Education: Parents asked to sign pledge on homework

New contracts will demand a written promise from pupil's family on assignments and good conduct
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ALL PARENTS will be asked to sign agreements promising to ensure that their children do their homework and behave properly, the Government said yesterday.

Children as young as five may also sign up to pledges to be "friendly and helpful" in home-school agreements that come into force next September.

Schools will be compelled by law to draw up documents, which will spell out for the first time what they expect of parents and what parents should expect of them - for example, a good standard of education.

Neither side will have legal redress if they believe the other has reneged on the bargain. Nor will parents be compelled to sign. Ministers say the point of agreements is to reinforce ties between home and school, a vital part of raising standards. Critics argue that those parents whom schools are most anxious to involve in their children's education will be the least likely to sign.

Estelle Morris, the School Standards minister, said: "For too long the assumption has been that some parents don't want to support their children at school. That is patronising. Some parents may find it more difficult but the challenge to schools is to present the policy in a way which makes it easy for parents to play their part."

In existing agreements, parents promise to turn up to parents' evenings, support homework and ensure children are at school on time with the right equipment. Schools promise "to achieve high standards of work and behaviour" and care for pupils' "safety and happiness".

Children will be encouraged to sign where governors consider that they are mature enough. Charles Clarke, the Schools minister, said some schools already encouraged pupils aged five and six to sign anti-bullying policies. "The more likely that children are to commit themselves to a particular approach, the more likely it is to work effectively," he said.

Ministers also issued guidance on homework which should start with about 10 minutes of reading or number work when children start school, reaching 30 minutes a day for those aged 9 to 11. From the start of secondary school, pupils should do as much as 90 minutes a day, rising to two-and- a-half hours a day for 16-year-olds.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, announced an extra pounds 80m in government funding for out-of-school clubs for those who find it difficult to study at home. The clubs will also offer out-of-school activities in sport, art, music and drama.

Theresa May, the shadow schools minister, said: "In their obsession with imposing rules, ministers have really gone over the top." She added: "Now five-year-olds will be expected to do homework each day ... Whatever happened to childhood?"

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers, said it supported partnership between schools and parents but the requirement for agreements would created "a mountainous pile of bureaucracy involving as many as 16 million pieces of paper".

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