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Let heads sue parents, Tory leader suggests

Iain Duncan Smith wants home-school contracts to be legally enforceable. Joe Clancy and Kim Janssen report

Home-school contracts should be legally enforceable to give parents responsibilities as well as rights, Iain Duncan Smith said in his first speech on education as Conservative party leader.

He told a heads' conference that he was prepared to give them greater powers to enforce contracts with parents. The implication is that schools will be able to take legal action against irresponsible parents for breach of contract, though how this might be done in practice has yet to be made clear.

Mr Duncan Smith outlined the proposal as part of his vision of returning power to heads and teachers and trusting them to do what is best for schools. Teachers and heads would be given the power to control their own classrooms and he would "guarantee that more disciplinary powers are kept inside schools".

He added: "The Government still does not trust schools to deal with exclusions. We do because we know that to tolerate anti-social behaviour in our classrooms is to begin to tolerate it everywhere else.

"Disruptive children not only pass up their own chance for a better future, they also take away that opportunity from every other pupil. Everyone loses and society becomes the poorer as these children step out of school and on to the conveyor belt of crime."

The Opposition leader set out his education agenda at the Association of Heads of Foundation and Aided Schools' annual conference at Church House, Westminster.

Delegates cheered as he said: "You cannot make 'education, education, education' your priority when your 'three Rs' are regulation, regulation, regulation."

Mr Duncan Smith, who educates his children privately, revealed his support for legal enforcement of the home-school contract during questions following his speech.

In his speech, he also backed the setting up of a Royal College of Teachers to "enhance the status of existing teachers and to attract new high quality entrants to the professions". He pledged to "cut the unnecessary workload for all teaching staff by ending micro-management of schools".

He told the conference that "trust in the people" would be the theme of the party's policy review. He said Labour "doesn't trust teachers, so it has buried them in an avalanche of red tape, guidance notes and directives".

He added: "It doesn't trust heads, so any whiff of more money comes with ever greater string attached and yet more directives from Whitehall. It doesn't even trust them over discipline." He highlighted a pound;1.5 billion "underspend" in funds "the Government promised to spend at the beginning of the year but never got round to giving schools by the end of it".

George Phipson, general secretary of the association, said Mr Duncan Smith's speech was well received, even by delegates who were not Conservative voters. His broad vision of trusting heads was widely welcomed, he added.

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