Parents will be asked to sign school contracts

The Major interview: Labour denounces plans for an education pact on pupils' behaviour and attendance
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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

Schools will ask parents to sign contracts on their children's behaviour and attendance, the Prime Minister said yesterday.

Labour denounced the move as evidence that the Government was in disarray over education, and said that it had already proposed school contracts. The idea was published by the Opposition last July along with plans for an extension of local management in schools, also raised by Mr Major on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost programme yesterday.

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, said the new policy had been cobbled together to cover up the fact that two out of three pieces of education legislation due this year were likely to be dropped.

Plans to privatise student loans have already been postponed for a year because of opposition from the banks, and Mr Blunkett said that proposals to force all church schools to opt out would be abandoned because the bishops would not accept them.

Nursery vouchers of pounds 1,100 will be introduced in four areas, though three will have insufficient places to meet demand.

Mr Major said that Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, would announce details of the new parental contracts for schools. He did not give details but some schools already ask parents to sign statements saying that they will ensure that their children attend regularly, properly fed and dressed, and on time. Schools could also ask for parents' commitment to attend meetings, and to see that children's homework is done.

Mr Major also suggested that more money could be delegated to schools under local management, and that bureaucracy would be cut back. He defended plans to increase the proportion of children that can be selected by ability from 10 per cent to 15 per cent, details of which will be announced today by Mrs Shephard.

"The classless society is about increasing opportunity, about increasing choice, about sustaining the vivid tapestry of British life. Some people try to interpret it as though it was seeking a blanket uniformity. That is Socialism," he said.

Mr Blunkett said that Mrs Shephard, who is believed to have resisted the proposals on student loans and on church schools, had defeated the Prime Minister. "Mr Major is trying to disguise the fact that he has been humiliated by Gillian Shephard, who has recognised the dangers of the Government's original plans," he said.

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said that there was a danger that schools would refuse to take pupils whose parents did not sign contracts.

There was also a danger that those who could not attend meetings because of work commitments would be penalised. Parents' views should be canvassed before the scheme went ahead, she said.

"We are not against anything which is going to be positive and an improvement," she added, "but what we are against is something being brought in quickly and without clear consultation."