Tuesday, November 10, 1998 Published at 14:19 GMT
Home and school: It's a deal
The government wants children to understand a school's 'ethos'
Young children could be asked to sign contracts dealing with school rules on homework, discipline and behaviour.
Government guidance on home-school agreements - just published - explains what teachers and families can expect from one another.
The agreements come into force next September. All schools in England will have to have them, but they are not legally enforceable - which has led some to say they will do nothing to overcome the lack of interest a minority of parents show in their children's education.
Schools will be expected to set out their "ethos" and the standard of education parents can expect to be provided.
Children themselves will be encouraged to sign up, where school governors consider they are sufficiently "mature" to express their own commitment to their education.
Some schools have already led the way by encouraging children as young as five to sign up to school policies on such things as combating bullying.
The School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, said she expected that all parents would be happy to sign agreements, which would give them an opportunity they might not have had before to discuss with schools what they could expect for their children, and how they could help.
"For too long the assumption has been that some parents don't want to give support to their children at school and aren't able to," she said.
"That is patronising. Whatever their class or background, parents want their children to do well at school.
"Some parents find it more difficult to support their children because they may not have had success at school themselves. Our premise is that parents want the best for their children and want to play their part, but that in the past it hasn't always been made easy enough for them to do so.
'Better than nothing'
"That's the challenge for schools - to present their policies in such a way that makes it easy for parents to play their part as well."
The National Association of Head Teachers - which says it first came up with the whole idea - welcomed the guidance.
"We appreciate that there are reservations about the effectiveness of non-enforceable home-school agreements in dealing with those parents who are indifferent to, or even hostile about, the need for close liaison between school and home," said the union's General Secretary, David Hart.
"But it is better to have a home-school agreement which will be supported by the vast majority of parents than nothing at all.
"It must be made clear to those parents who refuse to sign that this in no way provides exemption from the normal rules that apply to everybody else within the school community."
The Conservative Party accused the government of being obsessed with imposing rules on schools and families.
"Whatever happened to childhood?" said the Shadow Schools Minister, Theresa May.
This is what today's government guidance says they should cover:
Standard of education
Schools should promise to alert parents as soon as possible if their child is absent.
Discipline and behaviour
They should be made aware of the importance of telling the school about anything that might affect a pupil's school work.
The agreement should also refer to information teachers can provide for parents about how they can help their children at home.