Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

School guarantee 'whingers' fear

Queen's speech
The Queen's Speech promises guarantees on the quality of schools

Guarantees about children's schooling in England could become a "whingers' charter" for litigious parents, head teachers have warned.

Among the guarantees set out in the Queen's Speech are extra tuition for pupils who fall behind and support for gifted and talented learners.

The Association of School and College Leaders says the guarantees could open the floodgates for litigation.

The government says it is "absolutely right" that parents have such rights.

"This is not telling schools to reinvent the wheel - they should already be doing this. It is about setting out in law what pupils and parents should expect from their schools and making sure that happens wherever they are in the country," said a spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

The guarantees are part of the government's plans for education, presented in the Queen's Speech.

Parent power

There are also proposals for more rapid intervention in underachieving schools and for giving parents more influence over the provision of schools in local authorities.

ASCL head John Dunford warned that while ministers could announce "guarantees" for specific rights for pupils and parents, it would be schools which would have to deliver.

Pupil guarantee: one-on-one English and maths tuition for those falling behind; personal tutor for secondary pupils; support for gifted and talented; specialist help with health and social problems
Parent guarantee: clear information about pupils' performance; parent support advisers; annual survey of parents' views
More powers of intervention in struggling schools
Report cards to grade schools

"It is school leaders and staff whose jobs will be on the line if they don't meet the 'guarantees'," said Dr Dunford.

"If government is going to make a guarantee on behalf of schools, it must provide the means for schools to deliver on all these items.

"School leaders are extremely concerned that these 'guarantees' will turn into a whingers' charter for the more litigious parents to complain, first to the head, then to the governors, then to the Local Government Ombudsman service."

Guarantees were based on an assumption that parents wanted the best for all pupils, but this was not always the case, he said.

"School leaders have to make decisions based on what is best for the majority of students."

'Remedial action'

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman denied the pupil and parent guarantees would lead to floods of court cases against schools.

"There will be a clear process so teachers, heads, governing bodies and local authorities can deal with any complaint - as they already do with the vast majority of issues.

"If they do not, we've now given the Local Government Ombudsman power to hear parents' complaints and recommend that schools take remedial action. If they still will not, the secretary of state will be able to intervene and direct schools to act."

The Pupil Guarantee includes guaranteed one-to-one English and maths tuition for primary pupils who fall behind in the upper years of primary school and extra catch-up support for 11-year-olds who are behind when they start secondary school.

Teacher Steve McCormack: Education bill is 'not feasible'

'Personal tutors'

It also promises a choice of high-quality learning routes at 14 - and guaranteed education or training at 16 and 17.

Pupils should be offered specialist help for health and social problems and a personal tutor at secondary school.

Gifted and talented learners should be offered support and pupils will have guaranteed access to five hours PE or sport a week in and out of school.

The Parent Guarantee offers clearer information about a child's school performance; help and advice on choosing schools; and high-quality advice about their career and subject choices.

Parents should get a closer involvement through access to a named personal tutor or teacher, with regular face-to-face and secure, online information about a child's attainment, progress, special educational needs, behaviour and attendance in secondary schools by 2010 and in primaries by 2012.

Local authorities will also be required to carry out an annual survey of parents' views on local secondary schools - with an expectation that councils will publish plans showing how they might address any concerns that emerge.

The plans for education will also include measures for a more rapid improvement of underachieving schools - increasing powers of intervention.

The secretary of state will be able to require a local authority to issue a warning notice where school standards are too low - and schools which fail to comply with such a warning can be closed.

The intention is to hasten the National Challenge programme - in which the government has targeted the lowest achieving secondary schools, identified as those where fewer than 30% of pupils achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths.

The number of schools in this category was reduced by 40% this year - with the intention of bringing all schools above this benchmark by 2011.

The Liberal Democrats' schools spokesman David Laws said: "Only an arch centraliser like Ed Balls could believe that the only way to empower parents and pupils would be to create a vast bureaucratic structure of 'rights' without the means to deliver them."

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