Functions of the Chief Inspector for England

Education (Schools) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:32 pm on 13th March 1992.

Alert me about debates like this

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, line 1, leave out ("and")

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science 3:01 pm, 13th March 1992

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

With this we may also discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2, 6, 7, 13 and 14.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

I shall speak with comparative brevity on the amendments, which 1 recommend to the House, because we are restricted on time. The Opposition have spent the first hour of the two hours available to us this afternoon protesting about the lack of time to consider the Bill. Had they not protested at such length, they could have spent two hours on the Bill's terms. The progress of discussions on the Bill has been bedevilled in that way before. The fact is that they have little to say about it. They prefer to occupy the time available by arguing about procedure because an hour would be difficult to fill if the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) sought to express his full thoughts on the matter before us.

I trust that the amendments will not be especially controversial. They were tabled by the Government, in response to concerns in another place that, under the Bill as drafted, it might have been possible for chief inspectors and registered inspectors to neglect to report on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils. The amendments were suggested from the Cross Benches and were accepted with support from both sides.

Although those matters were mentioned in section 1 of the Education Reform Act 1988, as essential purposes of the school curriculum, and although inspectors are already required to report on educational quality and standards, the Bill did not expressly draw attention to them. The amendments place clearly on the face of the Bill a duty for inspectors to report on those important matters.

Parents will receive an objective assessment of what their children's schools do to ensure that a pupil's development is encouraged and of how effectively they meet their aims. I stress that we are not asking inspectors to judge what values a school espouses, but only to report on how such matters are tackled.

I believe that the amendments are acceptable and recommend that the House agree with them.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State for Education

It does not lie in the mouth of the Secretary of State to complain about shortage of time, although no doubt he will do so, because the guillotine is his. He determined that we should have such little time.

We, too, support the amendments, which are sensible. As the Secretary of State said, they clarify a matter which was of some concern to their lordships.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 2, line 15, leave out "on matters of good practice"

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

Let me make it clear that I am not complaining about the lack of time; I am merely pointing out that these guillotines come to the Opposition's rescue. They could not fill the time if we allowed an open-ended debate.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

I will in just a second.

On the Further and Higher Education Bill, for example, we passed a guillotine with the most generous provision of time, but I understand that the Committee adjourned for lengthy dinners and early nights and did not occupy the time provided. There is a paucity of policy from the Opposition. As far as I can see, they do not seriously disagree with the Bill, although the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) goes rambling off on his standards commission and the rest. We need a guillotine to save the Opposition from the embarrassment of lengthy debates on these matters.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

I am not surprised at the right hon. and learned Gentleman speaking in that fashion. He appears to be in a hurry. He was not in a hurry to go upstairs and sit in on the Committee stage of the Bill. Now he has the opportunity to talk about the Bill and to put us in the picture about what it is all about, so that we understand. There is no need for him to rush. He can take his time.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

I am taking my time because I do not think that the Opposition have anything to occupy the hour which they are determined to occupy and which is left to them under the guillotine procedure. The Bill went through the Committee smoothly. I think that the hon. Gentleman was a member of it.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

The Secretary of State was not on the Committee.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

I was not on it. It is interesting that the official Opposition Members on the Standing Committee did not press the policy that was eventually carried by their noble Friends. When Labour and Liberal peers in another place carried an amendment in an ambush in the course of an evening, the Labour party appeared gratefully to grasp it as a policy. The Government have agreed to it, with the result that the Bill will reach the statute book in a short time.

The amendments should give rise to little controversy. They remove from the Bill the specific suggestion that chief inspectors must give guidance to registered inspectors on matters of good practice in relation to the carrying out of school inspections and the writing of inspection reports. The Opposition in another place suggested the amendments, which commanded general support.

The qualification that stood previously in the Bill was superfluous and the amendments are in keeping with the independent role that we have given to Her Majesty's chief inspector through the Bill's provisions. Both the hon. Member for Blackburn and I place weight on the independence of HMCI. My contention is that the Bill with the amendments gives HMCI greater independence than previous holders of such an office have ever enjoyed. The hon. Gentleman's policy, explained a few moments ago, would make the inspector subject to a new quango. The inspector would lose the right to report directly to the Secretary of State; he would do so indirectly through the quango. Under Labour's proposals, HMI would lose its independence in a way that cannot be compared with what has happened at any time in its long, distinguished history.

It is wrong to suggest that the Bill was introduced by me or any of my right hon. or hon. Friends out of hostility to HMI. The Bill places HMI in a new key role and gives greater independence to that office than it has ever had before. The amendments are consistent with the Government's policy.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

I do not know whether the Secretary of State will get away with that. He argues in the same way every time. He knows as well as we do—[Interruption.] I am referring to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, not to you Madam Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

It is the hon. Gentleman who is out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am on my feet, not one of the Government Whips.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has always complained about inspectors' reports on schools because to his mind they have gone in the wrong direction. The inspectors have often been critical of the Government's policy on schools. After the inspectors visit the schools and submit their report, the Government hide it for I do not know how long before we can see the damned thing.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He cannot be allowed to get away with what he just said. He has a lot to learn, as he will be in opposition when he gets back in, if he gets back in.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

The hon. Gentleman and I will behave with our usual courtesy towards each other in what are, I regret to say, his last days in the House. I shall miss him when he ceases to represent Ashfield, which is so near my constituency.

The hon. Gentleman made a wild allegation, which is untypical of him, that in the past I had criticised HMI reports. During my entire time in office I have never disagreed with any of HMI's reports. I have published them and I have agreed with them, although I may not always have agreed with the interpretations placed on some of them by my political opponents. I have never objected to the advice that I have received from HMI or to its reports, and it is a complete myth to claim that I have. The Bill strengthens HMI; it does not weaken it.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

The right hon. and learned Gentleman must not travel down that road. I thought that I had made my swan-song last night, but he pulled me into the debate—he always pulls me in with the comments that he makes. He cannot kid me about the inspectorate and its reports. He might not have said what I claimed at the Dispatch Box, as that would have embarrassed him, but it has been said elsewhere. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must not shake his head. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I know what has been going on in relation to the inspectorate and we know that that is why the right hon. and learned Gentleman wanted to transfer it to the private sector—he wanted to have control over them.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I am even sorrier that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is leaving this place. He may have just made his last speech, although there are proceedings in the House on Monday and perhaps he will be here to intervene—

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

I shall be here on Monday.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Good, we shall look forward to even more speeches from my hon. Friend before Parliament finally dissolves.

The Secretary of State protested again that he had not come up with the extraordinary, bizarre Bill to privatise the inspectorate as part of a scheme to undermine HMI's independence. He has never explained satisfactorily to anyone how on earth a Bill designed to emasculate HMI and reduce its numbers from more than 470 to 175 would do anything but severely weaken HMI's position. Large numbers of Her Majesty's inspectors were to be made redundant or moved away, their powers were to be withdrawn and, more importantly, 150 years of experience were to be destroyed by the Secretary of State. He knows that.

The only reservation that I have about pursuing the allegation that the Secretary of State made the proposal in order to undermine the inspectorate is that it suggests that there is some coherence behind the reasons for the Bill. I and most others suspect that the Secretary of State never thought that he would have to present the measure to the House. He was asked to write the parents charter as part of the Prime Minister's wheeze at about this time last year—an allegedly winning agenda for the autumn election. The Secretary of State found himself having to say something about the so-called parents charter at the end of July.

Very late in the day—even after advertisements had been placed for a replacement for Eric Bolton—a review of the inspectorate was set up. Before the review was over, the Secretary of State announced the decision on it.

There is a curious resemblance between the madcap scheme in the Bill and a seven-page pamphlet written by the right-wing ideologues in Wandsworth, including the chief inspector, Mr. John Burchall. He wrote a pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies proposing the privatisation of the inspectorate and the emasculation of HMI. The original Bill and the pamphlet are remarkably similar.

My reservation about accusing the Secretary of State of deciding deliberately to undermine the independence of HMI is that I am conceding too much to the coherence of his policy. I think that it happened accidentally, when the Secretary of State saw the inspector's policy proposal and decided that he could go along with it in the hope that there would never be legislation on it.

As I said, and will continue to say throughout the election, our proposals, as every inspector knows, strengthen Her Majesty's inspectorate. They place the senior chief inspector in the same constitutional position to the education standards commission as the Comptroller and Auditor General is in relation to the Public Accounts Committee or the controller of the Audit Commission is in relation to the Audit Commission. I have never heard it suggested that the controller of the Audit Commission is the creature of the commission, because he has clear constitutional duties that are separate from the commission.

3.15 pm

Moreover, for the first time, the inspectorate, directing and supervising the work of local inspectors in a single national service, will have a clear point of report, not directly to Ministers but to the House. Standards have become such a highly charged political issue—in many ways that is good, because it reflects the increasing importance of education and the increasing sense that we have to attack the problem of standards—that the independence of those who monitor what is going on in schools must be clear beyond peradventure.

The Secretary of State has refused our proposal to provide safeguards over the appointment of the senior chief inspector by the Secretary of State—for example, by having it made by the Civil Service Commission. Therefore, as long as the chief inspector arid the inspectorate have to serve two masters—the public interest and Minister's private interests—their independence will be compromised. It would be far more satisfactory to have them as a body reporting to Parliament where the detailed scrutiny of their work, through the commission, took place in the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts. Inspectors will be available to give Ministers advice, but that is a separate matter.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Does my hon. Friend agree that he can commend this arrangement, which I am sure that all concerned with education would endorse, by saying that the inspectors under this plan will be responsible to all the parents all the time rather than to the Secretary of State, who, even at best, can be representative only of some of the parents some of the time?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Yes, I would say that without hesitation. Moreover, under our proposals for an education standards commission, parents end up with much more than simply the paper choice that they get under the parents charter and, in many cases, under the Government's proposals.

Parents' rights are reduced, as people are understanding, because in many areas it is not parents who are choosing a school but schools that are choosing parents. Our proposals give parents real rights, and the local authority's performance will be inspected. That has never happened in the past 13 years, which the Secretary of State bleats on about when he uses local authorities as a punchbag.

For a brief period, HMI did snapshot inspections of local authority areas, but that policy was abandoned by the Secretary of State or his predecessor. We would require, by law, that the performance of the local authority be properly inspected. We would ensure that if parents felt that a local authority was behaving in a way likely to damage standards, they could appeal, through a properly constituted governors meeting, to the education standards commission and secure action.

In Committee, Conservative Members asked me about this London borough or another borough that had been in the news. There was no dubiety about my answer, because we feel that the whole aim of policy should be to secure a high standard of education. If a local authority is doing a proper job, that is fine. If it is not, then the education standards commission and HMI will come down on it like a ton of bricks.

Let me also make it clear to the Secretary of State, as he appears to be listening—again there is no dubiety about this, and it is all on the record—that the power to issue directions that is contained in sections 68 and 99 of the Education Act 1944, which has caused considerable problems would be strengthened. The commission could make a recommendation to the Secretary of State about the exercise of those powers and could issue directions both in relation to a school and to a local authority.

A clear message would go out that if governors were doing their job, that would be fine, but if they fell down, the interests of the children would come well above their constitutional position.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

We are touching on important matters. Both sides are espousing an interest in the independence of HMI. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) gave details of how he thinks that should be achieved. I shall briefly discuss the origin of the Bill's approach. The hon. Members for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) and for Blackburn give every appearance of believing the suggestions that the Bill is based on hostility to HMI, that it comes from the Centre for Policy Studies, and so on.

When I became Secretary of State, I thought that, if we were to move towards a system of greater parental choice between schools and greater accountability to parents, we needed more information for parents so that their choice could be effective and informed. In fact, I felt that there was a need for a system of quality assurance to improve informed parental choice and public accountability. That led to a review of HMI's position in any system of quality assurance. As a result of that review within my Department, proposals emerged for an inspection at schools level, with inspectorates chosen by the governors but registered with and monitored by HMI. That is the origin of the Bill.

As the hon. Gentleman said again today, the Bill has been presented as some sort of privatisation or emasculation of HMI. As a word, privatisation was always crude and clumsy, and it has never been more misused. HMI remains with statutory independence and statutory powers under the Bill. The reason why the numbers appear to be dramatically reduced is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, because those inspectors involved in higher education will move to the quality assurance section of the higher education funding council, while those involved in further education will be accountable to the further education funding council. The reduction in numbers is not as dramatic as the hon. Gentleman suggests. It was based on the best judgment of the senior chief inspector and me about the numbers required to do the task required. We were not artificially fixing the numbers. The role that we gave the inspectors was powerful arid independent. However, because of amendments passed in the other place, the numbers will probably rise.

It is absurd to refer to the reduction in the numbers required to do the task and say that that implies privatisation. Under the Bill, HMI remains independent, respected and with more independence of the Secretary of State than ever before.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State for Education

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has such confidence in his proposals, why has he never been willing to publish the review? I do not want to keep hearing him coming out with stuff about official advice being confidential—I know that. However, I also happen to know that plenty of his colleagues have arranged for similar reviews to be published. The Rayner scrutiny of HMI in the early 1980s was published. Most Government reviews, of which this is one, are published. What was the Secretary of State scared of when he suppressed the review, and why did he become angry when it was leaked? Would not it have been better for the explanation and understanding of his policy if he had put the review before the House?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

Every time the hon. Gentleman has raised that matter, I have said that my view is that advice to Ministers should not be published. Were he ever to become a Secretary of State, I do not think that he would publish most of the advice given to him, either. Most advice prepared for the purposes of publication is different to advice given to Ministers. As it happens, The Independent claimed an extensive leak of the review, which appeared in that newspaper shortly after it had been prepared for me. The hon. Gentleman has not drawn extensively on that leak. If The Independent was correct, the hon. Gentleman would know that the account that I have just given of the origin of the policy is correct. He knows that he is in a better position to make a fuss about the apparent banishing of the review—

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

Instead of listening to Labour Members, will my right hon. and learned Friend visit Bolton to talk to parents who are keen on his reforms—particularly those of children at Crompton Fold primary school, which hopes to secure full grant-maintained status by the time that its next term begins, on 27 April?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

I may have an opportunity to do so in the next three or four weeks, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his invitation.

The hon. Member for Blackburn contrasts the amendment with his proposals for HMI's greater independence, which I have another opportunity to challenge now. The hon. Gentleman is misleading the House, which he accused me of doing, when he said that HMI would, under Labour's proposals, have more independence. In fact, they threatened the inspectorate's independence in a way in which it has not been threatened since it was founded.

"Raising the Standard" states that the hon. Gentleman's great quango, the commission, which would play an all-singing, all-dancing role in Labour's education policy, would be responsible for inspecting and measuring the effectiveness of schools, and for securing measures to raise standards. It would take over the inspectorial work of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education … and the bulk of the Inspectorate itself. That makes it clear that HMI would be subordinate to the new commission and that its inspectorial work would be taken over by that quango.

HMI currently determines its own programme of work, but in future that would be done by the commission. At present, HMI reports directly to the Secretary of State; Labour wants it to report to the commission. The hon. Gentleman's analogy with the controller of the Audit Commission and with the Audit Commission is very revealing. The hon. Gentleman says that HMI would be in the same position as the controller—but he is not independent of the Audit Commission, but its servant. The commission appoints him.

The hon. Gentleman's model and statement of policy suggests that HMI should be made subordinate to a commission that he, the Secretary of State, would appoint. Under Labour, the inspectorate would lose its independence, and its inspectorial role would be reduced.

The hon. Gentleman opposes a Bill that will give HMI enhanced status and more independence than ever before. If, at this late hour, the hon. Gentleman has seen the light on the road to Damascus, really believes that inspection should be free of political control and freer of the Government, and that there should be independent inspection of schools; and if—wonder of wonders—Labour believes that the results of inspections should be divulged to parents, and that the public should be allowed to know the strengths and weaknesses of the schools that their children attend, I welcome the hon. Member for Blackburn to the fold. However, the hon. Gentleman's published documents and his speeches today make it clear that he is dressing up behind an air of independence a desire to take over HMI and to make it subordinate to a body that a Labour Secretary of State would appoint.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The Secretary of State talks utter nonsense. Nothing in "Raising the Standard" suggests that HMI's programme should be subject to the commission. In suggesting that I, as Secretary of State, would appoint the members of the commission, the right hon. and learned Gentleman fails to understand that that body would report to Parliament. Its members would be nominated by the Secretary of State but would be subject to endorsement of the all-party Education, Science and Arts Select Committee.

That provision was specifically included in "Raising the Standard" to avoid precisely the kind of partisan appointments of which the Secretary of State is a past master, and which have so damaged the apparent independence of standing of bodies such as the Schools Examinations and Assessment Council—and of district and regional health authorities when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was Secretary of State for Health.

The Secretary of State is the last person in the House to talk about appointments being independent of Minister's partisan interests. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot make any appointment without first asking of the person where his political affiliation lies. He is the last person to be trusted with any appointment that has any independence attached to it. The public will have no trouble at all—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he is making an intervention and not introducing an amendment.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State for Education 3:30 pm, 13th March 1992

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your indulgence on the penultimate sitting of this Parliament.

The public will have no difficulty in judging which sort of appointment system will be more independent. There is the choice between the Secretary of State, with his previous convictions, appointing the chief inspector and having him report to him, the Secretary of State, and our system, under which the membership of the commission would have to be approved by an all-party Select Committee, which would then make the appointment. It would then report—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Member must now follow my guideline and resume his seat.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

That was not an intervention: it was a wild, intemperate and inaccurate outburst. The hon. Gentleman realised that I was exposing his policies. He is playing at the onset of a campaign in which regard for truth and accuracy is beginning to fade rather rapidly. I wish that it did not in political debates.

The hon. Member for Ashfield accused me of attacking Her Majesty's inspectorate reports. I have told him that I have never attacked one. The hon. Member for Blackburn has said that, before appointing anyone to a post, I always ask about his or her political affiliations. To the best of my knowledge and recollection, I have never asked anybody whom I was appointing to a post about his political affiliation. I have appointed ex-Labour Members as chairmen of health authorities. I defy the hon. Gentleman to produce any evidence.

The hon. Member for Blackburn is trying to evade his own policy document. When I do not refer to it, he says that I have not read it. When I read it, he is deeply embarrassed. He has spent the afternoon proclaiming the independence of the inspectorate. I have quoted his document accurately and temperately and, as I discovered from his reaction, extremely damagingly. The relevant passage reads that the commission would take over the inspectorial work of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education and the bulk of the Inspectorate itself. The staff of the inspectorate would be made the employees of the commission, and they would lose their independence. It is ridiculous for the hon. Gentleman to argue that he is not taking away the independence of the inspectorate when his own words have always asserted that. The amendments are consistent with the independence of the inspectorate. The Bill makes Her Majesty's chief inspector more independent of the Government than at any time in the past. That being the reality, I suggest that the House should agree with the Lords in the proposed amendment.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 4, in page 2, line 16, after "schools" insert "in England".

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 9 and 24.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

The amendments would make drafting changes. Under the guillotine procedure, the Opposition have less than 18 minutes. They can debate the amendments if they are becoming desperately short of material to keep the debate going, but otherwise I suggest that the House might take them on the nod.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 5, in page 2, line 29, at end insert ("( ) The Chief Inspector for England may at any time give advice to the Secretary of State on any matter connected with schools, or a particular school, in England.")

Read a Second time.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong , North West Durham

I beg to move amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, in line 4, at end add including whether there is adequate finance available to ensure the provision of good-quality education.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to take amendments (b) and (c) to the Lords amendment, amendment No. 10 and amendment (d) to that amendment.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong , North West Durham

I cannot say that I am overjoyed to be moving the amendment at this time on a Friday afternoon. I have regarded my involvement in the consideration of education Bills as a learning exercise, and I have learnt an enormous amount from the Secretary of State this afternoon. I have learnt that so long as one is a Tory Secretary of State it is possible to say anything and expect it to be believed. I know that most people throughout the country, along with myself, do not believe a great deal of the assertions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I began to think that I was in the middle of another Tory party broadcast. The Sunday Times analysed his broadcast last week and told us that four of five assertions were entirely untrue. Perhaps that was why I expected the right hon. and learned Gentleman to blush when he moved the first group of amendments.

The amendments deal with the powers of the inspectorate when reporting to the Secretary of State. This matter was debated in Standing Committee. It seemed to us that the Government were defining so carefully the inspection aspects that it might be impossible for the inspectors to comment on some of those aspects and on how Government policy was affecting the ability of individual schools to enable each child to learn as much as possible and make progress. We realise that the Government will not accept the amendments, but we believe it important that they should be made to think about them.

I am amazed by the way that the Secretary of State has continued to defend his Bill against all the evidence. The evidence that has been given by people in all parts of the country, who have supported other aspects of his reforms, does not seem to matter much to the Secretary of State. They are therefore completely bewildered by his intransigence and by his determination to say that the Bill equates with anything like a parents charter.

Amendment (a) deals with the right and the opportunity for the senior chief inspector to include in his report comments on whether adequate finance is available to ensure the provision of good quality education. The Government frequently tell us that expenditure on education has nothing to do with the outcome. That is an interesting argument. Conservative Members have made it clear time and again that they are so concerned about the quality of education for their own children that they choose to opt out of the state system, since the resources provided for the maintained sector are insufficient. [Interruption.] Again, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) has not read the amendment. It refers to adequate finance being made available to ensure the provision of good quality education.

Inspectors should be able to comment on whether there is a sufficient number of highly qualified teachers in a school, on whether the teaching staff have adequate and appropriate qualifications, accompanied by appropriate remuneration, and on whether the resources available to a school are sufficient for it to provide the right amount of equipment, the right number of books and the right laboratories that it needs if it is to implement the national curriculum. If children are not provided with appropriate texbooks, writing materials, computers, sports equipment, musical instruments and all the other facilities that are needed if they are to benefit from a good education, the quality of their education will not improve and will probably decline.

I know from various reports and from the parents who have written, rung and come to see me that some schools are requesting a significant financial contribution to enable them to continue to provide experienced teachers. That is a particular problem with the local management of schools formula, but it faces many other schools. I do not accept that schools should believe that they can employ only newly qualified teachers because the formula to which they are working does not enable them to carry an experienced teaching force. Nor do I accept that it is legitimate for parents to be put in a position in which they have to contribute for their children to receive a basic education.

Recently, a parent came to see me in tears. She has stopped going to parents' meetings, first, because her husband is long-term unemployed, she is not working and the visit involves a fairly costly bus journey. More than that, she said that whenever she went she was expected to contribute to a raffle or something else for fund-raising. She could not do so and felt embarrassed about that. When that creeps into parents' opportunity to consult teachers about their children's education, we must be in a very bad way. It must be recognised that it is legitimate for the inspector to comment on the quality of resources available to schools when he reports to the Secretary of State.

Amendment (b) considers whether class sizes need to be reduced in order to ensure the provision of good quality education". The Secretary of State is on record as saying that class sizes are irrelevant. I am told by the information officer of the Independent Schools Information Service that, according to its surveys, one of the key criteria that make parents choose to send their children to independent schools is because class sizes are small there. Therefore, class size means something to those parents. We want to ensure that class sizes in the state sector do not continue to increase as they are at the moment.

I was horrified at the latest reports about the number of children being taught in classes of 40 or more pupils. It is a small percentage in terms of the whole school population. Nevertheless, for thousands of children it is their only experience in a class at that stage of their career. Although the number may not be large in terms of the overall school population, it is critical for each of those children. That is why we have said that one of our first acts will be to ensure that no child has to be taught in a class of more than 40 pupils. We shall reduce class sizes and introduce a maximum limit until they are reduced to 30.

I visit and have regular contact with a number of primary schools and I know that class size is regarded as important not only by teachers but by parents and people on governing bodies who are determined to improve their schools. We believe that it is an issue of national importance and should be dealt with by any Government. We should have liked it to be dealt with by this Government, but it will of course be dealt with by the next Labour Government.

Amendment (c) deals with the manner in which information is provided under clause 16 which deals with information and what have been called league tables. Essentially, the amendments give Her Majesty's chief inspector the power to advise the Secretary of State on any aspects of the information being given by schools. We argued consistently in Committee that the information that the Government had specified to date was too narrow, and was not clear. The criteria according to which information is to be given still allow too many variations.

3.45 pm

We should like more information to be available, but we also tabled the amendments to ask the Secretary of State to get rid of some of the rhetoric—I know that that is difficult for him. I am talking about the rhetoric that we have heard from him about information. Those aspects of the Bill are not necessary, because there is already the power for that information to be given, and under regulations it has to be given.

The Bill is largely unnecessary legislation, which adds little to the present law on maintained schools. Its most significant effect is to require independent schools—including city technology colleges and their arts equivalents—and non-maintained special schools to publish the same information that maintained schools are required to publish.

We seek to ensure that we at least place on record again the fact that clause 16 is in the Bill not because the law needed altering but because the Secretary of State wanted to give himself the opportunity to publish the parents charter. A lot of money has been spent on that, but most of the information involved is already made available to parents.

We should like the information available to parents to be wider and to deal more clearly with children's progress in schools. Again, the Secretary of State will say that the Opposition want to make the information so complex that no one will be able to deal with it. I reject that suggestion. I believe that parents will be able to deal with information which shows them how their individual children are progressing and also how effective the school is.

At present, the latest league tables for standard assessment tests have so many problems, as well as several inaccuracies, as to render the whole exercise somewhat farcical. Are the Government serious about the independence of Her Majesty's inspectorate? I have heard the Secretary of State speak many times. I am not a cynical person, but he drives one to cynicism when he keeps repeating his opinion of our policy when he has not really tried to understand it.

I am amused when in other debates in the Chamber Conservative Members tell us how good the Audit Commission is and how we ought to value it more, because when we propose similar bodies for education, in order to recognise nationally the importance of having standards across the board, clear criteria by which to judge them and a clear means of measuring and tackling school effectiveness, the Secretary of State tries to be cynical about that.

I am confident that in the next few weeks we shall be able to ensure that there is a Government who are really worried about standards. Our amendments would at least give the Government the opportunity to recognise the independence which many fear will disappear—the ability of the inspectorate to comment on the way in which Government policy is affecting schools' ability to deliver the quality of education that they wish. It is right that the inspectorate should comment on how Government policy affects schools. The amendments attempt to get information from the Government on that subject.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science

The amendments to the broad, sweeping Lords amendments are not necessary. It is not necessary to draw particular attention to the funding of schools when it has increased by 50 per cent. per pupil during the lifetime of this Government. I am grateful that the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) referred to the parents charter, which she still attacked. She seemed to defend the fact that at one time her political allies refused to distribute it. From beginning to end of the debate—

It being two hours after commencement of proceedings on the motion relating to the Education (Schools) Bill (allocation of time), MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question already proposed from the chair, pursuant to Order this day.

Amendment to the Lords amendment negatived.

Remaining Lords amendments agreed to. [Some with Special Entry.]