attached to a local parish school and whose children attend that school cannot find time to serve on the governing body, how will a layman, who may have to travel across the town, find time? He will find it difficult, too. Those are problems which we have to iron out.

The Education Act 1986 and the Education Reform Act 1988 allow us to do a great deal in schools. Many opportunities are there. I do not want the Government to keep bringing in new ideas. We should try and build on what we have. We should try and get right what we have at the present time. We could be working on areas which are already provided for in those Acts. For example, the Labour Government introduced provisions on the grouping of schools. The Act states that each school shall have its own governing body. However, one finds that in certain cases a group of schools has one governing body. That is quite legal within the Act but it would be better if the provision applied to one particular school rather than a group of schools.

I welcome what is going on with the associations. However, I should like to see more help being given to parent-teacher associations to enable them to form a lobby together. Many people find this difficult because in some cases head teachers do not like parent-teacher associations working together. I should like the Minister to look at this point. Schools should by law have the right to form a parent-teacher association, whether or not the head teacher likes it. Perhaps that point can be considered.

Another thing I should like the Government to consider in more detail than they have in the past is the training of head teachers in management. This is very important. We now have a new type of head teacher. He has to be not only a professional educationist but a good manager. In our teacher training colleges we should be giving teachers more opportunity to learn more about school management and how it can be worked in a simpler way. They should have an opportunity to know what is going on in the world outside. People who have had some previous experience in management should have the opportunity to retrain.

We should allow education to evolve more, in the way it has in the past. We should not keep rushing in to do things. I often use the analogy of digging up the plant to see how it is growing. Let it grow a little bit longer before we lift it up again. Let us leave it a little longer and see how we can help it that way.

4.24 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I should apologise to your Lordships for extending this debate without notice. The reason for my not having put down my name is that I did not at first realise that I would be able to be here this afternoon. It was not until I had heard the opening speech that I realised that this was a debate from which I could scarcely refrain from intervening.

I do so with the sense that I am at least restoring the balance of the debate in two respects. One is the respect referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, who has done something to redress it herself. I refer to the balance between the genders. The other is the balance expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, who has done something else but who is redressing his redressment. I refer to the balance between blue and white collars. As I am today wearing a blue and white striped collar I feel I can speak with some impartiality. I speak also as the chairman of a committee which reported to the Government in January 1989 on the question of discipline in schools, in which it became very evident very early that parents in a number of capacities have a crucial function for the satisfactory performance of any school. That committee was itself of some authority, combining among its members more than 120 years of teaching experience. It also recruited experience from outside in a survey obtaining responses from no fewer than 3,500 practising teachers, representing an 89 per cent. response from 220 primary schools, a 79 per cent. response from 250 secondary schools and 100 interviews in hard-pressed city areas.

A majority of the very many letters that those respondents sent us emphasised that the behaviour of parents had a very strong and often harmful influence on the behaviour of children in schools. I must at this stage say that I learnt very soon in that work that one simply cannot consider a school in a vacuum. This is not a problem on its own. It is not something happening in a discreet area which can disregard all others, but part of a society, part of a community and part of an administrative system—a local government system or a social system. Therefore, it follows that the role of parents who form a portion of that community must be of vital importance if not for the reason that they actually supply the pupils (do they not?) and also supply by far the most powerful influence on the pupils in that school.

There were many preconceptions of which we had to disabuse ourselves and our readers, and possibly the noble Lord, Lord Morris. I am not sure whether I caught him right but earlier in the debate it appeared that there was some expectation that good schools existed in leafy suburbs and bad schools existed in impoverished and neglected inner city areas. We found that the surroundings in those terms were by no means the determining factor in the quality of the school. We found the best examples in the worst areas and the worst examples in the best areas. That was not as a rule of thumb but only on some occasions; and I do not reveal which was which. It was very striking that schools themselves make a difference.

The influence of parents at home was very important in the behaviour of children at school. The behaviour of many, if not all children, is in some respects either in conformity with standards they have had inculcated in them by their parents or in rebellion against it. For instance, very often children who were given to becoming involved in and contributing to escalating instances of violence came from homes where the response of parents to bad behaviour on the part of the child was first to shout, then to administer a cuff and then a kick. Equally, children who were in permissive families where no control was exercised did not expect to have to respond to discipline at all. We therefore made recommendations to parents and to those able to influence them—government, LEAs, governors and head teachers—that the way they bring up their children is very important to the way they perform in school and the way the school as a whole performs. The obvious aim was firm and affectionate guidance, a good example and the avoidance of the extremes of discipline.

It is difficult to generalise in a debate such as this. The involvement of parents in schools is of crucial importance and has been recognised as such for a great many years. Noble Lords have themselves recognised it in today's debate. The traditional means of parental involvement was through the parent-teacher association. In that respect I am happy to use the reference to collars by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. If one permits that type of labelling, parent-teacher associations are very often apt to be extremely white-collar gatherings. The refreshment at a PTA is very apt to be wine and cheese, though the refreshment in the community about it as a majority may well be beer and sandwiches. That again demonstrates the necessity for a school to reflect the community which it serves.

The parents should be involved. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Morris. Perhaps it is a tribute to his delivery that I find myself reverting again and again to his speech. Parent-teacher associations are an important reflection of the interest of parents in their schools, but it is by no means the only or the most effective one. I take issue with the noble Lord, as has my noble friend Lady Brigstocke, on his view of the involvement of parents in the classroom. Schools are not a test tube. They are not a separate experiment. They are part of the whole life of a child. The more that life is integrated, the better; the more interest shown by parents in education, the better and the more it will be respected and enjoyed by the child; and the more the loving attention of parents can be involved in children of the same age group and in their contempories in different social brackets, the better will be the teaching and the more cohesive the society.

As for turning away the expertise of ordained clergy in explaining the meaning of the scriptures, that leaves me with my mouth open. I accept that there are other faiths in this country. It is important to remember that. If the community is to understand the school, which it must if the school is to succeed, the school must communicate with the parents in a language which they understand. I do not only mean not in the flood of acronyms, to which my noble friend referred but in a language such as Urdu or whatever is the majority language of the ethnic minority—or, as it may be, the ethnic majority—in the area in which the school exists.

The school exists to serve the community, to raise its standards and to increase the life prospects of the children who go to it. The Government have with great enlightenment involved parents, through the governing bodies, in the actual management of schools. Contributor after contributor to this debate has pointed out the importance and the difficulty of doing that. Perhaps I may again draw on the report, of which a few dusty copies still remain in the Printed Paper Office.

We began our recommendations to governors by saying that if they chose to draw up a written statement of general principles for a school's behaviour policy, which is a very salutary thing to do, they should take account of the principles of good practice identified in the report, as well as the professional advice of the head teacher and chief education officer, and communicate it to the parents. We said that they should obtain regular reports on the standards of behaviour in their schools from their teachers. It is no use going around moaning and saying that children do not behave well. Governors have to reduce that to writing, analyse what is wrong with the behaviour, explain it to their fellow parents, discuss it with the staff and agree a policy to put it right.

We said that the governors' annual reports should contain a section on standards of behaviour and attendance at school. The report also refers to applications for interview and the governors' role in that respect. That is of crucial importance. I was sad to hear the noble Baroness who opened the debate saying that that was regarded with some anxiety and distaste by governors. I hope I understood her correctly. It was at that stage that I decided to come into the debate. If I am wrong, I hope she will not correct me because I shall then have no excuse for staying.

The teaching of children goes on not only in the classroom but throughout the day and is delivered not only in what the teachers say but in what the teachers do. A teacher who settles an argument by shouting at a colleague undermines the school's disciplinary standards. That policy has to be understood by the community of which the school is part. It has to be enforced by teachers who support it, understand it and have the personality to apply it. They must have the patience, the wit, the wisdom, the charity and love to get the children into that community as part of it, not as recipients of something imposed but as members of something being done. Those qualities must be looked for when appointing teachers. It is not an easy matter. The more senior the teacher, as my noble friend Lady Young said, the more critical the appointment. That is why we also recommended that local education authorities should supply, and boards of governors should receive, professional advice on how this should be done.

This is a vast subject. Noble Lords have restirred an enthusiasm which I laid to rest two years ago. I conclude, leaving much unsaid, by saying that a school will not succeed unless parents are in a very real sense involved in it, are in sympathy with its objectives, are in support of its teachers in counselling its children and mix in with its activities. If that is in the classroom, in the audience or behind the scenes of the school play, so be it.

The noble Baroness has broached an extremely important subject. Except in one respect, I have hardly touched on government policy. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for speaking at such length. If I have interested them, they can always read the report.

4.37 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I very much welcome this debate. I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing it, as for many years I have been in favour of giving greater consideration to the role of parents in the education system as a whole and because the part governors now play has been greatly increased by the Education Reform Act 1988. I shall not say a great deal about governors, as that subject has been well covered by my noble friends Lady David, Lord Morris of Castle Morris and Lord Taylor of Blackburn, as well as other speakers. I want instead to focus mainly on parents.

It is the case that, when one takes into account school holidays, weekends and the length of the school day, which is on average about six hours, children and young people spend only quite a small amount of their time at school compared with the amount of time they spend at home. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, how pupils spend their time at home will inevitably have an enormous influence on them and a direct effect on their attitude to school and their behaviour and achievements at school. If teachers want to get the most out of their pupils they must forge a successful partnership with parents. That is at the centre of everything I want to say and I believe it is accepted by most of the speakers in the debate today.

Children will do better if their parents are involved in their education. They will do better if their parents understand what is happening in respect of their schooling. They will do better if their parents support and encourage them in their efforts to learn at home. The two processes of schooling and learning outside school will benefit from being linked, with each providing an input into the other. Taking seriously the role of parents in the educational system is one of the most important routes to achieving higher standards in our educational system. Moreover, although there are some financial and resource costs to running programmes of parental involvement properly, enhancing the role of parents can be achieved at relatively little cost.

The second reason for examining the role of parents relates to questions of parental rights. Here I must agree very strongly with what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said about the need for schools to be accountable to parents. Both parents and teachers have rights and obligations and it is very important that they are observed. There is always a tendency for professionals who deal directly with children, whether they are doctors, teachers or social workers, to think that they know best. Often they do, but they do not always. Even when they do, it should be part of their responsibility to consult parents, to take their views into account and, above all, to inform them in an open way about their judgments and decisions and to give the reasons that lie behind them: not just to tell the parents, but to give their reasons.

I suspect that the issues we are debating today do not give rise to huge differences of view on different sides of the House. Indeed, the speeches we have heard indicate that there is a fair amount of consensus. The differences are those of emphasis rather than those of a fundamental kind. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to the importance of choice. Choice would be unimportant if all our schools were of high quality. Parents would not mind what school their children went to if all our schools were of high quality, and that is what we must be aiming for.

Choice for all is in any case very hard to achieve because once the good and oversubscribed schools are full, the children who do not manage to get into them have no choice but to go to the less good schools. Also, I cannot accept that grant maintained schools are going to improve the quality of the system as a whole, given how much more they are being allocated in terms of capital than the LEA schools. I have to say that many Tory local authorities are as concerned about this as anyone. I was also somewhat surprised by what the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, said about city technology colleges. She said that they chose the parents who were going to be motivated: in other words, they select the parents. It is the schools who are doing the choosing and not the parents who are choosing the schools. That is what we have always said about CTCs, and what the noble Baroness said has confirmed all our fears.

In our view the Government have focused a little too much on parental choice of school, especially in connection with secondary schools and on parents as managers on governing bodies, and not quite enough on parental involvement in schools. The Labour Party's policy is to increase the participation of all parents in their children's schools and not just the involvement of the few who have the time, the inclination and the energy to serve on governing bodies. But let me say at the outset that the Labour Party strongly endorses the decision to increase the number of parents on school governing bodies. That is one part of the 1988 Act which we welcomed and which we would certainly want to see continued.

It was indeed a Labour government which set up an inquiry on school governing bodies, so ably chaired by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Blackburn. My noble friend has referred to his report and its recommendations in regard to increasing the part played by parents as governors. The report's recommendations were welcomed by the Labour government of the time and it was Labour authorities such as the much-maligned Inner London Education Authority which pioneered parents on governing bodies. Indeed, as a parent with children in a London primary school, I benefited through being able to become one of the very first parent-governors.

But we now have to go beyond this. As I said, government policy has focused, in our view, rather too much on parents as consumers, as managers and as agents of competition. What is needed is a partnership between all parents and the schools which their children attend. There has been plenty of research now to show that one of the characteristics of really effective schools is a good relationship with parents. Both the major studies of school effects at the primary stage—Barbara Tizard's research on infant schools and Peter Mortimore's research on junior schools—show clearly that those schools with good parent-teacher co-operation and more extensive parental involvement achieve better results than those where relationships are less good and involvement is more limited.

At the secondary stage, the most recent study by David Smith and Sally Tomlinson endorses the primary school findings. What successful schools do is to put emphasis on parents as potentially joint educators with teachers. If I may refer to what my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris said about parents helping in the classroom, I have nothing against parents being involved in helping children to read or indeed doing other things in the classroom. I am very much in favour of that, so long as those parents who cannot do this for one reason or another are not made to feel guilty. I think it is very important that we should take into account the fact that some parents find this difficult because of domestic and other responsibilities. Also, we must be quite sure that parents are not being used as a substitute for the teachers. I think that is perhaps what my noble friend was saying and it may be that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, slightly misunderstood him. I do not think that my noble friend was opposing this altogether.

It is essential to see parents not just as people who might join PTA's and undertake fund raising for their children's schools but as people who are in the best position of all to share with the teachers the work of educating their children. It is in fact wrong, in my view, to rely on parents as fund raisers. To do so means that those schools with plenty of well-off parents who are willing and able to give money will end up with better facilities and more resources than those schools where most parents are too poor to make such contributions. As my noble friend Lady David has said, that will only serve to increase inequality. There is in fact worrying circumstantial evidence, to which she referred, that parents are increasingly being asked to raise funds for essential items of equipment and for textbooks—and both are needed to implement the national curriculum—whereas in the past fund raising tended more to focus on optional extras.

A relatively new concept is now being developed to help formalise proper partnerships between parents and schools which go far beyond PTAs and fund raising. My noble friend Lady David referred briefly to the idea of home-school contracts. These contracts involve the rights and obligations of parents and teachers being clearly set out. It is hoped that they will help those schools which have so far paid insufficient attention to parental involvement to start doing so now. We cannot continue just to rely on voluntary co-operation, on parental and professional conscience or on exhortation in our efforts to improve home-school relations.

Old attitudes and prejudices take a long time to die. While I accept that many teachers now recognise the importance of working with parents, there are still a lot of stereotypes around which see apathetic parents and ineffective homes as a serious problem. It is most important that teachers should be trained to recognise the integral role of parents in education and to work to promote it. Very few parents start out being apathetic about their children's education but some may become apathetic because they have relatively little knowledge, and information is withheld from them. They may feel shut out of the process. It is up to teachers to work with parents to ensure that this does not happen. They have a vital part to play in building parents' confidence: sadly, sometimes they undermine it. This is no way to enhance the learning environment of children, especially those from less advantaged backgrounds.

Home-school contracts provide a signed understanding, setting out the rights and obligations of parents and teachers. In other words, they specify the expectations which pupils and parents might reasonably have about schools and which schools might reasonably have about parents and pupils. The Labour Party is now in favour of developing contracts of this kind, as the basis for good parental involvement in all schools. I should be grateful if the Minister, when replying, could give some indication of the Government's view with respect to home-school contracts. If the Government do not favour them, it would be helpful to know by what means they will ensure that poor schools are brought up to the standards of good schools. Clearly, there should be some scope for variation among schools in the precise details of individual contracts. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said about the need for diversity in relation to different environments. Governing bodies should have a role in deciding their final shape. However, it would be helpful if HMI were able to provide some guidelines based upon pilot schemes now being tried in a number of LEAs.

Contracts should avoid being paternalistic or sending any message that "the professional knows best" rather than conveying the correct view that there should be equality between equally well-informed partners. As I have said, better information is crucial to achieve what we all want. Parents should have the right to have information about their own child; about the school's performance (taking into account its intake); and schools should publish a short prospectus. The contract should go way beyond the provision of information. In assessing children's progress and in constructing records of achievements, parents' views should be taken into account. They could help construct the record of achievement with the teacher. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will agree that one part of the record of achievement should be standards of behaviour. I agree with him that parents have a role to play in working that out with teachers. The contract should include home-school teaching schemes, especially at the primary stage; for example, by helping parents to become involved in raising their children's reading standards by reading regularly with them at home. It should include homework pacts and allow parents not just to read written reports and records but to be able to comment on them through regular consultations with teachers. Education advice centres are helpful, but the child's own school is the best source of advice.

I shall end by saying a few words about governors. Some anxiety has been expressed on all sides of the House—I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, had to say, with all her experience —that we may be asking too much of our governing bodies with the new arrangements under the 1988 Act. Again, as the right reverend Prelate said, the new responsibilities are large. They cannot be fulfilled adequately without good training. It is somewhat worrying that as many as one third of governors surveyed in the NFER study had not had any training. In the past we may have given governors too little responsibility, but if we go too far in the other direction there is a danger that people will feel unable to give the time involved and cope with the complexities.

There is a continuing role for LEAs in providing expert advice and in monitoring the system. Some of the rather wild proposals that have started to emerge recently suggesting that schools should be entirely responsible for all aspects of their management with no LEA backup and guidance seem to me to be foolhardy. Because the Government are in a mess over the poll tax, some see centrally funded schools and the consequent death of the LEAs as an escape route. That would place a huge burden upon governors and increase administrative and other costs. Schools need LEAs to provide advice and guidance and to monitor their work. I hope that those advocating that policy will think again.

The local management of schools has many advantages, but we should not throw out the baby with the bath water by abandoning the LEAs and their important role. Again I must agree with the comments of the right reverend Prelate on that point. There are many effective and supportive Labour-controlled LEAs. The provision of special needs, to which he referred, is one area of provision where they have excelled.

We need to welcome parents into our schools and not shut them out. Most parents want that and will as a result work constructively in support of teachers. The teachers have nothing to fear. Teachers and parents have an interest in raising the quality of our schools and in improving standards. They need to work together to achieve that aim.

4.55 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to those already expressed to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for introducing the debate and for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject.

Parents are their children's first educators and their influence remains crucial throughout childhood. Once children go to school, the parents share with teachers the responsibility for educating them. That is why it is so important that parents should be able, so far as possible, to send their children to the school of their choice. The more open enrolment provisions of the Education Reform Act are designed to ensure that schools admit up to their physical capacity, a point made by my noble friend Lady Young. Those provisions, combined with the pupil-led funding arrangements under schemes of local management of schools, will ensure that schools are more responsive to parental wishes, which will be an important incentive to improve standards.

More open enrolment came into effect for secondary schools from September 1990: the extension of more open enrolment to primary schools will take effect from September 1992. The introduction of grant-maintained schools and the innovatory city technology colleges has enlarged parental choice even further.

The law requires parents to ensure that their children of compulsory school age receive a proper education. That is a critical responsibility. Truancy is a waste of precious human talent and educational resources, and we cannot afford it. If parents fail in their legal duty, then they can be prosecuted; and, when the Children Act is implemented in October, the children of those who fail in that duty may be made the subject of an education supervision order so that local education authorities can take a direct responsibility for ensuring that a proper education is received.

Parents share with schools the responsibility for encouraging and reinforcing good habits of discipline in children. Teachers by themselves cannot be expected to rectify the consequences of all the negative influences on children, least of all the consequences of bad examples often set by parents. High standards of school discipline are vital: without an orderly school atmosphere, effective teaching and learning cannot take place.

Parents can help to motivate their children by taking a keen interest in their children's studies, and giving encouragement and support both to the children and to the school. A key area for parental support is in helping their children learn to read. There has been a welcome change over recent years. When my children went through school there was a noticeable antipathy on the part of teachers to allowing parents to be involved in the process of learning to read. A recent study carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectors of schools found that standards were generally higher among seven-year olds where there was a strong parental interest in reading and close co-operation between home and school. That is why parents are strongly urged to find out about their children's reading standards and to participate in helping to improve them. Schools should keep parents well-informed and enlist their co-operation.

Another key area for parents is in showing concern for their children's homework. They need, as far as possible, to provide a quiet place and time for them to work at home and to take an interest in the completion of the work. Children's successful completion of all homework assignments is an important part of their education and the development of good habits of independent study.

We are, of course, conscious that some parents find it difficult to know how best to support and become involved with their children's education. It is rare for parents not to want to do the very best by their children—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone—but not all parents feel comfortable with those matters, or in becoming directly involved with schools. It behoves the schools to act with sensitivity and to adopt a positively welcoming approach. In the more disadvantaged areas special strategies to strengthen home-school links may need to be taken by schools, and under the urban programme we are encouraging such measures.

The Government have been especially concerned to keep parents informed about the changes involved in the national curriculum. Three explanatory leaflets aimed at parents have been distributed, one from the Department of Education and Science and two from the National Curriculum Council. They set out clearly what parents can expect from the national curriculum and how they can help their children benefit from it. All the leaflets are available in the eight most widely spoken ethnic languages, as well as English.

The latest leaflet is part of a wider campaign to help parents understand the new testing and reporting arrangements for seven year-olds. A further leaflet is planned shortly, specifically geared to interpreting the written reports that parents receive. The cost of both leaflets, including design, printing, distribution and ensuring availability through libraries and most main post offices, is not yet clear. It will depend on parental and school response. However, we believe that it will not exceed £500,000. At 10p per copy, we believe that to be good value.

Under regulations introduced last July, schools will be required to give parents an annual written report on their children's achievements. Implementation of the requirements is progressive. This summer reports will be provided on pupils aged five to seven, 11 to 12 and sixth formers. Parents will be well-informed both about their children's studies under the national curriculum and their levels of achievement, judged against a national standard. The reports give teachers an opportunity to make recommendations for parental help to their children. This is one means by which parents and teachers can enter into constructive dialogue and work as partners to build on children's strengths and overcome weaknesses revealed by the tests on the national curriculum.

It is clear from what I have said so far that all parents now have even more opportunities to play an active part in their children's education and are increasingly being given the information they need to help them do that effectively. For one group of parents, elected by and representing the full parent body, the scope for making a contribution is even greater. It extends well beyond their own child's progress to issues affecting the success of the school as a whole. I refer to parent governors. There are 75,000 who, together with 200,000 fellow governors, take on real responsibility for key decisions in each school. The role of governors has been one of the themes of our debate today.

It is thankfully difficult to remember the bad old days when governors had at best a ceremonial significance and were at worst a complete irrelevance to school life. Thanks not least to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, and his committee which looked at the issue during the 1970s, we now have governing bodies free from political domination, representing the various partners who have an interest in school education. They have thus been able to give those bodies a real role to play.

This is one of the points on which I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. He said that there had always been governors and that having them was nothing new. I have to say that before the Taylor Report, there were schools with a chalk line across their playgrounds beyond which parents simply did not go. Sadly, that was predominant in the north and north-west of the country. The noble Baroness, Lady David, and I come from a county for which the Taylor report contained little new. Our county had well-established governing bodies. However, that was not universal across the country.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give way? I believe that it would be unfortunate if that were left on the record because, both as a teacher and a governor for a long period I found that that was not true of many areas. It may have been peculiar to the eastern counties but it was not true of the London area for over 40 years.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the point I am making is that in the eastern counties we had pretty enlightened local education authorities which had well-established governing bodies. However, that was not universal across the country. Predominantly in the north-east and north-west of the country, schools had a long way to go in involving the governors and parents in the education of their children. All I am saying is that the Taylor Report was an important piece of work from which governing bodies became universal and well-established right across the country.

It was the 1986 Act which established new style governing bodies with a balanced membership, removing LEA dominance and allowing for those representing parents, the head and other staff and a smaller group of LEA appointees to co-opt the largest single group of governors from the community served by the school. This ensures that local business and others with a close interest in the school and its pupils also have a say in its development.

These new governing bodies have now been in place for just over two years. They have brought to their task a powerful combination of commitment and ability—all we could have hoped for when we set up the new arrangements. I pay tribute to their efforts and achievements, as others have done today.

Success in recruiting governors is essential because of the important new powers and duties they now bear under the Education Reform Act. Like the board of directors of a company—an analogy no less true for being well-worn—they must set the broad direction for their school. They will establish aims for the curriculum, increasingly have a role in choosing staff and, as they take on their own budgets, will be able to make the central decisions about the allocation of the budget. Such decisions rightly belong with those closest to the school who have the interests of the pupils at heart.

The importance of the right relationship between chairman and chief executive is a lively debating topic in business circles. Schools do not have the option of combining those two roles in one individual. The head may, if he or she wishes, be a governor. Most are, but a head cannot become a chairman. However, the central importance of establishing a good working relationship between the head and the governing body, and in particular the chairman, is as well-recognised in schools as in industry. It is increasingly being addressed through joint training of heads and governors.

The key to success is a clear and shared understanding of the respective roles of professional staff and lay governors, whose wider perspective and commonsense approach is their strength. We do not want governors to become professionals; though we need them to be well-informed and able to debate professional issues effectively. The governors' role needs to be discussed and accepted within each school as a foundation for effective partnership, but it can be helped by good training and outside support, encouraged by central government grants. All LEAs have now put in place arrangements to meet those duties under the 1986 Act.

The point about paid time off was mentioned. Legislation for paid time off would, we believe, be counter productive. Many employers already do this and we hope that others will realise its value for their staff and the community. The NFER survey suggests that most governors who want paid time off receive it.

The Department of Education and Science has also offered direct support. It provides each governor with A Guide to the Law, which is written in a straightforward manner and updated to keep pace with new developments. While materials sent unsolicited to schools are now being strictly limited, we have today produced for governors who want it a briefing booklet on the curriculum which is intended to help them develop confidence in this vital area. We consulted both governors and heads on the draft and I believe that it will help governors to act sensitively but effectively in an area where professional sensitivity is understandable.

I am clear that governors should not leave the curriculum to the professionals. Offering the right curriculum to its pupils is the reason for a school's existence and governors must establish their curriculum aims. All their other decisions should be taken to further those aims. However, once broad strategies are set, the day-to-day delivery of the curriculum must be the task of the head and professional colleagues.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, referred to blue and white-collar workers. I have always believed that the term was used by the unions, with blue-collar and white-collar unions. There is certainly no attempt whatever on the part of the Government to be patronising about people whom we have labelled blue-collar workers. However, there has been concern from all parts of the Chamber that on our governing bodies we want a true representation of the full gamut of people within an area. That is important.

It is our understanding, under the NFER research, that about half the governors surveyed were women, though only 30 per cent. of the women chaired their governing bodies. It is disappointing to report that the proportion of blue-collar and ethnic minority governors is still low. We hope that the balance will improve. This does not necessarily mean that these groups are not interested in the progress of their children. Many of them are enthusiastic about other activities of the school and belong to the parents' association with which they may feel more comfortable. However, they are inhibited about becoming governors. We have sought to present positive images of black participation in governing bodies in our recruitment literature and in governor training materials which we have sponsored. We shall continue to give this matter further consideration before 1992 when the term of office of the majority of governors will end.

Before I leave the governors' role—to which cannot hope in this brief speech to do full justice—I should like to draw together the two themes of this debate and consider the way in which school governors relate to the parent body. Parent governors play an important part in ensuring that the concerns of parents are taken seriously and that parents understand the reason for governing body decisions. It is for that reason that we continue to hope for a wider spread of representation on governing bodies, so that all sections of the parent body have a voice. But parent governors are full members with collective responsibility across the full range of responsibilities. Their role should not be limited to PR with parents and they should not be seen as providing all the school needs in this respect. Schools and governing bodies need to take relations with parents seriously if productive links are to be established.

Greater home-school understanding will be one way to encourage attendance at governors' annual parents meetings. We have heard today about the lack of success in such meetings, though we know of some very attractive annual reports and have heard of very successful gatherings. Greater budgetary responsibility at school level will, I am sure, increase participation. That point was well made by my noble friend Lady Young. Parents will want to hear from and put their views to those taking decisions which affect their child's education; and parents used to greater involvement with their own child's progress will be more confident of expressing their views on wider issues, so playing a part in improving standards not only for their own children but for future generations.

I have—I think quite rightly in view of the matters raised by noble Lords—concentrated on schools; but I must make brief mention of the changes introduced by the Education Reform Act to the composition of the governing bodies of further education colleges. Across the country the number of members on such governing bodies from employment interests has doubled, giving these bodies a significant degree of independence, strengthening the links between colleges and local business and helping to improve colleges' responsiveness to employment needs.

A number of specific points have been made. I shall refer briefly to some of them. My noble friend Lady Young was concerned about what was being done in teacher training to help teachers cope with the issue of home-school links. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science sets criteria for the approval of courses of initial teacher training. Those criteria were issued about a year ago. They state that the training courses should include means of developing and sustaining links with parents. That is a proper part of teacher training courses.

Reference has been made to contracts. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked me about the Government's response to contracts. I should be interested to know what the noble Baroness means by contracts. The word "contract" implies a binding promise on behalf of the two parties concerned. One must then think about sanctions if the promises are not kept. What will be the fate of parents who do not keep to the contracts, if we are talking about contracts in that sense? My noble friend Lord Elton addressed this point in the research work he carried out before producing his excellent report. Two years ago the Elton Committee on discipline in schools examined this whole question. The committee concluded that while informal contracts could be useful—I suspect my noble friend would encourage informal contracts, and that is happening in many schools—legal enforceability is a real issue. That prevented the committee from making a recommendation that such contracts should be universally applied.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, to assume that such contracts should be legally enforceable is rather too literal an interpretation of the term "contract". Nothing that I said in my speech implied that. I do not believe that such contracts could or should be enforceable. I believe simply that it is desirable that all schools should have contracts and should operate them as a way of ensuring that both parents and teachers are aware of their rights and obligations.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have no difficulty in responding very positively to the idea of an informal understanding between parents and schools as to what rights, duties and responsibilities they have. If that is what is meant by the term "contract", I believe both the Elton Committee and the Government would have no difficulty in responding positively to that.

The turnover of governors has been referred to. I know there was a great deal of anxiety on this matter when the new governing bodies were put in place. However, we understand that the turnover in a full year is 10 per cent. We do not believe that is an alarming figure. There is no evidence that turnover is increasing. Indeed, it appears that as the new legislation settles into place the turnover is reducing as governors become more involved and more committed.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, is not in his place and therefore I shall merely say that I agree with the points he made about jargon. I believe the most intimidating thing any educationalist can do to prevent people from becoming involved in school governing bodies is to make excessive use of jargon. I also believe that the days are gone when individuals, particularly individual councillors, were governors on large numbers of school governing bodies. That simply cannot be done in today's world.

Compulsory parent-teacher associations were referred to. We would caution against compulsory PTAs. We believe that the downward pressure on schools now is such that PTAs are much more prevalent than they were at one stage. We certainly agree with better management training. I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that we are not just talking about better management training for heads. It is our view that management as a module of training is as important to the classroom teacher as it is to the head teacher. We believe it should be a fundamental part of training. Then, when our good teachers emerge as head teachers, they will not need to undergo a new course in management but rather to retrain in management.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, also said that he wished to break open governing bodies and give parents more freedom. No government could have done more to liberate governors and parents than the present one. We have set free schools and their governing bodies. We are even contemplating the possibility of setting whole LEAs free within the state system, if all the schools in an area wish that. I do not believe one can argue for more freedom than that for parents.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford pressed me about grant-maintained schools, their standing within LEAs, and their impact on LEAs. I believe we take too negative a view of grant-maintained schools. I believe it is a good reflection on a local education authority when schools within that authority are sufficiently mature and capable of managing their own affairs to stand alone within the system. I see nothing to preclude a good working relationship between a grant-maintained school and a local education authority. The best example I can give of that is Lincolnshire. That county gives a warm welcome to grant-maintained schools once they have received their freedom. Lincolnshire welcomes such schools into the bosom of the family, but for operational purposes the schools stand free.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, I do not have any difficulty with individual grant-maintained schools. However, my point is that the Secretary of State is reported to have said that he wants all schools to become grant-maintained. If that is the case, what is the function and role of an LEA in that context?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point. That specific topic is very much within the scope of the review that is taking place at the moment on the role and future of LEAs. I believe, however, we should be more concerned with good, healthy, mature and independent schools than with maintaining committees and local education authorities. We really need to concern ourselves with what adds value to what is going on in the classroom. That fundamental question will, no doubt, be posed during the course of the review.

A number of noble Lords have mentioned fund raising by parents. Noble Lords said that that activity is increasing and occurs now to a greater extent than in the past. The results from the NFER survey suggest that parents are not making greater financial contributions to their children's education. The median amount of total school-generated income in 1989–90 was £1,320 for primary schools and £3,500 for secondary schools. Both those figures show a small increase on the previous year. That suggests a national figure of under £50,000 which compares with the estimate of the National Committee for Parent Teacher Associations of £40,000 from the survey it carried out in 1985. The figure of parental financial contributions still accounts for less than 0.3 per cent. of the national expenditure on education.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked me about updating A Guide to the Law. I am happy to say that that is in the process of being updated. It is important that, as the law changes, the guide is kept up to date. The noble Baroness also asked whether further work on the NFER governor survey is planned. The department has consulted its working group on governor training and information about the case for further analysis of the questionnaires. The working group favours a further survey in due course which asks for more specific information. The department has plans to carry out the survey next year.

Much comment was made on training. The Government's record on the amount of training that has been initiated centrally and the amount of training being carried out in LEAs is good. I join with the noble Baroness, Lady David, in congratulating LEAs on the amount of training that they are carrying out.

In addition to A Guide to the Law, documents such as Planning for School Development, to assist governors and heads with management development, Governing Schools in the 90s: Into Action, a basic introduction to governors' roles and responsibilities, have been produced. In addition, a self-study package has been produced by the local management for schools initiative, as well as school curriculum documents and a training package to assist governing bodies in the selection of staff. Having said that, we are conscious of the amount of paper being sent to schools. Even that point is being addressed by my right honourable friend.

In terms of resources for training and government support, grants of £5 million per annum were made in 1989–90 and 1990–91 and £7.1 million will be made available in the coming financial year. This year is the last year of the three-year education support grant programme, but that does not mean an end to central grants to LEAs for school governor training. The circular on grants for education support and training in 1991–92 makes clear that support for that activity area will continue at least until 1993–94 and that the overall level of support is expected to be at least as high as in 1991–92; namely £7.1 million.

Much has been made of the workload of governing bodies. Again, governing bodies do not need to become involved in the professional business of accounting and school management. The head and administrative staff will offer that support. However, they do need to make strategic decisions about their budgets and determine priorities. As I have said, we have supported governor training through central grants of some £17 million pounds over three years, much of which has been spent on local management training. That support will continue.

I am baffled and disappointed by the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, referred time and again to the Government's poor record. They said that the Government were not spending enough and referred to under-funding and under-resourced schools.

Baroness David

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt to say that I do not think that I referred to under-funding and lack of resources. I may have mentioned it once, but I certainly did not go on about it.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I believe that I used the word under-funding once and only once.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, in addition to under-funding, which both noble Lords mentioned, they referred to the Government's record in a number of areas. To use her very words, the noble Baroness said that given the Taylor Report and given the Education Act 1944, nothing has happened since. My noble friend and I looked at each other and said that so much has happened since then. The Education Reform Act of 1988 was itself a very substantial leap in that direction.

Baroness David

My Lords, that was the quotation from Michael Marland who mentioned Matthew Arnold; that was the end of what he had to say.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I take that point. However, on almost any comparison the Government's record is unequalled by that of any previous government.

The Government recognise the vital role that parents and governors play in education. Through our programme of reforms all parents now have far more opportunities to play an active part in their children's education than ever before. We have achieved that by offering substantially increased parental choice of school (through more open enrolment, grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges); giving full information to parents on the national curriculum; making sure that parents receive reports on their children's levels of achievement, judged against a national standard; giving parents a much greater voice on school governing bodies (more than a quarter of all governors are parent governors); and under the local management of schools and in the grant-maintained sector parent governors are sharing in crucial decisions on staffing and financing.

In those and other ways the Government are ensuring that parents and governors have the best possible opportunities to play their parts to the full in raising educational standards and helping all children and young people to achieve their potential.

5.24 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Everyone had his own individual contribution to make. I was particularly pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, spoke. We have so often opposed each other in debates on Bills that it was a great pleasure to hear her speak today. I was also very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, felt compelled to speak unexpectedly and give us the benefit of the experience he gained when writing his report on discipline in schools.

There has been a good deal of general agreement about the importance of parental and community involvement. There was also agreement about the managerial experience which is now needed in schools. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned that bursars would be a great help. Head teachers have a burden to bear and should not have to spend all their time on financial matters instead of on running the school as an education establishment.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate about the role of the LEA. That is very much in question, the more so with grant-maintained schools coming into being. The LEA must be able to monitor and to plan. If it is asked to close schools it makes it much more difficult if the schools immediately try to opt out, retaining all of the places which should be lost.

I was delighted that my noble friend Lord Morris mentioned nursery schools. I had wanted to say something about nursery schools but time did not permit it. I was also glad that special needs were mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. There is anxiety about the situation of children with special needs in an integrated school if there are no governors who know a great deal about special needs because those children may have some difficulty.

I do not have much faith that the annual reports will be a success. I am still a governor of one establishment with 850 pupils. Fifteen parents turned up for the presentation of the annual report. A great deal of work goes into writing it, the governors turn up but the parents are not interested. However, they will flock to that evening to find out how their children's education is progressing.

I am surprised that the noble Baroness takes such a cheerful view about paid time off. I believe that we have to think rather more about that subject, particularly in the case of staff appointments. We may not always get the governors we want if they are not well off.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for allowing me to intervene. Local authorities are permitted to pay expenses and some local authorities do so. However, regarding the question of compulsory time off, the NFER survey tells us that that is not a substantial problem.

Baroness David

Not yet, my Lords. I thank the Minister for her intervention.

With those comments I should like to thank all noble Lords again. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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