Schools can't compel parents

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The Independent Online
NEW CONTRACTS between parents and schools should not force people to attend parents' evenings nor make them top up budgets for books, head teachers were warned yesterday.

Guidelines for the agreements warn heads to guard against possible abuses. From next year all parents will have to sign an agreement with schools when their children enrol.

Ministers want them to encourage greater parental involvement in education. But teachers and parents' groups expressed concern about the move, saying the contracts were "toothless" and could even damage efforts to improve discipline.

Parents will have to sign up to a school's ethos, as well as agreeing behaviour, homework and attendance rules. The agreements will also include details of the school's complaints procedures. Governors at each school will have to draw up a contract for parents. But guidelines being sent to schools impose strict limits on their use.

Schools "should avoid anything parents would find unreasonable and unacceptable," the guidance says. "Possible examples in this category include: requiring parents to attend an excessive number of parents' evenings or meetings at inconvenient times; or requiring parents to agree to make 'voluntary' contributions to purchase expensive books or equipment."

The guidelines make it clear no child can be expelled or refused entry because his or her parents do not sign an agreement, nor can a child be suspended or expelled because they break terms of the contract. Parents must be "invited" to sign contracts as soon as possible after the start of term. But schools cannot ask people to sign up to agreements before their children are enrolled.

Home-school contracts have become popular as a way of dealing with children who are badly behaved or play truant.

But the Government guidelines say schools should not use the contracts to deal with children being brought back into school after being suspended or expelled. Instead, governors can draw up their own agreement to deal with a child's specific problems.

The guidelines say: "Children achieve more when schools and parents work together. Parents can help more effectively if they know what the school is trying to achieve and how they can help. Home- school agreements will provide a framework for the development of such a partnership."