10th December 1999 at 00:00
WHAT happens when the school breaks the home-school agreement? Can a parent invoke the complaints procedure against a school which flagrantly breaches its obligations?

As a parent I have fought a lonely battle against a governing body - who are scared stiff of the head. They think that I, and many other parents, are making a fuss about nothing. You have written about one-sided agreements full of "mission-speak" - ours is a classic case.

We have one particular parent who has had trouble with her son bunking off school. When parents were consulted about the agreement, she said very vocally that she didn't see why she should drive a 14-year-old four miles to school, wait to see him in, and then be chastised because he disappeared after registration, when two or three members of staff regularly fail to mark homework, and get away with it.

She and a number of others are outraged that the school has drawn up an agreement that is very hard on parents, but only contains vague statements of intent for the school. I am sure it is only a matter of time before this explodes and I wonder if there is any redress.

How unwise of your governors to ignore such feelings when they know that these agreements - both ways - rest solely on goodwill.

The process of drawing them up should be a valuable, honest dialogue that improves mutual understanding.

As you know, the agreement is unenforceable and makes no provision for sanctions either way; if it is dogged with resentment before you even start, it is a waste of time.

You refer to "the complaints procedure". Your school may have one already, as ours does, but sadly the requirement for all schools to implement this - which might redress some of the imbalance possible under home-school agreements - has been postponed for a year.

But if you have a procedure that allows a complaint about staff to be referred to governors, your governing body will be obliged to consider it - and the school will have to take notice of what they say.

If the governing body persists in ignoring the very real concerns you describe, you can appeal to the Secretary of State under the "unreasonable behaviour" provisions of Section 496 of the Education Act 1996. However, you should be warned that few appeals have succeeded.

How sad it is even to have to suggest such a course. A relationship of honesty, trust, and mutual willingness to accept criticism between school and home is essential to children's success and shouldn't need sanctions.

I find it upsetting that your school apparently isn't sufficiently united in its drive for higher standards to have a clear homework policy - supported by governors - that would set out exactly how it plans to deal with parents' concerns about teachers and homework.

Such a school shouldn't be surprised if parents object to signing up to an agreement that says they will ensure homework is satisfactorily completed.

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