`You learn more if you come on time,' says Theo, 10

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The Independent Online
St Bernadette Grant Maintained Roman Catholic Junior School in Clapham, south west London, introduced a home-school agreement in 1991. Among things expected from pupils are school uniform, homework and punctuality. Above average SATs results are credited to the agreement.

THIS PART of Clapham is not an easy area in which to teach. More than a quarter of the children live in over-crowded houses and flats; a third of the children in the school have special educational needs; and well over a third qualify for free school meals.

Challenging children go to this school, and the school offers a much needed structure to their lives, and sets firm parameters of acceptable behaviour. It has high expectations of the children. As a direct result, it has an excellent reputation in the local community. The school is over- subscribed and parents believe in the school and the agreement - all of them have signed.

Nuala Sullivan's four children have all been to St Bernadette - eight- year-old Christopher and 10-year-old Mark are still there. She says: "As a parent, it gives you guidelines, it sets the boundaries. You know what your children are allowed and not allowed to do." Theo Gonzales, 10, says: "You learn more if you come on time. It helps you do well, ready for the SATs."

The behaviour policy is the existing agreement's backbone, and of the new one which will be in place from the autumn term. It is the most important factor in making the school calm - teachers and children speak to each other with respect.

Sections of the Ofsted report that praise the school for this are blown up to A3 and displayed in corridors.

Parents are expected to toe the line. Keith D'Cruz, the headteacher, believes that parents who refuse to sign, should be asked to go to another school. He is determined to make the agreement work.

He says: "I would be very willing to sign an agreement if my child was going to school because it would show my commitment to the school. I can also then challenge the school and say, `Look, I've met my part of the bargain. You've promised me my child was going to achieve this. Where's your part of the bargain?'"

Mr D'Cruz expects the parents to discuss the contracts with their children, and explain what is expected of them.

In the autumn term all the children will be expected to sign a more child- friendly agreement. There are six short sentences for them to agree to. They must get to school on time; bring all their equipment every day; wear school uniform; do all their work as well as they can; be polite and helpful; and keep the school clean.

The underlying factor is to stay focused without allowing any of the distractions that would be irritating to teachers in the classroom.

In return the school promises to foster the religious development of all the children in the Catholic faith; encourage the children to do their best at all times; encourage children to take care of their surroundings and other people around them; inform parents of the children's progress at regular meetings; inform parents about what the teachers aim to teach the children each term; tackle any special needs; and let parents know about any concerns or problems that affect their children's work or behaviour.

Stephanie Cooper