Parents say 3m pounds charter misses real concerns: League tables fail to arouse interest

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The Independent Online
PARENTS have been told to send their children to school on time and help with their homework under a government charter published today. The Department for Education has spent pounds 3m on the Parent's Charter, which will be posted to every home in Britain this week.

John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, was forced to withdraw part of the draft charter after it was dismissed as 'patronising' by parents. It said they should give their children a good breakfast and send them to school properly dressed.

But the revised version also failed to win approval yesterday. Parents said they were not interested in the league tables or governors' reports promised, and that poor funding, crumbling buildings and crowded classrooms were their real concerns.

Launching the charter, which contains details of recent legislation on school reports, admissions, inspections and targets for increasing the number of exam passes, Mr Patten also announced a new annual report from his department. It will contain national and regional figures on opting out, surplus places, staying-on rates and exam results so that parents can compare them with the performance of their children's schools.

He denied that the leaflet was patronising and that it was unnecessary to post it to 20 million homes.

'It certainly doesn't preach to parents and it doesn't tell them how to bring up their children. You won't find any reference to porridge or mittens.

'The reason for a national door- drop is absolutely compelling and straightforward. The changes taking place in our education system are very important to everyone,' he said.

However, Mr Patten's multi- million pound leaflet won few plaudits. As he launched the document, members of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations (NCPTA), were in a hall across the road from the Department for Education, giving their support to an alternative charter drawn up by the Campaign for State Education, Case.

The Case charter - which the campaign group says cost just pounds 260 to produce - calls for universal nursery education, smaller classes, better school buildings, more money for books and equipment and two written reports each year for parents on their child's progress.

Belinda Yaxley, membership secretary of the NCPTA, said that she had very few phone calls about league tables or inspections, but many on crumbling classrooms, classes with more than 30 pupils and poor school transport.

'These are the issues which face parents every day. They are not interested in league tables because it doesn't ultimately affect their children. Mr Patten's charter does not seem to have any substance,' Ms Yaxley said.

A boy whose parents threatened court action against a school which chose its pupils by lottery has won his local appeal for a place. Christopher Visser has been offered a place at Habergham High School in Burnley, Lancashire, on the grounds that he had special social and welfare needs.