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Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 1995
Madam Speaker, I beg the bill be read a First Time and be printed.

(Copy of the bill at

Madam Speaker, I rise today to introduce the first part of the Government's ambitious agenda for education, the Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 1995. Three years ago, this government was elected on a manifesto that made a promise to give all parents a right to choice over their child's education. This Act does that, and seeks to help establish a culture of accountability for schools to the people they serve. The Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 1995, which for sake of convenience I shall henceforth refer to as the Parental Involvement Act, gives education authorities the means to increase parental involvement in state education through both a document known as a strategy for parental involvement, and gives these education authorities responsibility for the creation of Parent Councils. Too often in this country, parents can feel powerless when it comes to their child's education, and unable to intervene if they feel their school is failing. As a former teacher myself, I say this with experience behind me: when it comes to their child's education and future, parents know what is best for their child's education, and this bill will provide them the powers necessary to help improve it.

This bill, as I mentioned, can be split into two sections: one covering the responsibilities of education authorities in regard to strategies for parental involvement, and the other detailing the powers and structure and the process for the establishment of Parent Councils. In regard to the first section, each local authority will be legally required to create a "strategy for parental involvement", in which they will outline their plans to increase the involvement of parents in regards to schools, to ensure that they play a part in the running of the school. This means that, legally, education authorities would be mandated to have parents at the heart of education. Additionally, these strategies will not just promote parent's involvement in their own child's education, but also promote their involvement in the life of the school more generally. This bill will bring parents, children, and teachers together, and bring our communities up and down the country closer together.

The second part of the bill, as I mentioned, focuses on Parent Councils. The parent forum already plays an important role in the operation of a school, but what this bill seeks to do is formalise this through a body, formed by members of the Parent Forum, which represents their interests and works together with the school to create a compromise that works the best for our parents and children. Although these bodies will be set up with help from local education authorities, it is important to make this clear: they must, and will be a place for parents to discuss their concerns and take action on them free from interference from anyone, although their primary ambition should still be to come to a compromise position. However, this should not mean that parents should be powerless should the Parent Council agree that action needs to be taken. Through a complaints process, Parent Councils are able to raise an official complaint to Ofsted should they consider their schools to be failing. This is our parent's guarantee - if Ofsted finds that this complaint is justified, the school's management will be replaced. This act hands back power to parents.

Madam Speaker, I commend this legislation to the House
A.W. Dayton Highland
Secretary of State for Education and Future Skills
Member of Parliament for Ayr (1992 - present)
Madam Speaker, I beg this bill be read a second time
Sir Harold Saxon MP

Acting Prime Minister

Chancellor of the Exchequer (1994 - )
MP for Aylesbury

Second Reading!
Madam Speaker

This bill empowers parents and gives them more involvement in the running of schools. Ultimately, this is good for pupils, good for parents and good for schools. I am happy to support this legislation.
Mrs. Margo Leadbetter
Home Secretary and Secretary of State for DEFRA
Conservative MP for Surbiton
Madame Speaker,

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving parents the attention they deserve. As a former professional colleague of the right honourable gentleman I can honestly say that I absolutely share his analysis of the importance of involving parents in their children’s education. We need to give parents the same care and attention that they invest in the future of their children – education is a common project.

In all honesty, though, Madame Speaker: is this bill truly the right way to go about this? My experience with parents is that they all care about their children’s future and that they all deserve to be involved. I have worked with many involved and driven parents during my work as a teacher and I admire their involvement and the many initiatives they already take to improve their education. My concern with the measures offered by the right honourable gentleman is that this bill, while not intended as such, will put institutional constraints on the creativity and agency many parents bring to the table and might even be counterproductive.

This bill is not new in one regard – it displays a very common tendency, I find, that we in politics all too often have resorted to when faced with problems in giving people the services they deserve. What is new is that this bill displays that on a breath-taking scale: where previously we would create one single body to attempt a solution, now we are generously giving each school a quango of its very own, complete with a few formal powers and a whole lot of rules on how it should be organized, to which I shall return later.

In effect, we are creating a costly and administratively burdensome middle man for our parents and I wonder if that’s the wisest thing to do, for multiple reasons. First of all, it makes the effective exercise of a power we are giving to parents entirely dependent on the functioning of a sub-group that acts as a sort of gatekeeper. What if the Parents’ Council disagrees with a parent about their vision for his or her child at the school? Is the involvement of that particular parent then not devalued and at risk of not being heard? By creating someone who has the special position to involve themselves, we risk creating a situation where by implication others do not have that position, or do not believe themselves to have one. Should the Parents’ Council not function or be lacking in its representative character, then this act offers no guarantee that the voices of that individual parent – and let us not forget all parents and all children have different needs and ideas, that’s the beauty of it – will be heard and brought to the appropriate table.

Secondly, I am worried that while these measures could work for parents who are already very active and involved, it might put a ceiling on parental involvement. Two new bodies with meetings and papers and a budget and the whole circus might be welcomed by some parents, but especially to those who are not very involved, the very people we need to activate and energise, it might be an invitation to the contrary. These parents might feel lost or even abdicate their involvement to the new Parents’ Council – parents who do not share the qualification of knowing this particular child’s needs best. If we are serious about involving all parents and wanting to help all of them to exercise their voice and get themselves involved in their children’s education, this is exactly the sort of situation we need to avoid.

Madame Speaker, we are also forgetting something. Parents may be experts in making choices for their children, but they are not in the somewhat stuffy world of rules and regulations. Even if they might want to form a Parents’ Council, there might well be cases where such a council is badly needed but cannot function because parents will be able to find their way through all the regulations now placed upon them. Between running a busy B&B and his parental duties at home, I find myself wondering if my husband has the time and know-how to draft a constitution in keeping with all the legal requirements. And even if they take that hurdle, the administrative burden placed on our parents might hamper the Parents’ Council in its functioning.

In short, my issue with these parental microquangos, if you will, is that far from extending and inviting parental involvement, they run the risk of narrowing it down, restricting it to a subset of the parent body and strangling it in red tape. I am as serious as the Secretary of State is about parental involvement, but if he and I share a commitment to making parental involvement as broad and deep as possible, then I would urge him to think again about interposing a middle man between parents and schools, parents and their local education authorities and parents and Ofsted. That will not further this agenda.

Why have a middle man at all, madame Speaker? We already have the excellent instrument of the Parents’ Charter to guarantee the rights and duties of parents in the education of their children. If we want to give parents a recourse to Ofsted and do it in a way that is as inclusive and respecting of diversity and tailored education as possible, why not simply amend the Parents’ Charter and give ad hoc groups of parents the right to petition Ofsted to take a closer look at their concerns? Without all the cost and administrative burden imposed by these new quangos and without the risk of failing to pick up on important signals from parts of a school’s parent body, we would be able to give them the same, even greater power.

While I do not think this bill is the right way to go, should the government wish to persevere with it, there are other areas we should look at and which I will be offering amendments for. For instance, the financial provisions of the bill as they stand could include compulsory payments to the Parents’ Council by parents. I believe parents should never be forced to pay for the privilege of representation of their interests, and I worry that for those with less money to spend such charges could pose a problem. I would therefore like to inquire if the right honourable gentleman shares this appraisal of the problem and would accept an amendment to bar Parents’ Councils from levying such compulsory payments. Secondly, I believe the requirements for the way the Councils are run and held accountable are too light at the moment. For example, there is no provision about the way parents should be able to influence the composition of the Parents Councils. I believe that kind of provision is a sine qua non for a body that should represent the interests of all parents, and I would like to see it included in the bill.

In conclusion, Madame Speaker: I am a teacher and I am a mother. In both my roles, I have been routinely impressed by the sheer energy and drive of many parents in our schools today. Across our communities, parents are banding together to get the best for their children, to contribute to their schools and their local communities, to help our teachers do their vital work. It is in these initiatives that the true energy and contribution of parents shines brightest. I strongly believe that these are the initiatives we should support, from the bottom up, without subjecting them to a uniform set of rules where what parents actually need is the flexibility and breathing space to do right by their children. 

That is why, while applauding the intention, I have to urge the government to change direction to a more bottom-up tack.
Emily Greenwood MP | Labour MP for Workington (1992-present)
Shadow SoS for Education and Employment, Health and Social Security (1994-present)
Madam Speaker,

Just let me be abrupt - has the Right Honourable Gentleman consulted with the civil service so he can inform the House how much he expects these top down, complicated reforms would cost? And how much of that burden does he hope to shove onto parents with the cash raising powers granted to these parents councils?
Labour - Liverpool Riverside.
Shadow Chancellor
Madam Speaker,

Further to the point, my Honourable Friend made: has the Right Honourable Gentleman considered how these cash raising powers could exacerbate inequalities between schools, rather than close them? A parent council in a poor area - with many parents who don’t earn enough to avoid poverty - will struggle to raise anywhere near the funds that one in a rich area will do, and will be able to do far less as a result. How will the government avoid such inequalities, and avoid kids from disadvantaged backgrounds being disadvantaged yet again?
Labour MP for HULL NORTH (1987 - )
Madam Speaker,

I rise in support of this bill today. Who are better judges of a child’s needs than their parents? A big foundation in a child’s character is the role of the parental unit. If parents are taking a bigger role in their child’s education like this bill proposes, I can see bright futures for our children growing up and becoming good citizens.
James Black, MP
Conservative for Great Yarmouth (1987-present)

Division! Clear the Lobbies!
Emily Greenwood MP | Labour MP for Workington (1992-present)
Shadow SoS for Education and Employment, Health and Social Security (1994-present)

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