Leading article: Luring parents past the school gates

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The Independent Online
Contracts between parents and schools are a good idea. Advocated by both Conservative and Labour politicians in the past, and implemented with great success in Birmingham already, they are an effective way of drawing parents into their children's education. After John Major signalled an interest in parental contracts at the weekend, the proposal was hastily tacked on to the launch yesterday of new government proposals on selection in schools. But while the proposed changes to school admissions could be extremely damaging, divisive and discriminatory, the home-school contracts could make a real difference to improving education standards across the board.

The old days when parents rarely ventured farther than the school gate are long gone. Education is no longer the prerogative of the professional teacher. Children can learn much after the school bell rings at a quarter to four. A supportive, enthusiastic mum or dad who helps with homework can make a considerable difference to a child's progress. Meanwhile, the regular exchange of information between parents and teachers can help to avoid misunderstandings about the problems that individual children face. So keen, concerned parents are often welcomed into the classroom, rather than dismissed as pushy or interfering. The more parents feel able to play an active role in educating their offspring, the more successful those children are likely to be.

Many parents - and not just the middle classes - already participate actively in their children's education. Comprehensives across the country are brimming with lively parent-teacher associations, organising jumble sales and activity weekends. Those who don't get involved are rarely bad parents. Unused to the idea of regular trips into school, they may simply feel intimidated by academic establishments. Perhaps their own parents paid little attention to their schooling and they are unaware of how much good they could do. A formalised framework can set out exactly what they should expect and what the school expects from them.

Typical contracts could include telling parents what their child is to be taught, how they are progressing and what standards they can achieve. At the same time, parents should ensure that their children are punctual and appropriately dressed for school, and have done their homework. The contract, signed as the child first enters the school, would embody the best intentions of the school and the parents to provide a good education for the child.

The Government's School Improvement Council has now been charged with examining the benefits of home-school contracts. They should get a move on, and introduce them across the country.