The home school agreement signed by parents and schools and required by government is in principle an excellent concept. According to the Department for Education it should explain:
- the school’s aims and values
- the school’s responsibilities towards its pupils who are of compulsory school age
- the responsibility of each pupil’s parents
- what the school expects of its pupils
- all maintained schools, academies, city technologies colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts are required to publish a home-school agreement and associated parental declaration
- schools must take reasonable steps to ensure that all registered parents of pupils sign the parental declaration to indicate that they understand and accept the contents of the home-school agreement.
However, it is not compulsory for parents to sign the agreement and government rules that:
- Schools (or local authorities where they are the admissions authority), must not:
- invite a parent or child to sign the parental declaration before the child has been admitted to the school;
- make the signing of the parental declaration a condition of the child’s admission to the school; or
- base a decision about admitting a child to the school on assumptions about whether his or her parents are or are not likely to sign the parental declaration.
- Furthermore, a child must not be excluded from school, or face punishment, as a result of a parent’s failure to sign the agreement or abide by their declaration. Furthermore parents should not face any sanction for either not signing the home-school agreement or failing to abide by its requirements. Schools may also invite any pupil, who they consider to have a sufficient understanding of the home-school agreement as it relates to them, to sign the agreement as an indication that they acknowledge and accept the school’s expectations of its pupils.
I have had complaints from several parents about Swan Valley's heavy handed approach to forcing parents to sign the agreement, which appear to be completely counter-productive. It is alleged that children have been threatened that if their parents do not sign they would not be allowed back in school for September. One parent who has contacted me before her child has entered the school alleges she has been told she has to sign this first, which would also be counter to government regulations. I have also seen correspondence from the school in an attempt to force the parent of a student who has been in the school for several years to sign the agreement. This includes:
“Thank you for your letter dated 12th July 2013 regarding the Ebbsfleet Academy Home/Student and Academy Agreement. The letter has been passed to (Chairman of Governors) ......In the meantime the inclusion Manager will be in contact with you to try and resolve your issues with the agreement so that your son CAN START THE NEW ACADEMIC YEAR IN SEPTEMBER AS PLANNED” (my capitals).
In other words, and precisely: If the issues are not resolved the school would not allow him back to start the new year in September. Such an exclusion would be illegal. The response, sadly held back until after the end of term explains that, because of this delay, the Chairman of Governors is not able to investigate until September!
Subsequently, an email was sent to the parents from an Assistant Principal at the Quest Academy in Croydon, copy to the head of Swan Valley, although a representative of Swan Valley confirmed to me that the school has no connection whatsoever with Quest Academy. He writes about “our Home-school Agreement”, and indeed the Swan Valley one appears based on that of Quest.
This email can only be described as threatening, especially the section: “These expectations closely mirror the Academy's Code of Conduct to which all students must subscribe and reflect the various legal obligations which are placed on parents by statute (for example, in relation to ensuring the children behave at school and attend regularly). Of course, in cases where parents do not support their children in meeting our expectations, the academy may ask parents to sign a parenting contract or may apply for a court-imposed parenting order”. Of course the school is not even an academy yet!
This frightener was sent to a parent who is rightly challenging the school’s unlawful requirement for the home school agreement to be signed.
It is evident that the prospective academy is attempting to impose a stronger standard of discipline on its students, and the home-school agreement is a particularly tough one, which is likely to worry some responsible families who fear the consequences of failing to meet its high expectations. However, surely the way forward is to encourage parents and not frighten them in this unlawful and discouraging way.
In spite of rumours that the school has lost a number of staff as a result of the changes, it was good to read yesterday on the Academy website that there are NO staff vacancies. Coincidentally, today the website has been taken down today; apparently it was not the official one which will be available in due course.
The argument could well be that if parents don't like it, they can go elsewhere, but for parents of non-selective boys, there is no alternative in the Dartford area, apart from the Leigh Technology Academy, bu tthis chooses its students by random selection, son many Swan Valley childrne are unsuccessful applicants for Leigh, the most oversubscribed school in Kent.
POST SCRIPT: After I had briefed the parent about the legal situation, she explained the regulations to the school, as a result of which they have now conceded they cannot stop her son returning to school in September. How unnecessary it all is, when with a different approach she would have been perfectly happy to sign.