With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 2 to 18.
Lords amendment 19, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 20 to 22.
Lords amendment 23, and amendment (b) thereto.
Lords amendment 24, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 25 and 26.
Lords amendment 27, and amendments (a) and (b) thereto.
Lords amendments 30 to 35, 37, 38, 40 to 42, 44 to 46 and 72 to 98.
It is with great pleasure that I bring the Education Bill back before the House. It received detailed scrutiny here in the spring, in the course of 22 Committee sittings, before it went off to the other place. Their lordships have given it the full benefit of their diligence and expertise and I am pleased to say that its core content is as it was when it left this House. Before I address the amendments, it might be helpful if I briefly remind the House of the core content. Its main purpose is to give legislative effect to the proposals in the education White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, published last November. It also contains some measures from the Department for Business Innovations and Skills, which my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning will discuss in due course.
The Bill has four main themes. First, it seeks to give teachers and head teachers greater freedom and flexibility to use their judgment and expertise to get the best results for their pupils. International evidence shows that greater school autonomy characterises the best performing education systems. The Bill seeks to remove unnecessary legislative duties from schools and extends the benefits of the academies programme to 16 to 19-year-old pupils and vulnerable pupils in need of alternative provision.
Secondly, the Bill seeks to strengthen the powers and authority of teachers in relation to classroom discipline. We want all children to be educated in a safe environment that is free from disruption and we want all teachers and prospective teachers to feel confident that they have society’s backing in tackling poor behaviour. The Bill will allow same-day after-school detentions and will provide a power to search pupils for any item likely to cause harm or injury. It will also give teachers pre-charge anonymity when faced with an allegation by a pupil that they have committed an offence.
Thirdly, the Bill matches the increased autonomy it seeks to introduce with sharpened accountability and seeks to focus Ofsted inspections on the four most important aspects of a school’s work. It will require Ofqual, the independent regulator, to secure that the standards of English qualifications are comparable with the best in the world, and it will strengthen the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene in poorly performing schools. It will abolish five arm’s length bodies to reduce wasteful duplication and will ensure that there is accountability to Parliament, through the Secretary of State, for functions that need to be carried out nationally.
Fourthly, the Bill seeks to promote greater fairness in the context of current fiscal constraints. It will give disadvantaged two-year-olds an entitlement to free early-years provision, and for new higher education students it will enable the new student finance arrangements to come into force.
There have been a relatively small number of technical and drafting amendments, but their Lordships have also made a number of substantive amendments to improve the Bill, and I shall now explain them.
The first four of the amendments made in the other place were all made at the request of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The Bill gives the Secretary of State a new power to make interim prohibition orders. That power was always intended for use in the very rare cases where it is in the public interest to bar an individual from teaching while investigation into their conduct is under way, prior to a final decision. Lords amendments 1 to 4 insert into the Bill the planned safeguards for the use of this power. Therefore, regulations would require the Secretary of State to make an interim prohibition order only where he or she considers it necessary in the public interest to do so. The regulations would also require the Secretary of State to review the order every six months if the teacher concerned applies for such a review.
The teacher anonymity provisions in clause 13 are important and sensitive measures. They give teachers protection against the damage to their lives and careers that can result from pre-charge publicity about allegations made by pupils against them. They are one part of the Government’s proposals to back teachers’ authority in the classroom.
I thought the hon. Gentleman supported these proposals. He will be aware that the National Union of Teachers and the NASUWT have compiled figures on such allegations against teachers. The NUT estimates there are about 200 a year, and we gave evidence to the Lords of at least 15 cases in the last few years where there were damaging local reports and publicity about the allegations before charges were brought.
The Minister is right that the Opposition have supported these proposals, but they must also be carefully scrutinised for any possible unforeseen consequences. That has been done very effectively in the Commons in Committee and also in the Lords. Is it correct that in the Lords the Government accepted that about 2% of such allegations had turned out to be malicious?
Yes, of course, but we are talking about the effect on individuals, and if there is just one case of someone suffering such publicity about what turns out to be a false allegation, that is one case too many, as such allegations can have devastating consequences on teachers both socially and career-wise. The publicity that just one such case receives also reverberates throughout the teaching profession, undermining teachers’ morale and making them unduly cautious about maintaining discipline in our classrooms. If we are interested in the welfare of pupils in our schools, we have to make sure they are taught in ordered and safe environments, free from bullying and other disruptive activities.
I thought, however, that the hon. Gentleman was concerned in Committee less about the prevalence of such allegations and more about the question of whether these provisions should be extended to other sectors of the workforce. We have proceeded extremely cautiously, taking into account the fact that we must preserve press freedom as well as the integrity of teachers and their being innocent until proven otherwise.
As my hon. Friend knows, I am sympathetic to the Government’s intentions in this regard as well, but I am concerned about press freedom and I would be grateful if he could set out the case for teachers alone being given this exemption from publicity. Such allegations could be equally devastating to members of a different profession. Might this provision prove to be the thin end of the wedge in that there could be a great deal more press censorship and the public will not be able to know about allegations made against people in their local community?
My hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Education Committee, makes a good point, but teachers are very much on the front line of maintaining discipline in the classroom. We conducted a survey of 116 local authority designated officers—LADOs—and its findings support the view that teachers are particularly vulnerable to false allegations. Some 23% of allegations against staff in all sectors were made against teachers, and almost half of those were found to be unsubstantiated, malicious or unfounded. The proportion that related to other staff in schools was significantly low: from recollection I think that it was about 14%, compared with the 23% that applied to teachers.
The Minister may recall that in the previous Parliament the Committee looked intensively at that very area, and I support much of what he says, but in that context we made a range of recommendations to ensure that teachers were protected from false allegations, and that head teachers knew what they were doing. Few head teachers confront the situation very often, but very often they suspend people unnecessarily and start the problem running in the first place. We recommended that a code of conduct should be at the heart of the change.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman and with the excellent work that he carried out when he was the Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee and the Children, Schools and Families Committee in the previous Parliament. We have looked at the whole process of investigating teachers when they are subject to such allegations, and we are changing the guidance so that there is not a default position of automatic suspension once an accusation is made. We have also been speaking to the Association of Chief Police Officers about the speed of investigations, because we cannot have teachers waiting months or years before allegations are investigated and settled. We want to speed up the process, to remove the automatic and default position of suspension and to enable teachers to continue to have a connection with the school during the course of any allegation, so that they do not feel isolated while the process is under way.
Is it not a fact, however, that the current Chairman of the Education Committee might have a much rosier view of the British press than I do? Anyone who listened to Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning will have heard one of The Sun newspaper’s most senior journalists say that there should be no reform of British press regulation. If the hon. Gentleman has that rosy view of the press, I certainly want to put it on the record that I do not share it.
I really do not want to intervene or interfere in this debate between two such august hon. Gentlemen, but we have been careful to tread warily between the two interests: the interest of protecting teachers from the full force of false allegations before they are proven or charges are brought, and from the publicity that might accompany them, and the important interest of protecting press freedom. We are treading cautiously, and that is why we have not extended the measure to other parts of the children’s work force. We want to see how it works in the first instance before making any further decisions.
In Committee, Kevin Brennan made the case for providing protection to groups other than teachers, but he accepted our cautious and targeted approach and suspected that the clause, even in its narrow form, might attract the close attention of, as he put it,
“people more erudite and noble than ourselves”––[Official Report, Education Public Bill Committee,
He has been proven correct, but I am pleased to say that the substance of the provision returns to the House intact and with three important improvements. First, through amendment 5, the clause now makes it clear that tentative allegations that a teacher may be guilty of an offence should be treated in the same way as firmer allegations that they are guilty. That was always our intention because even—or, indeed, especially—tentative allegations can have a damaging effect on the teachers involved.
Secondly, through amendment 7, the clause now makes it clear that a judge who is considering an application for reporting restrictions to be lifted should take account of the welfare of both the teacher who is the subject of the allegation and the pupil or pupils who are the alleged victims. We will ensure through amendment 11 that where a teacher decides to identify himself or herself publicly as the subject of an allegation, reporting restrictions are lifted altogether. It is right that if a teacher effectively waives their right to anonymity by, for instance, writing in a newspaper about an allegation, others can also join the public debate.
The noble Lords echoed this House’s concern about clause 30, which would have removed schools and colleges from the duty to co-operate with local partners. My noble Friend Lord Hill met a number of peers during the summer to discuss the matter further and he then discussed the outcome of those conversations with me and the Secretary of State. We accept that retaining the duty would provide continuity while we implement the proposals of the Green Paper, “Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability.” That point was made forcefully in Committee. In another place, Lord Hill introduced amendments 18, 19 and 42 to remove from the Bill clause 30 and the related clause 31.
When we were in Committee, I recall the Minister saying that he regarded the duty to co-operate as an “unnecessary prescription” on schools—[ Interruption. ] Perhaps that is the Secretary of State ringing up his hon. Friend Neil Carmichael to give him the answer. In Committee, the Minister also said that
“It is not appropriate to delay removing that burden”— that unnecessary prescription— from schools.”––[Official Report, Education Public Bill Committee,
What points did Lord Hill make in the Lords that were different from those made in the Commons and how did that persuade the Minister to change his mind? Secondly, is this a temporary conversion or does he intend to remove the duty to co-operate at some further stage?
We were never against co-operation. It is very important that schools, academies and free schools continue to co-operate with other state bodies, locally and nationally, that affect children. That was our reason for removing the prescriptive duty. A number of changes are happening in relation to the Health and Social Care Bill and the SEN Green Paper and, having considered the matter further and reflected upon it, it is better to maintain the duty until deliberations over those measures are complete and until decisions about the SEN Green Paper have been taken.
Although some of us are very focused on the duty of schools to co-operate with the local authority, some of us are focused on local authorities’ duty to co-operate with academies and free schools. Will my hon. Friend advise me what in the Bill will enable us to be sure that local authorities provide the same extent of co-operation to free schools and academies as they do to maintained schools?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Co-operation is important, whether it is with children’s trust boards or from local authorities with other elements of the education world, such as free schools and academies. Local authorities that undermine or try to undermine the establishment of new schools that are demanded by parents in that local authority will find their opinions and actions challenged at election time. For a school to be approved by the Secretary of State as a new free school, it has to demonstrate parental demand. It is not in the interests of a local authority not to co-operate when a group of parents, a group of teachers or others are seeking to establish a free school in its area.
I know that Labour Members wish to raise a particular concern about admissions, but I thought that it would be useful at this stage for me to explain changes made in the other place. Since we last met, the consultation on the revised admissions codes has closed. The new codes keep protections for those with special educational needs and vulnerable groups. We have expanded on this for children who were in public care—looked after—and have since been adopted. When they are adopted, they will retain their priority status in the admissions arrangements. We are also going to make things simpler for all parents by having a national offer day for primary schools.
The changes we are making on admissions are modest, and the changes made in the other place have been correspondingly so. First, under amendments 21 and 22, local authorities’ annual reports will continue to go to the schools adjudicator in addition to being published locally. Secondly, under amendment 23, a new clause will allow anyone—absolutely anyone—to object to the adjudicator about school admission arrangements. This builds on our decision to bring complaints about admission arrangements at academies and free schools into the remit of the schools adjudicator—a popular move in this House when we last discussed it. My noble Friend Lord Hill made a further commitment that will be of interest to this House. In Committee, the hon. Member for Cardiff West expressed concern about the possible side effects on the admissions system of an increase in the number of academies, which set their own admission arrangements. Lord Hill has now made a commitment that the chief schools adjudicator will include consideration of this issue in her next annual report.
The provisions in clause 37 seek to give maintained school governing bodies greater freedom to appoint governors on the basis of their skills. When we discussed those provisions in Committee, I was persuaded, particularly by my hon. Friend Dan Rogerson, that we should amend them to ensure a continuing role for a staff governor and a local authority governor on all maintained school governing bodies. Lords amendment 24 does precisely that. Of course, governing bodies will be free to appoint additional governors from among the staff of their school if they think that that will help them to work effectively.
In the other place, there was full discussion of the inspection clauses. That led to a number of changes, outside the Bill, to strengthen the proposed arrangements, including enhanced risk assessment procedures for schools and further education providers that will qualify them for exemption from routine inspection. We will debate in due course the Opposition amendments on parliamentary scrutiny of the regulations exempting institutions from inspections.
In relation to academies, the Bill retains important measures to facilitate—
In the light of what the Prime Minister has said today about the dangers of schools coasting, is the Minister content, prior to the discussion of our amendment, that the Government’s position on this will not make matters worse, given the potential for schools that have been found to be outstanding to coast and then not to be inspected, with it being difficult to trigger an inspection for them in future?
The Prime Minister made some very important points about coasting schools in his article in The Daily Telegraphtoday. We want to see standards rise throughout the education system. There has been a concentration on failing schools, but we must also concentrate on the schools in the leafy suburbs that are not challenging their pupils as well as they should. All schools will now be subject to our scrutiny to make sure that they raise standards. The new performance tables will identify how schools perform in relation to children of high academic ability, as well as how they perform in relation to children of a lower academic ability. We will reflect on some of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, but outstanding schools are, by their nature, not necessarily to be regarded as coasting if they have been graded by Ofsted as outstanding. The arrangements I talked about are to do with using risk assessment strategies to pick up on problems, even in outstanding schools. Those risk assessments are what will trigger Ofsted to carry out an inspection in an outstanding school.
I am happy to think further about those issues. However, the point of the proposal is that it is difficult for schools to achieve the accolade of outstanding from Ofsted. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and Stephen Twigg have visited schools that are categorised by Ofsted as outstanding. It is clear why those schools have been so categorised. I was at a school last week in Wiltshire that had been categorised by Ofsted as outstanding in all 27 categories. I believe that it was the first school to be given such a grading.
The Minister is absolutely right to have proportionate inspection. We need to be careful to ensure that outstanding schools that may end up coasting or dropping their standards are picked up. If the shadow Minister is suggesting that it would be a better policy to inspect every school, however outstanding, all the time, he is completely wrong. A proportionate approach with the right safeguards and triggers in place and with constant review of those triggers is the right way to go. The Government are right on this issue.
My hon. Friend is right that one has to be proportionate in these issues. Ultimately, this is a matter for the chief inspector of schools. If the results of an outstanding school start to decline, as was hinted at by the hon. Member for Cardiff West, it will be picked up in the risk assessment. He has made important points and we will, of course, reflect on them in the usual way.
I will intervene one final time on this issue because I do not want to detain the House. The Chairman of the Select Committee knows that what he described was not what the Opposition proposed in Committee. We proposed triggers for inspection that would be appropriate for schools that had been ruled outstanding but may have slipped. Is that not exactly what the new chief inspector of schools, who was just appointed by the Government, has said in relation to checking whether outstanding schools remain outstanding? After all, when outstanding leaders leave outstanding schools, that can often lead to a big change in the performance of those institutions.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. When a new head teacher comes into a school it can have important effects, and not necessarily beneficial ones if the school has been led by a very effective leader. That would be a risk assessment issue. I know that it is an issue that the new chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is concerned about. We will reflect on those points in due course. The principle of having proportionate inspection and targeting the limited resources on schools that have the most pressing need is important. However, we must take it into account if a school that is graded as outstanding is not graded as outstanding in teaching, for instance.
I agree with what the Minister and the shadow Minister say about proportionality in inspection. However, it is important that outstanding schools are inspected by Ofsted as part of the ongoing learning of other schools. I hope that the Minister will ensure that Ofsted continues to do that to spread good practice in the system.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Ofsted inspectors need to learn what an outstanding school looks like. That always was the case. Even when schools are exempted from inspection, inspectors will still see outstanding schools in themed inspections, which might look at how religious education or maths is taught. On those occasions, inspectors will still experience outstanding schools.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Performance tables are an important piece of the jigsaw of measures that holds publicly funded schools to account. We are not going to pursue the contextual value added measure, because of its flaws, not least of which is the fact that it tends to entrench low expectations for certain sections of society, which we do not believe is right. All children, from all backgrounds, should be expected to reach the best of their academic ability at school, and schools should deliver a high quality of education to all young people. However, there are other important progress measures, such as how a child performs at the end of key stage 2 compared with how they perform in their GCSEs.
As I said earlier, in the performance tables to be published in January, we intend to have separate columns indicating how well a school performs in relation to children who enter secondary school with a level 5 at key stage 2 and those who enter with a level 3.
Order. May I say gently to the Minister that I know he is making full efforts to satisfy his audience, and in one sense that is appreciated—if this were a seminar it would be an extremely therapeutic and informative one—but it is important that we tend to the specifics of the amendments with which we are dealing. For the benefit of colleagues who might labour under a misapprehension to the contrary, this is not a Second Reading debate on coasting schools. We are attending to narrow and particular amendments, to the consideration of which I know the Minister will now return.
I am grateful for that ruling, Mr Speaker, and I will press on by turning to academies.
The Bill retains important measures to facilitate the Government’s ambitious plan to extend the proven benefits of the academy programme to a much greater number of pupils. One of those measures is the extension of the academy model to alternative provision and the 16-to-19 sector. Lords amendments 72 to 81 are consequential on the creation of those new types of academy, and the Government tabled them in line with a commitment that I gave in Committee to put more such consequential amendments into the Bill. In addition, Lords amendment 89 reduces the reach of the powers given to the Secretary of State by schedule 14 in the case of private land leased to new academies.
In addition, three new clauses were added to the Bill in the other place, the first of which is in Lords amendment 34. Under section 6(2) of the Academies Act 2010, a local authority must cease to maintain—that is, cover all the costs of—a school once it converts to academy status. Some banks and local authorities have asked whether that prohibition on maintenance might prevent a local authority from making payments under private finance initiative or other contracts in relation to schools that have converted into academies.
Local authorities have always been able to use their own resources to provide assistance, including financial assistance, to academies, and to enter into contractual commitments and incur liabilities on their behalf. We are clear that their continuing to do those things would not have been prevented by the wording of section 6(2) of the Academies Act, and that was not the intention behind the Act. All academies are, and will continue to be, maintained by the Secretary of State under funding arrangements entered into under section 1 of that Act. Any assistance that local authorities provide to academies, whether financial or otherwise, will only ever be a proportion of the total expense of running an academy. Lords amendment 34 therefore confirms that local authorities can continue to make payments for academies under PFI and other contracts.
This is a slightly specific question, Mr Speaker, but it does relate to the Lords amendments.
In circumstances in which a local authority had already made an undertaking for capital provision to a federation of schools, and a school that was part of the federation wished to become an academy, would the local authority be able to advise that school’s governors that they would no longer be entitled to the capital aid expenditure promised for schools in that pyramid? Could the local authority make that funding consequential upon a school staying maintained or moving to academy status, or do the Lords amendments prohibit that possibility?
I know what my hon. Friend refers to, but I would prefer to get the technical answer to his question absolutely right and will therefore write to him, so that he can be clear when he raises this issue with his local authority that he has a proper analysis of the legal position and not something that I have spoken from memory.
In response to concerns raised in Committee in the House of Lords, the Government introduced an amendment to give Ofqual the power to fine awarding organisations in certain circumstances. Our intention is to ensure that Ofqual has a full range of effective and proportionate powers to use to carry out its duties and responsibilities.
In the Lords, the Government accepted various amendments to limit the impact of such fines on global companies, which is welcome, but the measure was introduced with very little consultation. What is the evidence that we need fines to get awarding bodies to comply with Ofqual? What is the evidence that there is a problem to which fines provide an answer?
My hon. Friend will have seen over the summer some of the errors in the exams. They are unacceptable. We believe that the awarding organisations should not make the quantum and seriousness of those errors again. Other regulators have such powers, and if he bears with me, I will try to set out why we introduced those provisions.
The provisions in Lords amendments 16 and 17 are broadly consistent with the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008. As many hon. Members will know, including my hon. Friend, the Act provides many other regulators with a toolkit of sanctions that are risk based, consistent, proportionate and effective. Ofqual currently has only two types of sanction available to it: the power to direct an awarding organisation; and the dramatic, nuclear option of partial or full withdrawal of recognition. In addition, before Ofqual can use its current enforcement powers, it must be the case that an awarding organisation’s failure to comply with a condition has prejudiced, or is likely to prejudice, either the proper award of a qualification or students who might reasonably be expected to seek to obtain such a qualification awarded by that organisation.
The Government believe that those tests unnecessarily limit Ofqual’s powers and could reduce its capacity to take timely and proportionate enforcement action. Removing the tests and giving Ofqual a power to fine will help to prevent the kind of mistakes in exam papers that we saw last summer, which undermine the hard work of the pupils who sat them. That is the purpose of Lords amendment 16, and Lords amendment 17 confers similar powers on Welsh Ministers as the regulators of Welsh qualifications.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the Government’s thinking, but I am not entirely persuaded. The currency on which awarding bodies trade is their reputation. Notwithstanding the problems this summer, they needed no fine or massive regulatory hammer to bring them to book. All awarding bodies would immediately seek to improve their systems following such errors—I believe they did so. It feels as if we are introducing sanctions that are unnecessary for the workings of that market. The Government have pledged to eschew unnecessary regulations unless there is an overwhelming case, but I am not sure that the errors last summer make that overwhelming case.
I must disagree with my hon. Friend, because the seriousness of the errors was not just in their number—I believe there were 13 errors in exam papers this summer. What was particularly serious was the fact that when we asked awarding bodies to check that there were no further errors, they affirmed that they had done so or that they would do so, but then new errors appeared. That is why what happened this summer was so serious rather than the initial errors in the papers.
On reputation and the market, all the main awarding bodies had errors, so there is no market mechanism—no one of them could say, “We had no errors but the others did.” My third argument is that all regulators have such powers. We cannot rely on the nuclear option of ending accreditation.
There are considerable costs for schools when they switch from one awarding body to another. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that the idea of a market operating in the normal way does not quite apply?
My hon. Friend is right. All kinds of other factors will determine which awarding organisations schools use and why, and there is a “stickiness” compared with the fluidity that might exist in another market situation.
Lords amendment 37 would give the Secretary of State the power to pilot the use of direct payments in education for children with special educational needs. In the Green Paper on special educational needs and disability, we committed to give every child with a statement of SEN or a new education, health and care plan the option of a personal budget by 2014. One element of a personal budget can be a direct payment to a family to buy support for their child. Direct payments are already being used in health and social care, and we want to test how the greater choice and control they give to families can be effectively achieved in education too.
With those brief remarks, I commend the Bill and these amendments to the House.
In this debate on Lords amendment 1 and all the amendments that it is highly convenient—for the Government, anyway—to group with it, I note that the Bill returns to us from the Lords without any non-Government amendments. Perhaps that is a reflection of changing times and the new, rigid hegemony in the other place, whereby amendments are rarely passed there without the Government’s say-so.
I was indeed going to be generous—about the powers of persuasion of our Front Benchers in the House of Lords. They persuaded the Government—more effectively than my hon. Friends and I in the Commons did—to change their mind on one or two issues, which I shall come to in a moment.
The Minister has taken the trouble to talk us through the Lords amendments, as he said he would, but some questions emerge from what he said that, if he has the leave of the House to speak later in the debate, I hope he will answer. Lords amendments 1 to 4 relate to clause 8 and the Secretary of State’s functions in relation to teachers. The Bill abolishes the General Teaching Council for England. I note that some criticisms have been made of its operations. One year after the publication of the White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, in which the Secretary of State said—I agree with him about this—that there was
“no calling more noble, no profession more vital and no service more important than teaching,” it is significant that he has taken the opportunity to abolish the professional body.
The Bill transfers some of the General Teaching Council’s functions to the Secretary of State, among which is the power to prohibit a teacher from teaching. In Committee in this House, we debated an Opposition amendment—which, surprisingly, was not successful—that would have required the Secretary of State to keep a list of persons prohibited from teaching. I note that Lord Hill confirmed in the other place that the Government believe that a database of teachers prohibited from teaching will be established. We tabled amendments here and in the other place to require the Secretary of State to keep a register of qualified teachers—again, to our surprise, without success—but Lord Hill indicated that he would consider the matter, saying,
“we have been persuaded by concerns raised in this House and elsewhere that there is a genuine need for the Government to help schools to know who has qualified teacher status and who has passed induction.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 18 October 2011; Vol. 731, c. 257.]
That is welcome. He went on to confirm that there would be an online database from 2012.
Another concern is the proposal to give employers discretion over which cases of misconduct—those that might lead to the prohibition of a teacher—to refer to the Secretary of State. Again, colleagues in both Houses raised concerns about transparency and consistency. I welcome Lord Hill’s notification to Baroness Jones that the Government are developing advice on the new system to help professional conduct hearing panels determine when a teacher should be prohibited from the profession and that such advice will be available publicly.
Lords amendments 1 to 4 would enable the Secretary of State to issue interim prohibition orders—quickly imposed orders that prevent a teacher from undertaking work while the Secretary of State is considering their case—where he considers it in the public interest to do so, and they must be reviewed every six months. The amendments were tabled in Grand Committee in the House of Lords, but I do not think they were debated there. Their rationale was not given, so when the Minister replies he might like to emphasise what the rationale was, what the amendments will achieve, why they are so important and perhaps why they were not included in the first draft.
Lords amendments 5 to 15 relate to restrictions on the reporting of alleged offences by teachers, about which we had an exchange earlier. We have supported the Government’s intention to help protect teachers from malicious allegations, but we have also been keen to ensure that the provisions are properly scrutinised, as there is a possibility of unintended consequences.
The Lords amendments would extend the reach of clause 13 to cover tentative allegations against teachers. As the Minister rightly pointed out, following advice from the trade unions and others, we argued that the clause’s reach could be extended so that the restrictions apply not only to teachers in schools but to other school staff. The Chair of the Select Committee, Mr Stuart—I am sure it is only a matter of time before he becomes a right hon. Gentleman—mentioned this earlier. In our view, other school staff and staff in further education colleges should be included. The impact of a publicly reported unproven allegation, which the Minister eloquently described, applies to those people, too, and is potentially equally damaging. I understand the Government’s general desire to limit the number of people on whom the provisions will have an impact, but I do not understand why teachers in FE colleges should not be covered when teachers dealing with young people of the same age group in sixth forms—quite possibly teaching exactly the same subjects—are covered. This seems to be an inconsistency in the Bill.
I note what the Minister said about extending the provisions to cover tentative allegations. I make it clear that we do not object to that, but we ask him to be absolutely clear about his motives for including the amendments at this stage. Does he have any further thoughts on the desirability of extending the scope to include non-teaching staff and all staff in FE colleges? If he has any compelling reasons why those staff should be excluded, we would like to hear them. Having listened to him earlier, I am not sure what his evidence is for excluding these staff from the scope of the provisions. I understand why he might want to limit the number of people covered—perhaps that is why he has put a ring fence around teachers—but I do not understand the rationale for failing to include the other staff.
The hon. Gentleman talks about extending the provision to other staff in schools. Do he and his party believe that it should be extended further to other workers? For example, a social worker dealing with children at risk could be equally devastated by publicity surrounding allegations against them—
As always, the hon. Gentleman makes a thoughtful point but, as you have confirmed, Mr Speaker, it unfortunately falls outside the scope of the Bill.
Lords amendments 16 and 17 deal with Ofqual’s enforcement powers, which the Minister mentioned earlier. The Labour Government began the reform of the examination system in 2007 with the “Confidence in Standards” White Paper. It proposed the establishment of an independent regulator, Ofqual, which would be separate from the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and would be able to fine exam bodies. Currently, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 allows Ofqual only to direct an examination board to change its practices and, as the Minister said, to withdraw recognition.
I agree that it would be helpful for Ofqual to have more sanctions at its disposal to ensure that examination boards minimise their errors, but to an extent I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness. This proposal has appeared at a late stage. I know that Christmas is approaching, but, as I am sure the Government Whips will confirm, using Bills as Christmas trees on which to hang whatever a Government wish to hang on them is not always a good way of legislating, and I had thought the Government had pledged not to do that.
As I debated the abolition of independent schools only a couple of weeks ago with the hon. Gentleman, who supported the motion, it is a pleasure to find something on which we can agree. He is right: we need to hear more from the Government to justify the measure. It is like the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Legislating instantly following an incident in the summer, rather than checking and thinking through the principles behind the proposed legislation, could be a mistake.
Let us hope that this will not be another Dangerous Dogs Act.
I am not going to suggest that Labour has not been guilty in the past of hanging proposals on to Bills as they progress through Parliament, and, as a former Government Whip, I am not going to suggest that I have not occasionally tried to lecture Ministers about the practice, but it often causes problems further down the line. We can understand how it happens.
As I have said, we are not going to oppose the amendments, but I want to record our concern that something that the Government said they would not do is happening now, before our very eyes.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the previous Administration, of which he was part, considered extending the fining power to Ofqual. Indeed, Kathleen Tattersall lobbied Members of Parliament for it to be introduced during the Committee stage of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill before the election. Ofqual will launch a consultation when it begins to set out the circumstances in which the new power will be used, and the consultation will last 12 weeks in the normal way.
Not only am I aware of that, but I actually said about two minutes ago that it had originally been in the White Paper that the Labour Government introduced. That does not alter the fact that had the Government intended to do this, they could have consulted on it originally, rather than hang it as a bauble on a Christmas tree Bill and react to newspaper headlines. It seems that these proposals have been rushed. I welcome the fact that there is to be a proper consultation, but consultations should happen before proposals are enacted rather than after.
Lords amendments 18 and 19 remove clauses 30 and 31, which repeal the duties to co-operate with a local authority and to have regard to the children and young people’s plans. We welcome the Government’s support for reinstating the duty to co-operate by removing clauses 30 and 31. Labour Members on the Public Bill Committee voted that clause 30 should not stand part of the Bill, but Government Members defeated us. Baroness Hughes co-signed the amendments to leave out clauses 30 and 31, so we strongly support their removal. Had they remained part of the Bill, the Government would be putting the reduction of alleged bureaucracy ahead of the safeguarding needs of some of our most vulnerable children. In their professed zeal for cutting as many processes, systems and guidance as possible, the Government were in danger of throwing out things that raise standards and improve safeguards for our children. These duties are examples of the latter.
As I said in an intervention, in Committee the Minister characterised the duty to co-operate as an unnecessary prescription and went on to say that it was not appropriate to delay the removal of that burden on schools. In the Lords, Lord Laming spoke eloquently and convincingly to expose the irresponsibility of the Government’s position:
“In every inquiry that has followed a tragedy to a child with which I am familiar, two key messages have permeated every report like the lettering through a stick of rock. The first is that in future each service, including education, must greatly fulfil its particular responsibilities to promote the safety and well-being of each child. The second is that each service must develop the skills to work successfully across organisational boundaries and share information at an early stage.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
I can understand why the Government might have listened to Lord Laming more readily than they listened to us in the Commons, but they were fully aware of the views of Lord Laming and others on these matters.
Lord Laming went on to say:
“The development of children’s plans and children’s trusts under the Children Act 2004 were designed specifically to place the well-being and the promotion of care of children in this wider context. In the letter which the Minister sent to me, he said that the Bill simply reverts to the earlier position.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
So that was what the Government wanted to do: to revert to the earlier position—the one pre-Laming—using this Bill. By including these clauses, they originally showed their disdain for the services and processes that have since been put in place to keep our children safe. It is abhorrent that any Government, not least one who said at one time that they wanted to be the most family friendly ever, should be willing to risk the safety of our vulnerable children just so that they can reduce prescription.
I am glad that the Government have got it, albeit late in the day, but I am concerned that this is a temporary change of mind. I was not assured by what the Minister said in reply to my intervention, because Lord Hill’s letter to Baroness Hughes on
“We are persuaded that the duty in itself provides schools, colleges and others with sufficient freedom to determine the arrangements that work best for them”.
In a letter of
I welcome the Lords amendments, but we want to strengthen them slightly. We have tabled an amendment that would ensure that schools must in all cases have regard to children and young people’s plans created by children’s trust boards, whether or not they are made under section 17 of the Children Act 2004. I should like an assurance from the Minister. Are the Government committed long term to a wide-ranging, overarching duty on schools to co-operate with local authorities and other local partners, which include health and police bodies, to promote the well-being of children? Is that a long-term commitment of the Government, or do they intend to water down or attempt once again to abolish the duty in the future?
“at a time when the Government have recently announced pathfinders to test and work through our SEN Green Paper proposals, which seek to encourage greater partnership working, we should not risk sending…any confusing messages about the importance of partnerships. I took their advice and decided that the simplest thing to do was to delete the relevant clauses.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 24 October 2011; Vol. 731, c. 634.]
The interesting thing is that one reason why the Government became confused or were in danger of sending out confusing messages was the interminable delay in the publication of the Green Paper on SEN, which we were promised well before the consideration of the Bill in Committee and which finally turned up extremely late. Had it been published on time, perhaps the Government would not have been in danger of sending out confused messages, but I simply reiterate that we are concerned that the Government do not appear to have a long-term commitment to give schools an overarching duty to co-operate. We await confirmation from the Government that they believe that such an overarching duty to co-operate is important and should be retained in the long term.
Labour’s amendment (a) to Lords amendment 19 would require maintained schools to have regard to children and young people’s plans produced by children’s trust boards whether or not that is prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State. We voted in the Commons that clause 30 should not stand part of the Bill. Our amendment to delete clause 31 and insert another clause is intended to extend that opportunity for that omission to be retained.
The Government’s suggested changes to the law on the arrangements to admit pupils to school have been debated throughout the Bill’s passage through Parliament. On two occasions—on Report in the Commons and Lords—the Government have introduced amendments that have responded to some if not all the points made by the Opposition. The whole point about admissions is fairness and how we can have a system that gives children fair access to local schools in accordance with their parents’ wishes. In the centrally managed schools system that the Government are creating, it is regrettable that the Government have resisted placing a clear and unequivocal duty on the Secretary of State to work towards fair access to education.
We welcome the reinstatement of the duty on local authorities to send reports to the adjudicator, which is the effect of amendments 21 and 22. The fact that the reports will not now receive the special treatment for such reports, which is removed by amendment 20, is regrettable, although I hope that it does not lessen their importance and that the contents will still receive the full attention of the adjudicator. I trust that that is what will happen.
A greater problem is the evidence that the reports contain about local authority action to ensure that admission arrangements are compliant with the law and the admissions code. The chief adjudicator himself has been lukewarm about the quality of such local authority reports, indicating that local authorities have been happy to confirm that admissions arrangements are code-compliant when, after investigation by the adjudicator, that has been found not to be the case. He noted in his recent annual report:
“If LAs are truly going to focus on being the champions of children and parents, then they really must put more effort into their ‘policing’ role.”
The amendments, which collectively allow anybody to refer admissions arrangements to the adjudicator, are welcome, although that will be subject to regulations.
There is one area where we believe we can improve on the Lords amendments, in particular amendment 23 and new subsection (7) on objections to admissions arrangements. The subsection adds
“any other person or body” to the list of persons who must comply with a binding decision, which will include the objector. It does not state the time in which the admissions arrangements must be made compliant. This was debated on Report in the Commons when the Schools Minister seemed interested in the idea of quick compliance, although he described the Labour proposals at that time as
“a mere two weeks’ grace” in which to allow schools the freedom to implement decisions. Although the Minister noted:
“Admissions policies must be locally consulted on for at least eight weeks to allow all parties to consider proposals or amendments”—[Hansard, 11 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 1236-7.]
surely there cannot be any need for consultation where there is a straight matter of making the admissions arrangements comply with the law and the admissions code.
The draft code and regulations that were published last week seem to confirm that the Minister wishes to allow schools to take as long as they want to ensure compliance with a binding judgment. We believe that justice delayed is justice denied, so our amendment to Lords amendment 23 is about the timely righting of wrongs for the benefit of parents and children.
On the hon. Gentleman’s observations on Lords amendments regarding schools admissions policies, one of the objections put about by some of those who oppose free schools and academies is their fear that admissions policies will somehow be discriminatory. Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to confirm that the amendments suggested by the Lords put to bed that lie?
The Government made it clear during the Commons stage that they wished the academies to be subject to the admissions code. We welcomed that at the time and I am happy to welcome it now, because any state school should have a fair admissions policy. Any school funded by the taxpayer should admit pupils on a fair basis in accordance with the code. We therefore welcome the extension of the code to academies and the clarification of that by the Government, rather than relying on funding agreements in order to achieve that.
One of the innovations of the Bill that we debated is the change to the powers of the schools adjudicator. Currently, when an admissions authority is found to be in breach of the code, the adjudicator can rectify any flaws with immediate effect, but following the passage of the Bill, the adjudicator will be able to make only “binding” decisions, which the admissions authority will be obliged to implement. Ministers have already made it clear that the purpose of that change is to emphasise the importance of schools taking responsibility for their own actions, but it should not allow them the scope to avoid those responsibilities or to frustrate parents who have made a successful complaint and have a legitimate expectation that matters will be put right promptly.
The draft version of the admissions code was pretty clear. Paragraph 3.1 stated:
“The admission authority must revise their admission arrangements immediately to give effect to the Adjudicator’s decision.”
That was the original version of the code issued by the Minister, which was pretty clear and unambiguous, as it should be. However, I was dismayed to read in the revised version of the draft code, published 10 days ago, that paragraph 3.1 has been changed. It now states:
“The admission authority must where necessary revise their admission arrangements as quickly as possible and no later than
It is not clear from reading out those two sentences, but there is an important difference in their visual presentation. In the first sentence the word “must” is rendered in bold, whereas in the second sentence it is in plain text and “
It is not necessarily for the legislation or the new code to undermine the effectiveness of the office of the adjudicator in a wholly unnecessary attempt to provide for circumstances that have not proved problematic under previous arrangements, so our amendment would put it beyond doubt that, where changes are required in response to valid objections, they must be implemented in time to benefit those who made them.
On constituting governing bodies, to which the Minister referred, it might be helpful if he offered some clarification. Our amendment was intended to make it absolutely clear what the Government’s amendments mean in relation to staff on governing bodies. In Committee, the Minister said:
“I am cautious about prescribing centrally the basis on which governing bodies should appoint people.”––[Official Report, Education Public Bill Committee,
Having had time to consider the matter, the Government and the Minister appear to have changed their minds completely. If that is the case, we welcome it. Will the Minister confirm that he now thinks that more than one member of staff could be a member of a governing body, which might help us in relation to our amendment? If he does so now, he might not need to later.
I am happy to confirm that we want to reduce the amount of prescription on how to constitute a governing body. After deliberation and discussions with Members of this House and in another place, we have said that we will prescribe one staff member and one local authority representative, but that does not remove the discretion of governing bodies to appoint others; it is merely stating that there should be one staff member and one local authority member.
The chief inspector and the question of whether schools can be exempted from inspection were the subject of our earlier debate and of some interventions by me, the Chair of the Education Committee and my hon. Friend Nic Dakin, who is no longer in his place—I almost said Grimsby, but it is important to get the right part of Lincolnshire. Those remarks, and what the Prime Minister said earlier today about coasting schools, bring the issue more clearly into focus. As it stands, the clause removes the requirement for Ofsted—in other words, the chief inspector—to inspect and issue a report on each school in England, at a frequency set out in regulations, that rates the overall quality of the school and sets out its areas for improvement. Clause 41 will have a similar effect on further education institutions, which will be debated in the second group of amendments.
In effect, the provisions would exempt certain schools from section 5 inspections. Furthermore, the exemption would not be for a fixed number of years, and neither would a school be exempt only until something indicated that standards needed to be re-checked, such as a complaint from parents or pupils, a change of head, or concern being expressed by the local authority. It is possible that, under the clause, some schools could be exempt from inspections almost in perpetuity unless they wanted to pay for one.
It was pointed out earlier that a school could still be inspected under the chief inspector’s programme of surveys of curriculum subjects and thematic reviews, during which time the chief inspector may elect to treat the inspection as a partial section 5 inspection. However, that does not mean that every school would be inspected—far from it. In the case of the curriculum and thematic reviews, only parts of the school’s performance would be looked at.
The Prime Minister said earlier today that he was concerned that comprehensives in wealthy villages and market towns were sometimes coasting, although I do not know why he picked out comprehensives; that could apply equally to grammar schools in some parts of the country. He said that the fact that their
“respectable results and a decent local reputation” hid the fact that their pupils could be performing much better. We know how quickly schools can move, for a variety of reasons, from being outstanding to what the Prime Minister describes as “coasting”. The Opposition’s proposals to provide more triggers for inspections when real concerns arise should have been accepted by the Government.
“Ofsted is about raising standards and it seems to me that there are only two levers for raising standards; one is Government and regulation, and the other is Ofsted.”
He later went on to correct himself, saying that he meant “two main levers”, stating:
“In terms of accountability, Government and Ofsted are the two main levers.”
In relation to the amendments, will the Minister tell us whether he agrees with the new chief inspector of schools in that regard?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the theoretical possibility of a school not being inspected for a very long time is not at all the same as that being likely? Does he also accept that the total basket of performance indicators that will be available under the new system will give much more richness, and a greater ability to identify the appropriate times to make such interventions?
There are lots of indicators now, but we need triggers to make inspections happen at the appropriate time. We have sought to achieve that throughout the Bill. Given the seriousness of the step that the Government are taking, and the lack of consultation on this proposal, it should at least be the subject of the affirmative resolution procedure the first time that it is put in place. To that effect, we have tabled amendment (a) and the related amendment (b) to Lords amendment 27. We feel very strongly that if the Secretary of State is not going to provide us with any more triggers at this stage, he should at least have to come forward with an affirmative resolution the first time such a provision is enacted. We also think there should be a time limit on the provision. Amendment (b) to Lords amendment 27 would mean that exemptions could hold for only seven years, so the Government would be required to renew regulations at least every seven years.
I do not want to detain the House for much longer, but let me make a few quick points about some of the other amendments that the Government made in the Lords, particularly regarding direct payments for persons with special educational needs. On Lords amendment 37, which inserts measures after clause 71, can the Minister explain why the Government are bringing in direct payments in that way? We are generally supportive of the approach, but will he set out how parents can be helped to navigate the system and make the best choices for their children’s needs? Can he guarantee that the introduction of direct payments is not a smokescreen for cuts in services to persons and pupils with SEN? There is a great deal of concern across the House about making sure that pupils and young people with SEN are protected and that direct payments are not used as a smokescreen for cuts when they are introduced.
On academies and issues relating to land, some of the amendments show the complexities of land issues in education. No doubt, the Government will have to amend the legislation in a year or so as more problems are thrown up, especially with the conversion policy, as more and more land that has hitherto been owned or managed for an institution that was established by a local authority is transferred out of public ownership and management. It is likely that where public resources have gone into developing and enhancing land, resources might fall permanently into the private sector. In effect, amendments 89 to 91 seem to mean that if an academy is established on private land, any public money that goes into the land or buildings on the land will remain in the private sector. Will the Minister confirm whether that interpretation is correct and will he explain to the House the effect of those amendments and why they are being introduced? Will he also explain the complexities regarding private finance initiatives and academies?
It is a pleasure to participate in the debate and to see so many members of the Bill Committee present. I know that a lot of effort has gone into improving the Bill and I am delighted that their noble lordships have made many constructive contributions. I am also delighted that Ministers have been prepared to listen—as, to be fair, they have throughout the process—and have made amendments accordingly.
One issue that I raised in Committee concerned schools’ discretionary referral of teachers who have been sacked for misconduct. In the other place, Lord Hill said that we could be assured that all the most serious cases would be referred, and I would be grateful if the Minister could help me to understand how that will necessarily be the case if discretion lies with the school. I am happy to take an intervention now if he is able to give me that information, but if he is not I shall move on.
Interim immediate barring orders will be in the hands of the Secretary of State for cases in which the concern is sufficiently great, and where someone can be referred, we are talking about a great sanction. Such sanctions are probably appropriate for teachers who have been, or who are suspected of having been, guilty of gross misconduct, but how do we ensure there is consistency? One can imagine a case in which two teachers have behaved in exactly the same way but in which one of them is let go by the school and that is it—they go off and their CV is doubtless marked and harmed but fundamentally they can carry on with their career—whereas another is referred upwards into the national machinery, which Ministers themselves accept is cumbersome and comes with heavy sanction. I am not yet entirely satisfied that there will be justice and equality of treatment in such circumstances, and I ask the Minister to respond to that point later.
In respect of reporting restrictions, the shadow schools Minister is right to say that all of us who have focused on the provision have worried about its possible unintended consequences. We all recognise the vulnerability of teachers to malicious allegations, which can spread from chatter around the school yard to chatter around the community. If an allegation is formally made and appears in a newspaper, that can have a devastating effect on a teacher who might have dedicated their life to supporting and educating young people. All Committee members, and everyone to whom I have spoken on this issue, sympathise with the Government’s approach, but questions remain. The Newspaper Society submission may not have caused my views to undergo a complete U-turn, but it raised a lot of questions as to where this protection should stop. The Opposition suggested it should be extended to other teachers, and I have mentioned social workers. I have yet to grasp the point of principle that justifies limiting this provision to teachers alone, rather than its covering many other professions as well, which might result in the public losing their right to know what is going on.
Does my hon. Friend agree that even if such allegations are not reported in the media, they may get out into the community and may influence head teachers when they make decisions about appointments? The operation of these provisions will therefore need to be examined after they are put in place.
I agree that we will have to keep a close eye on the provision, but I hope it does the job it is intended to do in a fair and just way, and we can give Ministers a great deal of credit for having listened to the debate in the Lords and for having come forward with amendments to ensure that it does, indeed, work in the fairest possible way.
In respect of exemptions, there is an anomaly which I highlighted through an amendment in Committee. Further education lecturers and teachers in sixth-form colleges, who come under the same administrative banding of FE for these purposes, do not receive the same level of protection as schoolteachers. To reiterate the point made by the shadow Minister, a lecturer and a schoolteacher might be teaching the same people the same subject in the same kind of classroom, yet the lecturer will not have this protection while the schoolteacher will.
Yes, and Alison Wolf suggested in her report that more 14 to 16-year-olds should attend FE colleges, so this provision would affect them as well as 17 to 18-year-olds, for whom the provision might be less relevant. I hope Ministers will think about this anomaly and find a way of equalising the situation.
The Government make what seems like a very reasonable case on strengthening Ofqual’s enforcement powers. Ofqual does not have as wide-ranging powers as other regulators, and there is a very quick step from its making requirements on awarding bodies to the nuclear option of removing their ability to provide awards at all. It therefore seems reasonable to have more moderate powers in the middle, such as the power to make fines, but this Government are committed not to following such easy logic unless there is a very strong—nay, an overwhelming—case for giving new powers to some non-governmental, unelected quango, such as Ofqual, so in an intervention I asked the Minister to make the case. He made a brave effort, as he always does, being a highly esteemed colleague and an excellent schools Minister, but he really did not make the case.
We did not hear about the number of times that awarding bodies have deliberately flouted Ofqual’s requirements—that OCR, when required to do something by Ofqual, just ignored it, left it as long as possible and did it only if it felt like it; or that the lack of anything other than a nuclear button meant that OCR did not want to comply.
Following this summer’s examination paper errors fiasco, no one was more embarrassed and determined to put it right than the awarding bodies. They collectively and individually felt that it was embarrassing, and they wanted to put it right as quickly as they could. The numbers were somewhat higher than in previous years, but the attention paid to them this year was rather greater than the increase in problems, and I know at least one case in which there was only one error in 100,000 questions.
I want to see all such errors eliminated and to know that those bodies are straining every sinew to put the situation right, but I am not yet convinced that a fining regime, however conveniently it may fulfil the Prime Minister’s promise to do something about the situation, is the right approach.
The measure is about incentives. If a not-for-profit or commercial operation seeks to ensure that there are no errors, the exponential cost of ensuring that there are zero errors is a cost to that organisation, so the fining powers provide an equal and opposite cost to the organisations that do not incur those costs to do their best to eliminate errors. That is the purpose of the fining provisions.
I am grateful to the Minister for that comment. Perhaps he did mean what he just said, and it may be possible to create an examinations regime in which there are zero—no—mistakes, but the cost of examinations, which this Government inherited from the previous one, is already entirely outwith the value that those qualifications bring to this country. Our system is already over-reliant on examinations, and aspiring to zero errors—ever, in any examination question—will have a deleterious impact on their quality.
Awarding bodies may seek to change the questions that they ask to make it less likely that they ever include an error, and, if the measure suggests that it is unacceptable for them ever to include an error in any examination question, it will be extraordinarily expensive and impact in all sorts of unintended ways.
As Chairman of the Education Committee, I am not yet convinced that awarding bodies are so careless of quality, whatever the errors this summer, that we need such an incentive to make them improve. We need a balanced and proportionate approach, but I fear that the Minister’s words, suggesting that there should be zero errors ever, will lead to something quite different.
I wonder what level of error Japan, or the other strongest education systems in the world, are targeting. However, notwithstanding my hon. Friend’s point about the relatively small number of errors in this country, I wonder also whether he agrees that following those errors there is a problem with public confidence in examining bodies, and that, when it comes to qualifications, trust and confidence are absolutely all.
My hon. Friend makes my point for me: public confidence, particularly as far as a political party in power and a Prime Minister who wants to be seen to be doing something are concerned, is all, so they have come forward, as the previous Government did all too often, with a legislative response to something that needs no such response, and on the basis of no proper or considered analysis of the situation. We had 13 years of vast increase in legislative provision, but very little increase in public confidence, so I say, “Don’t stick it in a law because it looks good in this week’s papers; actually think for the long term.” If we had done so, we might not have introduced this provision.
Many of us have strained to have zero errors in exams. I note you achieved that on many occasions, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it is a strain for the rest of us. We therefore understand the difficulties faced by the bodies that are setting exams in reaching that accomplishment. However, I am listening intently to my hon. Friend. Does he agree that the Lords amendments could have an inverse consequence? If we set a cost for the errors made, we will essentially replace a self-correcting mechanism whereby bodies seek to achieve the highest levels because of the risk to their reputation, with a mechanism whereby the errors made are considered to be a part of the cost of doing business. That stick will end up with someone saying, “Well, if we make three or four errors, we can afford it—we’ll get away with it.” However, nothing can reimburse an organisation that has lost its reputation.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making my point both more succinctly and fluently that I was.
The Government may not necessarily be wrong, but we have not heard the argument. There are many awarding bodies in this country, and perhaps some have flouted and ignored Ofqual’s requirements because they can afford to do so as a cost of doing business. If there is such a case, we need to introduce the sanctions to bring those bodies into line and ensure that public confidence and quality is delivered. However, I have not heard that argument; I have only heard arguments about public confidence. As I say, that does not seem a good reason to legislate.
The explanatory notes state:
“Subsection (5) of the new clause would insert into ASCLA 2009”— the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act—
“new sections 152A to 152C which confer on Ofqual the power to require a recognised body on which a sanction has been imposed to pay the costs incurred by Ofqual in relation to imposing the sanction.”
So those bodies have to pay not only the sanction, but the costs related to the sanction. I may be a bit of a cynic about quangos, but if they see a way of buttressing their income, their number of employees and their powers, and they can get someone else to pay for it, I suggest that they will be more inclined to go down that road. I do not want such bodies doing overstretch.
The explanatory notes go on to state:
“The costs concerned would include the costs of carrying out an investigation”— ooh! you can’t be too careful there—and doubtless those bodies would want to get quite a lot of people involved. The explanatory notes then refer to “relevant administration costs”—load on a bit more for that—
“and the costs of obtaining expert advice.”
This is an open, blank cheque to Ofqual to impose charges on awarding bodies if it sees fit to do so. Personally, I would like non-elected quangos kept on a fairly strict and short rein unless it is appropriate to do otherwise.
My hon. Friend has already alerted the House to the risk that the Lords amendments will result in the examination bodies treating accuracy as a cost of doing business. He is now alerting us to the risk that that may be an open-ended cost of doing business. Does he agree that the risk of the amendments is that we are replacing a self-correcting mechanism with a bureaucratic structure that has unlimited costs to the examination bodies?
The measures seem terribly redolent of provisions I saw in the House during the previous Parliament. I had hoped to see fewer such measures in this Parliament. My hon. Friend is right: we believe in creating the right framework and allowing the incentives within that to do their work. As far as awarding bodies are concerned, those incentives are correctly framed and their incentive to do the right thing is right. If Ofqual feels in the future that those bodies are paying insufficient attention to reducing errors in examinations, it will be able to say so. If awarding bodies then fail to comply with the direction suggested by Ofqual, that is the time to come here and discuss the matter. Ministers would be able to give instance after instance where awarding bodies had failed to act on the very clear and reasonable directions given to it by Ofqual.
I am fascinated by my hon. Friend’s speech. I understand that he feels zero errors is too high a threshold, but will he tell the House if he thinks there is an acceptable level of errors that Ofqual might be able to specify, or is he uncomfortable with labelling any level of errors as unacceptable?
Conservative Members have found that artificial targets led to precisely the kind of mechanistic, cost-of-business approach that my hon. Friend speaks about so well. That is why we set up a body of experts like Ofqual to work within a framework, also established, of different awarding bodies wherein together they come up with the right approach. I am not sure that it is necessarily right to set a percentage. If there were a consistent period in which the awarding bodies showed themselves to be careless, or if we found on international comparison that ours were not up to scratch compared with those elsewhere—whatever the aspiration of the Japanese examination system, I doubt that it delivers 100% accuracy in all exams—it would be better if we trusted Ofqual to work with them without necessarily bringing more bureaucratic sanctions into the process. Given the terms of subsection (5) of the new clause, there seems to be little incentive for Ofqual to control the costs of this, and it may simply add further to the expense of our qualifications system.
These awarding bodies are very large businesses; I believe that the largest is worth about a quarter of a billion pounds. Does my hon. Friend agree that they no doubt have legal insurance that would meet the cost of these interventions?
That may well be the case, but if they do have such insurance, the premium will reflect the cost of doing businesses. In all contexts, whenever anyone suggests that having insurance somehow means that there is not a problem, it usually means that there is a broad raising of costs across the piece, which is something that we should minimise. One of the changes that was made in the Lords and has now come before us recognises that some education awarding bodies are part of educational companies globally, that there should be a cap on how much they can be fined, and that that cap should be relevant to the amount of business that that organisation does in this country rather than in global operations. That is welcome.
We now have a repeal of the repeal of the duty to co-operate. The shadow Minister was right to say that we are glad to hear confirmation that this partnership working can continue. I am also glad to hear from the Minister, citing his noble Friend Lord Hill, that the Government are committed to that form of partnership. In all the high-profile cases, and others, of children who are found to be neglected, it turns out that people at the agencies have not talked to each other, and we need to ensure that they do. It may be possible that a particular duty to co-operate in a certain way leads to a mechanistic response. If there is another way of framing the whole conversation that encourages it without there being a bureaucratic or legislative solution, that is something that I would be open to, but until we have a convincing argument as to how the overall picture will work, it is a good thing that schools co-operate with the other bodies.
On admissions, we have the change whereby anyone can refer a case to the regulator. I assume that the impact assessment has taken account of this, but I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on that. If anyone can refer to the regulator on admissions, how many more referrals do we expect? If other hon. Members’ caseloads are anything like mine, they will know that an awful lot of parents are concerned about admission arrangements and many of them go through the appeals process. I wonder how many would seek to question and make complaints to the admissions regulator using the power in the Bill.
Again referring back to the remarks of the shadow Minister, can the Minister give the House a reassurance on the time frame for an admissions body to correct itself? Is it really possible that we could have a 10-month delay? One of the dangers in this place is that so many Members are so high-minded. The Minister is one of the most high-minded, and there is a tendency to assume that all others in the system share his ethics, commitment and fairness. Perhaps I have led the wrong life, but I have met many people who are capable of spite. It would seem to me a mistake to have a system that allowed somebody who had appealed and won to be thwarted in an act of spite by a school because it could use the rules to avoid acting in time to provide justice to the person who had brought the complaint.
On Ofsted inspections, as I said earlier, I welcome the Government’s proportionate approach. I would be grateful if the Minister talked us through the implications of the reduction in Ofsted’s budget. Perhaps surprisingly for some Government Members, the previous Government brought in pretty strong reductions in Ofsted’s budget. It is greatly to the credit of the then chief inspector that Ofsted coped with that without a discernible drop in quality. The budget is now going down even further—from well over £200 million, it is dropping to about £143 million, from memory. I am interested to know how that will impact on Ofsted’s ability to provide inspections.
The noble Lord Hill said in the other place that 72 outstanding schools had had inspections triggered by Ofsted’s risk assessment process. That meant that about 2% of outstanding schools had been inspected in the period. He said that it had been agreed with Ofsted that the aim should be to inspect at least 5% of outstanding schools. I wonder how able Ofsted will be to deliver that 250% increase in workload just in the area of outstanding schools.
In winding-up, the Minister might also like to comment on primary schools, because all schools are not the same. It has always been of concern to me, when talking about greater autonomy and academies, that primary schools are fundamentally more fragile than secondaries. The departure of a head or a chair of governors, both of whom might contribute to a school being outstanding, can lead very quickly to a school’s standards falling. I would like a reassurance that there are different approaches for primaries and secondaries, for example in the speed of reaction and the attention given to certain factors, such as a change of head at a primary school being given greater weight and being seen as more of a trigger to get Ofsted to come in and check that all is well.
With those remarks, I will leave it there. I hope that the Minister will respond in due course.
I will speak to Lords amendments 18 and 19 on the duty of schools to co-operate.
It is important that we have a framework that delivers competition and choice in rural areas. There have been many examples of innovation in my constituency in which schools have co-operated to provide a better service across disparate and sparse rural areas. Methwold high school in my constituency operates a vertically integrated model with Hockwold primary school. It has been able to save on administration costs and to run the school more efficiently. It offers GCSEs in subjects such as maths to local adults, thereby lowering its costs and offering a wider service. It also collaborates with further education and higher education establishments to offer local people degrees and other qualifications that they would not normally be able to access in such a remote area.
Another school in my constituency, Swaffham Hamond’s high school, was regrettably unable to continue to offer A-levels last year due to the lack of local demand. Unfortunately, students from that school were obliged to travel for up to 45 minutes on local buses to go to King’s Lynn to study their A-level choices. Since then, a local collaboration programme has been developed with Dereham school, which has been able to offer its A-levels at Swaffham Hamond’s, ensuring that specialist teaching staff are used in the best way possible.
The raw economics of life in a very sparsely populated area mean that it is often more efficient and effective for specialist teachers to travel between schools than for students to travel vast distances from one school to another. That is what the head teachers of Swaffham and Dereham have achieved. They have ensured that the best sixth-form provision is available across a network of rural schools. That was a highly rational decision, but to get to the point of being able to offer that service they had to go through a whole load of bureaucracy. I know that the county council was involved in trying to sort that out, but ultimately the school from Dereham that offered its provision to Swaffham, a good 20-minute drive away, had to take a huge risk due to how the Young People’s Learning Agency funding worked. A very innovative offering was available in a rural area, but schools struggled to put it in place because the funding models were more suited to large conurbations.
I am a huge supporter of academies and free schools, and I was very grateful to the Secretary of State for visiting Thetford academy, in my constituency, a couple of weeks ago. At present, however, the model delivers better for larger conurbations than for disparate areas. We need to find a way of making the funding more flexible, so that it can apply in remote rural areas and so that there is some pressure on failure and success in areas where it is very difficult for students to travel a long distance to a different school. We need to find a way of ensuring that failures are dealt with quickly and that success is rewarded, so that bad provision can be replaced and good provision can expand not just within a geographical location but elsewhere locally.
Norfolk schools are showing how collaboration should be done, but we need a way in which competition and collaboration can work alongside each other to ensure that we get the best economic models, that we use our teaching resources in the best possible ways and that we see innovation within the current environment.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the Lords amendments. I welcome the fact that in their lordships’ overall assessment, the main thrust of the Bill should pass through to Royal Assent. It is most welcome that the core objectives of what the Government are trying to achieve will make it into law. That will be welcomed in rural constituencies, as my hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss mentioned, and in others. However, the Lords have made some suggestions, which my hon. Friend the Minister indicated that the Government would support. I would like to draw his attention to a couple of those suggestions with which I concur wholeheartedly, and others with which I concur partly.
My first point is about the Lords’ reinstatement of the duty on schools to co-operate with local authorities, which is specifically related to the well-being of children. That relates to the broader issue of how the new schools that are envisaged, and the ones that are already in place across the country, will co-operate with local authorities. Much attention has been given in the Bill’s earlier stages in the Commons to the responsibilities of schools with regard to local authorities, but as my hon. Friend the Minister knows, I often look at the matter through the other end of the lens and ask what is the responsibility of the local authority to co-operate with our schools.
I, and I think many Government Members, hoped that when the noble Lords considered that duty to co-operate, they might send the Bill back to this House with amendments that were somewhat more creative than simply placing into the Bill the original duty as it already stands.
Throughout our country, we are seeing a radical change in the relationship between local authorities and schools. Schools are gathering greater freedoms to operate independently. Those relate to not only financial status, but areas of operations, one of the most important being admissions policies, which I will come to. That liberalisation of the market for schools—if I can call it a market for schools—is very welcome, but as a consequence of those freedoms, new issues come up, such as how schools work together on behalf of their local community, and how in doing so, both as individual schools, in pyramids of schools or chain academies, they interact with local authorities, which are the democratically elected bodies in those areas.
In many cases, those relationships have been conducted positively in the past, but there is sometimes a contradiction between the schools’ best interests and those of local authorities. In that respect, it is a shame that the noble Lords have not sought to move the debate on the duty to co-operate forward to take us to the next stage of understanding. When the control over the education of our children is in the hands of such independent bodies, what will be the duty to co-operate between local authorities and schools?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the duty to co-operate is not about the interests of schools or local authorities, but about the paramount interests of the child, which remain whatever school structures this Government put in place?
The hon. Gentleman is, as he has been throughout this process, a source of extreme insight and has expanded my knowledge. He is absolutely right that that is the key aspect. As he knows from deliberations in Committee, all Members on both sides of the House have sought to achieve that.
To the extent that it is not the structure that matters but the education of children, the hon. Gentleman is correct. However, the Bill is not a nudge along for the structure of our educational institutions but a more substantial change. I am therefore expressing the retrospective wish that their noble Lords had been somewhat more adventurous in defining some of the new scopes for duties to co-operate in their amendments. Had they done so, the goal of focusing on the education of our children, which the hon. Gentleman and I share with other hon. Members, including the Minister, could have been moved forward a little. My current concern is that there could be turf battles about who is responsible for what in the duty to co-operate.
Can my hon. Friend give us examples of the local authority paying lip service to co-operating with the school when it did not want to co-operate in practice?
I appreciate the incentive that my hon. Friend gives me to talk about local issues—there are examples in the borough of Bedford and more generally—but he recognises that the duty to co-operate involves questions such as the ownership of land and buildings. In addition, my local authority has a somewhat confused educational structure. There is a mix of two tier and three tier, and sometimes there is both in the same place at the same time. In those circumstances, when schools wish to pursue becoming an academy, there is potential for a difference of opinion on the best interests of children. A school being subject to a requirement to co-operate with the local authority on the basis of the local authority’s responsibilities does not facilitate the growing liberalisation of schools to determine their futures that we wish to see. There is potential for conflict, but I hope that those examples have helped my hon. Friend.
Does my hon. Friend agree that some local authorities, such as Norfolk county council, have taken a positive approach towards academies, and are helping schools to become academies and to link up? Local authorities can play a positive role if they have the right attitude towards what that role should be.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s intervention, although with respect, I will stick tightly to the Lords amendments on this issue. She gives another example of how the duty on schools and local authorities to co-operate has evolved. Given that their noble Lords went so far in putting that duty back in the Bill, may I encourage the Minister and his ministerial colleagues to think further and more deeply about the evolving landscape and what that is likely to mean over the coming years?
I thank Kevin Brennan for his comments about school admissions, which many of us share, and I thank the Minister for the changes that have been proposed or made. If we wish to see a substantial change and more liberalisation of schools in terms of where the authority lies, we should be aware that most families and parents want schools’ admissions policies to be clear and fair in their communities. That does not necessarily mean that they have to be uniform, although many of us would indeed hope to see uniform entrance policies, particularly with free schools, because that would reinforce the success of this new idea and new policy. I therefore very much welcome Lords amendments 20 and 21. I have listened to different points of view on free schools, and I know that support for this radical idea among Opposition Members has been “on again/off again”. Indeed, it would be interesting to know whether those on the Opposition Front Bench are “on” today or “off”.
Whatever the Opposition’s position, Government Members fully support the moves towards free schools. However, for the idea to bed in and become successful, schools’ admissions policies need to be clearly defined, otherwise they will potentially be an Achilles heel. Organisations opposed to free schools—some have honourable intent, although some are the dinosaurs of an old regime—have pointed to admissions policies, saying that they will somehow be unfair. Those criticisms, from those organisations, have often flown in the face of the facts. Those facts show that admissions policies have often been just cut and pasted from other local schools. These Lords amendments will give reassurance on those criticisms, so that the reformist voices on the Opposition Benches can be encouraged further to recognise that there is a path forward and that this can be part of the most reforming legislation for some of the most disadvantaged children in our country. Therefore, Lords amendments 20 and 21 are most welcome.
I would like to talk about some of the comments made about direct, individual budgets for children with special educational needs, a topic of great interest in Committee when it came to ensuring that the reforms moved forward the provision of education for some of the most vulnerable children and young adults in our communities. Although in principle I am a supporter of individual budgets, both in this area and in others, I am somewhat sceptical about full implementation. It is interesting to note two parts of what Lord Hill said in the debate on the amendments dealing with personal budgets in the other place, when he referred, first, to
“control over the support they receive and better access to and greater satisfaction with services.”
I want to return to better access later. Secondly, he said:
“In those individual budget pilots, nearly two-thirds of families opted to have a direct payment as part of their personal budget.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 1 November 2011; Vol. 731, c. 1195.]
People’s attention rightly focuses on those two thirds, which comprise the earlier adopters and those who can be encouraged relatively easily to follow on.
For this policy to work effectively, however, the concentration of hon. Members here should not be on the two thirds who accepted but on the reasons why one third did not. What is holding back these individuals from taking on the responsibilities of individual budgets? The benefits have been extolled quite broadly and it would be interesting to understand why those one third of individuals have not taken that view. My guess is that there will be more of an issue with this policy from people who are reluctant adopters and we will need to work through how to enable them to have the benefits from individual budgets.
I am perhaps more optimistic than my hon. Friend. Historically, we have not had direct budgets in this area. As more people receive direct budgets, those who provide in response to them will grow in their sophistication and capability, so they will be able better to sell, communicate and market what they do for families, who will then see that they can take on a budget without having to try to commission those services from scratch themselves. My hon. Friend is right—although things might develop over time—that this might never be appropriate for some people and we must ensure that we look after their interests. However, for perhaps even more than 75%, direct budgets might prove to be the way forward.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s intervention. As Chairman of the Select Committee, he is very knowledgeable in this area, and I look forward to discussing the issue with him further. Let me add a couple of additional concerns. Although we agree on the overall direction of travel, we might also reach some concordance over concerns.
The proposal in Lords amendment 37 is to deal with this issue through setting up pilot schemes in some areas. I am in favour of that. What will be the benefit for children with special educational needs? Their parents already put an enormous amount of effort into supporting their children. We call on them not only to go out and work hard, but to provide that support at home and that takes up an enormous amount of time. To place on top of that the burden of an individual budget—however it is implemented—places significant additional burdens. Let me explain a couple of them.
I have spoken to parents of children with special educational needs in my constituency. Overall, they are enthusiastic about some of the proposals in the Government’s Green Paper, but they strongly voiced their concern about the complexity of placing additional burdens on parents. They want these responsibilities, but the complexity involved is significant.
It will not be compulsory to have a direct payment. It will be an option that parents can take up if they wish. The fears that my hon. Friend expresses should not come to pass.
I appreciate the Minister’s intervention, which reassures me somewhat, but Lords amendment 37, on setting up pilot schemes, reassures me more significantly. I think we will find that more significant issues arise here. It is not sufficient, from my point of view, to say that because two thirds will accept it, it must be fine. Two thirds might well accept it, but that does not mean that the administrative problems and complexities will not have made their lives more complicated. People might say, “Yes, I will accept it”, but it is not a straight choice leading to the accrual of untold benefits. There are costs and consequences from the decision made.
As I was saying, I spoke to some parents in my constituency and they told me that they wanted a system that was easy to administer and wanted to ensure that support was available. They wanted to ensure, too—this was a point raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff West and others—that this was not an avenue to cost cutting. They wanted to make sure that Ministers understood the complexities of handling different panels, facing different options on statementing and having to look for disability living allowance, carer’s allowance and so forth. Those are costs placed on individuals. Two thirds might well say, “This is what we want to do”. That, however, with respect to the Minister, is not the point. The point is to make the system so simple and easy to do that everyone wishes to do it. I am not sure that we are at that point yet, which is why I welcome the proposal for the pilot schemes in Lords amendment 37.
My other reason for welcoming the amendment is that, as I have said, I do not want a measure that constitutes an avenue to cost-cutting. I accept that the Minister and his colleagues in the Department are absolutely committed to maintaining support and funding for the most vulnerable children, but in the present environment, every good policy can be open to talk of cuts and reductions. We hear such talk almost hourly from Opposition Members, in relation to a range of topics. Some may have valid points to make, but it is generally understood that those who have borrowed too much money and are living beyond their means have to make cuts in certain areas.
It would be devastating for the Government if the strong reforms that they want to make in regard to special educational needs, building on what the last Government did, became part of the debate about cuts. We can learn from a pilot scheme, and it will enable us to create a better system. Its mission should be to relieve parents of the burden of additional complexity. We should focus not on the take-up rate, but on reducing the cost to parents of individual budgets. That will help to ensure that the changes that are made bed down for the long term.
Having commented on those three issues—the duty to co-operate in a changing environment, the need to ensure that school admissions do not become the Achilles heel of the move towards new academies and free schools, and the need to reduce the complexity of special educational needs individual budgets for the benefit of parents—I offer my support for the amendments.
I want to talk about five aspects of the amendments. The first is the question of Ofqual. I disagree with my hon. Friend Mr Stuart, the Chairman of the Education Committee, about the fines. [Hon. Members: “Surely not!”] He is fairly used to disagreements, and always accepts them cheerfully, as he has just demonstrated.
The Government are right to think in terms of fines. My hon. Friend Damian Hinds put his finger on it when he noted that it was difficult to change examination boards in a timely manner if there were mistakes. There must be no mistakes in the preparation of exams.
The real problem, it seems to me, is that we have far too many examination boards, and I believe that the Education Committee will consider that in due course. We need accurate examinations so that students can feel confident that they are taking tests that are fair, proper and competent, and fines should be applied when those priorities are not honoured.
There is the important question of whether Ofsted should inspect outstanding schools. We must ensure that it concentrates on schools that are failing or coasting: as the Prime Minister rightly says, we must never fail to recognise that some schools are not doing a good enough job at present, and that they require our full attention. An Ofsted report is, of course, a snapshot of the situation that the Ofsted inspectors found during their visit, and is likely to convey contradictory messages. What I frequently find in my constituency, and certainly found when I was involved in education as a governor, is that such reports may not tell the story that other statistical evidence might tell.
I raised the problem when the Education Committee was considering Ofsted and its future. I asked witnesses what should be done when a school that is able to brandish very good exam results—five passes graded between A-star and C—receives an Ofsted report that tells a different tale. I know of two schools in my constituency that have been able to counter one bit of evidence with another, and both cases involved Ofsted reports. I therefore think that the Government are right to use the tool of Ofsted to focus more on the schools that are failing or coasting.
There are many different ways of measuring performance. We must enable parents to see, from year to year, that things are moving in the right direction in the schools that they choose—or may choose in the future—for their children. An annual assessment will be helped by effective league tables and the right kind of evidence presented in the right way.
I would certainly be willing to see schools go without an Ofsted inspection for some time if they are consistently performing effectively and efficiently. Several years might elapse before an inspection, but I do not believe that we are talking of decades.
We must bear it in mind that there are other accountability mechanisms: the choice that parents make; the measurements that league tables offer; and the role of governors. I know that Kevin Brennan is not going to press the issue to a Division, but I consider it very important, and I think that the Government are right to be less prescriptive than they have been in the past. It is critical that we focus on what governing bodies should be, and on the role that they should have.
I have been involved in the establishment of an all-party parliamentary group on school governors, because I think that the issue has been overlooked for far too long. One of the key themes that the APPG is developing is the need to focus on skills rather than representatives of governing bodies, and it is reflected in both the Bill and the amendment. It is obvious to me, and, I believe, to most people—it was certainly obvious to all who were involved in the formation of the APPG—that a great many skills are required. It is a good idea to ensure that a local authority appoints a governor in consultation with the governing body, so that together they can come up with the right person to fill the skills gap. The school will then have a governing body that reflects its priorities and has the appropriate skills. I am glad that the Bill mentions the crucial role of governors, on whom I think we should turn the spotlight when we think about accountability.
That brings me to the question of reporting restrictions. Over 20 years, I have been involved in situations in which members of the teaching profession have had to undergo disciplinary procedures. Ironically, none has been connected with pupils, and I am pleased about that, but I could have done with a few reporting restrictions in one instance in particular. It is very difficult to manage such situations when they are being second-guessed by the press, which may investigate or discuss them in ways that are not helpful to the requirement that evidence is presented fairly and honourably so that people who are not involved in a case can make proper judgments and reach an unbiased conclusion. I discovered that if someone wants to get something published, they should simply mark it “private and confidential” and away it will go. It is right that the Bill examines this issue, because we have to ensure that our processes can be properly managed and controlled so that investigations can be undertaken and judgments made consistent with justice and good practice.
Finally, I wish to talk about the key duty to co-operate. In the Localism Bill the Government readily accept that authorities should co-operate with each other on a wide range of subjects. That is the right approach, because planning decisions, highway construction and so on are more effective when people co-operate, and the same applies to local authorities. To be consistent, the same must apply in dealing with schools and local authorities, although perhaps we need to be even more focused on the need to co-operate because schools benefit from co-operating on a host of things. As we move towards academies, free schools and choice, we should talk not about a federal structure for schools but about encouraging feeder schools to get more involved with secondary schools and providing similar support for special educational needs. As the shadow Minister rightly noted, the key is to think about pupils and their best interests. We should try to engineer a system under which there is an overall desire to co-operate, where co-operation takes place and where schools feel comfortable co-operating with each other. In broad terms—and in absolute terms, because I cannot think of any criticism I am really making here—I support the amendments, as the Government have expressed them.
I wish to emphasise some key points. First, we need to acknowledge and celebrate the work of governors and the importance of school governance. If we get that right, accountability will be appropriate and understood, and parents will feel increasingly comfortable with the overall structure of school leadership and management.
I have not mentioned the second point, but it is crucial. When money starts to go to schools not necessarily through local authorities but directly from the Department for Education, we will have an even more flexible, fluid way of dealing with schools that will produce excellent schools. But we can never take our foot off the accelerator in the drive to ensure that all our schools do the best they can for their pupils and that their pupils thrive. That is our message, and that is what we must do. The Bill will go a long way towards helping that to happen.
I wish briefly to discuss a couple of aspects of the amendments, touching on Ofsted and outstanding schools, the anonymity of teachers and Ofqual. I wish to start where my hon. Friend Neil Carmichael so eloquently left off: on the duty to co-operate. I agree wholeheartedly that we should celebrate co-operation, teamwork, playing to strengths and so on. I accept that the Government think it necessary to retain the duty to co-operate, as was, but I hope the Minister will agree that it is not always best to systematise and design processes; free co-operation can frequently be more effective.
In a different but closely connected arena, the Select Committee, on which I sit and of which my hon. Friend Mr Stuart is Chair, is examining the broader issue of child protection. In that area, the number of flow charts, systems, fall-back plans and required times by which something must happen provide what appears to be a very impressive system, but in many ways more questions are created than are answered.
There is much to be gained from schools co-operating, so that we get more than the sum of the parts. The education improvement partnership in my constituency brings together all 44 schools—nobody forced them, and it was not the result of any duty—to work on a range of things, including the gifted and talented programmes; the provision of pupil referral units; nurture for primary children at risk of exclusion; and training for emotional literacy support assistants. That makes the biggest difference.
The second thing I wish to talk about is Ofsted, outstanding schools and triggers. I accept that there is an honest and reasonable difference between the parties on this, which reflects a difference that we see on lots of subjects. Labour Members would like codified exactly what will trigger the re-inspection of a school previously judged to be outstanding, whereas Ministers are keen to think of a range of things that might make that happen but do not wish to be quite so specific and accept that, to an extent, the system is organic. The Select Committee closely examined whether a change of head should automatically trigger a re-inspection. I think that there is a strong argument to say that such a big personnel change, perhaps when combined with one or two other changes, might be a good reason for so doing, but there might be counterbalancing arguments against.
That highlights the point about having people running organisations whom we trust and who can make professional judgments, and about their weighing all the evidence and not being hidebound by particular formulae.
In an earlier intervention, I mentioned that we will have much richer data than ever before in the schools system. That is not unique to this country, because a revolution is going on in the education world, as was reported a few weeks ago in a good article in The Economist. We know much more about schools and can therefore do much more predictive modelling than was possible before.
In an intervention, my hon. Friend Mr Ward argued in favour of contextual value added. The Government will not use CVA—and thank God for that; I have yet to meet anyone who understands it. I have served on the Education Committee for 18 months and we are still waiting for our first teacher, head teacher, pupil, local authority officer or anyone else from the education establishment to talk voluntarily about CVA as a measure of school performance. Instead, we have what most people would understand as a value-added measure—progress from key stage 2 to key stage 4—which will do most of that job without the extra complexity and formulaic high jinks that the contextual bit introduces. Of course, it is only one of a large basket of measures and indicators that can be used.
I am sure that it is not in the minds of Ministers or the leadership of Ofsted that any school should go a long time without inspection. I would be amazed if any head teacher wanted to go long without his school being inspected. Many of the indicators are what we might call “digital indicators”, but Ofsted produces an analogue report with much richer evaluation and comment than some of those measures. I am sure that many parents will want to know that there is a relatively recent report informing them about some of the things that they cannot necessarily read in league tables, but I do not think that any of that calls necessarily for the formulaic approach of automatic triggers that Labour Members suggest.
The next area I want to touch on is the anonymity of teachers. Reasonable questions have been asked about why schoolteachers should enjoy special treatment, and why those who work in further education colleges are treated differently. I accept that that is an anomaly, although it is hardly the first anomaly to arise between secondary schools and sixth-form colleges.
The Government listened and used the Bill to correct an anomaly and allow FE teachers to teach in schools. I led a debate in January and am delighted that Ministers listened to that appeal and are seeking other ways of levelling the playing field for FE and sixth-form colleges and schools.
Indeed. As ever, my hon. Friend makes a pertinent point.
Teachers are unique—there is something special about them, as opposed even to other people working with children, although I accept the arguments about them—as they have to stand before a class, in a position of authority, and keep discipline. Most of us will have been struck by the number of teachers whom we know who strongly approve of the change introducing anonymity. For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that those teachers would never in a million years get up to the sort of no good that we want to avoid. There is something symbolic in saying that we understand their difficult position in keeping order in their little community and that they deserve our support and this type of anonymity.
Ofqual has already stimulated some fascinating exchanges. In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness, who chairs the Committee on which I serve, I wondered what level of defect the Japanese would look for. I specifically picked Japan, rather than Shanghai, Finland or any of the popular examples because of my experience of joining the Manchester and Merseyside branch of IBM as a tender 17-year-old. The story new starters were told might have been apocryphal, but it was that that IBM specified a 99.99% success rate in the contract with its Japanese microchip supplier. The Japanese were a bit confused, but dutifully smashed one in every 10,000 chips to ensure that they complied with the rate. The point is that other systems do things better than ours does and that people with other systems accept nothing but the best. Following that experience, IBM adopted the principle that is known in business as zero defects.
Double Dutch perhaps, but not Japanese.
My hon. Friend asserts that other areas do better than we do—in the accuracy of their examination questions, I assume —but does he have any evidence to back that up? The paucity of such evidence from Ministers makes me question whether we have made the case to introduce such measures.
I suspect that my hon. Friend knows that my point was a more general one about other people doing better than we do and about their tolerance of failure and imperfection. I recognise that humanity is ultimately susceptible to failure, but I worry about what we should accept.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the main reasons the Japanese do so well in business is not sticks and penalties but their cultural acceptance of what they need to do?
I thoroughly accept that point, but we need to ensure that our education system strives to be as good as the best in the world. Ministers are effectively leading the education system in that mission.
I said earlier that public confidence is everything. I accept that the brand equity that examination bodies want to protect is the single biggest motivator to be as good as they can be, but it is worth reiterating that this is not a simple market in which they lose customers if they get something wrong. First, the number of exam-awarding bodies is limited—people do not have limitless choice. Secondly, schools that switch examination bodies face major costs, inconvenience and difficulty in changing curriculums. Thirdly, given the costs and difficulties involved, changes might not be as easy as they appear for schools and colleges.
Instead of thinking about whether there are one in 1,000, one in 10,000 or one in 100,000 defects, we should think about the time a student sitting a exam might waste in trying to answer a question that is impossible to answer correctly. That exam, although one of the 10 subjects they are studying, might be fundamental to their future.
It is reasonable to set a fine with a cap of 10%—a pretty standard benchmark—applying only to the part of the operation that Ofqual regulates, not to the international fees. Of course, it will be subject to a 12-week consultation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness said that such fines could add, either directly or via insurance premiums, to the costs of examination bodies and, therefore, to schools. We must address the fact that the costs of examinations to schools have risen dramatically. In 2002-03, the average maintained secondary school spent £44,000 on public examinations. By 2008-09, the figure had increased to £85,000—all but doubling in a mere six years. I think that it increased to £96,000 in 2009-10. Those massive increases are nothing to do with having to pay fines for getting the questions wrong; they are to do with the number of resits, retakes and AS-levels and all the additional stuff that goes into our examination system.
I am pleased that the Education Committee will consider how the examination board system works, but, as the Minister said, there is an ever-greater cost to getting 99.99% accuracy up to 100%. We shall create the incentive to go the extra mile by ensuring that, if people fail, there is a counterbalancing cost. It is absolutely right that that is being done. I am happy to support the Lords amendments.
I rise to support a number of the Lords amendments that were made in another place at the prompting of the Government, although as Kevin Brennan said, a number of the issues were explored in Committee before the Bill passed to the other end of the building.
I am pleased that the Government have reconsidered the duty to co-operate. Damian Hinds talked about the analogue process of inspection. Well, coalition government is an analogue process as well, and my noble Friends, along with Lord Laming, were keen that the issue, especially with regard to safeguarding, should remain on the statute book, because of the emerging relationship between local authorities and schools that will follow the transition in some parts of the country when large schools to take up the opportunities of the academies programme. The Secretary of State for Education has spoken in the past about the need to consider how local authorities and schools will work in that context. The Deputy Prime
Minister mentioned in a speech in September that local authorities needed a new role in considering the education environment.
Of course, fewer academy conversions have taken place in some parts of the country than in others. The process will take different forms in different parts of the country, but that is right and in accord with the principles of localism, as Neil Carmichael said in his contribution. There will be opportunities to revisit the discussion about how schools and local authorities co-operate with regard to the objectives for wider community development and for education—of course, the key priority for schools—but it is clear that the Government, having considered the issue, wanted there to be no doubt at all about the message that goes out about safeguarding. On that key duty to operate on those issues, the Government have responded to the points made by Lord Laming and others, and I welcome that.
On admissions, the debate in another place focused on the duty of the Secretary of State to provide fair access in all circumstances. Clearly, the Secretary of State has that duty, supported by the schools adjudicator, so that should set minds at rest. Where there have been anomalies, some are anecdotal. We hear, for example, that in the original academies lower numbers of pupils were on free school meals than at other schools in the area. That requires exploration. The pupil premium will have the effect of showing that all schools will benefit hugely from bringing in pupils from across the community and having the resources to provide any extra support that might be necessary early on in a student’s school career, to ensure that they get the benefit that everybody else enjoys as they move through the education system.
I am grateful to the Minister and his noble Friend for the changes that they have made to the original proposals on school governance. The hon. Member for Stroud is no longer in his place. I should take the opportunity to attend his all-party group, which I have not done thus far. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches are a little more convinced of the benefits of the stakeholder model. I entirely understand what the hon. Gentleman was saying with regard to skills. The model advanced by the Minister through the amendments made in another place provides the opportunity for co-option and for discussion with the local authority about the sort of person who would be appropriate for the governing body of a school, to ensure that the skills profile is met and the new responsibilities—
I am listening with great interest to what my hon. Friend is saying. His party obviously has a slightly different perspective on issues from the other party in the coalition, and that is to be welcomed. Two minds can often be better than one. How, from his party’s point of view, does he see the role of a local authority governor evolving as local authorities move towards the role of commissioner for school budgets? Does he believe that local authority governors will be able to wear the two hats effectively, as they have in the past?
Gentleman working hard for constituents there. I agree that issues arising from commissioning need to be examined—not just questions about how much money each school should receive, but wider questions, such as how that relationship can evolve and deliver for the local community.
To return to the topic of governance, the amendment tabled in another place allows staff and the local authority to have a voice in the discussions that take place within a governing body, but there is plenty of scope for skills that are needed on that body to be provided through co-option and for those put forward as local authority governors to respond to the need for skills.
On inspection, Liberal Democrats have long said that we want to remove the burden of bureaucracy from schools, and colleagues in the Conservative party have expressed similar views. The more risk-based approach to Ofsted inspection responds to that aim. As Members of Parliament we hear of other instances in our constituencies where local businesses, for example, would welcome a response from Government when risks and problems have been highlighted, but not when that is not seen to be necessary. As we have heard, other forms of data are available so that people can make up their own mind. There are opportunities for inspections to be triggered, should that be necessary. One such example concerning a change of head teacher was provided by the Chairman of the Select Committee, Mr Stuart, who is no longer in his place.
As I understand it, Ofsted will continue to undertake thematic surveys—for example, on safeguarding, to which I referred earlier. Such surveys would include outstanding schools which may not have undergone a full Ofsted inspection for a year or so. I am pleased that the Government have listened and responded to debates. The coalition Government have produced a Bill, as amended in the other place, in which people can have confidence. I hope it will unlock further the potential in the education system to deliver for our young people.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute on this group of amendments. Like my hon. Friend the Members for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Chairman of the Select Committee, who is not at present in his place, I broadly support the amendments but would like to push the Government to go a little further in some respects. One of my key themes is that the Bill seems to be written very much with secondary schools in mind, as opposed to primary schools. Although there are some elements of the Bill that focus on primary schools, it could go much further.
Members in all parts of the House have welcomed the fact that teachers will have anonymity from false accusations. If the individual is charged, the police will not be prevented from investigating, but the teacher will be protected. That is good news, but Members on all sides are concerned that it does not go far enough. One of my worries is that in a primary school setting, where teaching assistants are often given responsibility for dealing with the most difficult children, sometimes the most difficult families, and work in a room with just one or two of those children, they are at severe risk from such accusations.
I welcome the amendments from another place relating to an application in a court for a judge to lift reporting restrictions. The welfare of the teacher who is the subject of the allegation is taken into account, as is the welfare of the pupil or pupils who are the alleged victims. However, the Government could go a little further and think about staff in specific situations. For example, I know of schools around the country where teaching assistants are often put in charge of classrooms, essentially acting as teachers. Under the Bill, they will not have the same protection as a teacher in the next classroom who is dealing with the same key stage group. I urge the Government to look into such situations and respond accordingly.
On the admissions code, I welcome many of the changes, particularly the fact that adopted children who were looked after before they were adopted will still have the same priority for places as looked-after children. That is extremely important, as it could benefit 3,000 children each year. I have an example in my constituency of a child who was adopted for many of the best reasons—I know that across all parties there is a big push to ensure that children are adopted much faster, instead of being looked after—yet simply because they did not remain a looked-after child, 17 different funding streams that had been providing support within the school were lost.
From an educational point of view, it might seem that it would have been in the child’s interest to continue to be looked after, as opposed to being adopted, whereas from the point of view of their social development, it is much better for the child to have been adopted and become part of a more stable family. I welcome the provision, which is important in setting a precedent for considering in the round the priorities in such a situation. Those children still have the same problems securing a place in a school that is right for them, and it is important for the family who have adopted the child to be given access to the necessary services.
I note that there is to be a national offer day for primary schools and I welcome it, but with some trepidation. It was recommended that it would be on
We had a robust debate on Ofqual, which was fascinating to listen to. I certainly agree that a regulator should be able to fine an organisation 10%—my hon. Friend the
Member for Bedford looks up sharply—because I am concerned that awarding organisations regard Ofqual as having no teeth. Much of the focus was on the fact that there were 12 or 13 mistakes in exam papers this year, which affected 140,000 children, creating great confusion for them, their families and their teachers. That can be heartbreaking, because it is not the child’s fault.
I mentioned in an intervention the possibility of legal insurance offsetting some of the costs, but the Conservative in me is concerned about giving another quango more powers to intervene. I am conflicted on the amendment, but I will support it because on the whole I believe that it is important that regulators have teeth. When we look at the size of some of the awarding organisations, we see that the largest has a turnover of £250 million, and the assessment market is worth £1 billion, so we must have some kind of control over it.
I do not wish to detain the House too long on this point, because we have heard many aspects of it. My hon. Friend points out that the organisations are very substantial and that some have turnovers of £250 million or more. Does not that simply point to the fact that for those organisations the reputational risk will be far greater than any penalty that could be imposed? Does not the size of those organisations support the suggestion made by the Chair of the Education Committee, rather than the proposals in their lordships’ amendments?
My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point, but I must stop myself agreeing with him. I believe that the reputational risk is only a very small part of the problem with Ofqual’s relationship with awarding organisations. The problem is that Ofqual has only the nuclear option, to which the Minister referred, of saying, “You are either in or out.” I imagine that causes a great deal of conflict in Ofqual when it investigates an organisation. My hon. Friend knows from his vast business experience that the cost of doing business is often factored into every meeting, and I have no doubt that the cost of engaging with Ofqual is included in every meeting.
I want to put on the record the fact that Ofqual will consult on the definition of turnover it will use for the 10% figure. Other regulators have always defined turnover in relation to regulated activities and not beyond them.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. One of the little-known problems with Ofqual’s relationship with awarding organisations is that often when it requests information the organisations can ignore it—I am not saying they do so—because they know that Ofqual only really has the nuclear option; it can either engage with them or not engage. That becomes the organisations’ point of view on the relationship they want with the regulator, rather than the view of the regulator in trying to regulate the industry. We referred to the industry earlier as a market, and it is worth almost £1 billion a year in the UK. There are 182 awarding organisations.
On the question of reputational risk versus the power of a fine, does my hon. Friend accept that the two are not necessarily alternatives? Being fined or, in an extreme case, being given the highest fine the regulator can give will itself contribute to the costs of reputational risk, so the two can reinforce each other. Reputational risk appears to have been an insufficient deterrent hitherto. Otherwise, we would not have had the extent of problems we saw this summer.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend, because reputational risk is very important. The problem is simply that it comes back to reputational risk and the nuclear option, as many awarding organisations can take a chance and build into their business models the number of mistakes they can make before they appear in national headlines. I am not saying that that is what they are doing, but with Ofqual’s current position there is a very odd situation in which the awarding organisations can identify the relationship they want with the regulator, rather than the regulator regulating the industry.
Providing Ofqual with the ability to fine awarding organisations at 10% allows it to say, “If you don’t comply and engage with us, we can fine you up to 10%.” I agree with the Minister that there will no doubt be a sliding scale and that it will be introduced with consultation, but the key point, as my hon. Friend Damian Hinds noted earlier, relates to the Japanese example of smashing one circuit in 1,000 to ensure that they comply. We do not want one mistake to ensure that Ofqual and the awarding organisations comply with one another; we want them to have a relationship based on trust and understanding and, as a last resort, for there to be the threat of fine if the awarding organisations do not engage with Ofqual. Reputational risk is important, but I think that we all understand that what affects people ultimately is the bottom line: what profit they are making and how they are engaging. That is what is important, because that is what they are employed to do. I broadly agree with the Ofqual situation. There is a bit of conflict, because it means giving a quango more powers, but in this situation I think that that is correct.
We also had a robust and prolonged debate on Ofsted, with many interventions. There was a suggestion that some schools would not be inspected for perhaps 10, 15 or 20 years, but in practice that is unrealistic. I was under the impression that when a new head teacher took over a school, particularly a primary school, traditionally that would trigger an Ofsted inspection within a couple of years. I understand that under the Bill’s provisions Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools will trial a new approach so that, when a new head teacher takes over, the inspector will contact the school to discuss the performance and the head teacher’s plans for the future, which I think is a much more effective way of working with outstanding schools.
Triggers have been mentioned. I understand that there will be a guaranteed minimum re-inspection rate of 5% and that governors, through the powers and freedoms we are allowing them—Dan Rogerson spoke effectively about this in Committee on several occasions—will be able to say that they are losing confidence in how things are going. If parent governors in our constituencies believe that children are not getting access to the best education, they phone their MP or local authority straight away to demand the best for their children. That would also ensure that those schools will have the best from the new freedom to engage and not to be inspected every couple of years.
On a wider note, I am pleased that Ofsted will no longer give six or seven weeks’ notice of inspections. The notice period had meant that teaches would often work for 15 or 16 hours a day for six or seven weeks, including weekends, to try to ensure that their school is seen at its best. I do not believe that that is the best way of conducting inspections. What Ofsted is doing at the moment is giving a couple of days’ notice before turning up, which provides a much better reflection of the school. As the years go by, that will provide a much better snapshot of what is happening.
Also, the freedoms for academies in the Bill will lift education across every constituency and local education authority area. Competition is the wrong word to use in a debate on education, but those schools, head teachers and teachers will be seeking to attract the best children. It is important to focus on providing the children with the best schools. Many of the outstanding schools will not now be inspected as often as before, but they will be spending their time helping neighbouring schools that do not have the best procedures in place to move towards becoming outstanding. I welcome the Bill’s proposals in this area.
My final point relates to direct payments for special educational needs. The Minister said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford that people would be able to opt into this process, and I am grateful to him for that, because I would have had great hesitation in supporting any kind of compulsory measure. Now that the Minister has clarified the position, however, I can support the proposal.
With the leave of the House, I should like to respond to this interesting debate. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), for Bedford (Richard Fuller), for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) for their thoughtful contributions, and I shall respond to as many of their points as possible, in addition to speaking to the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan).
The hon. Member for Cardiff West asked me to say a little more about Lords amendments 1 to 4, which relate to interim prohibition orders. Since the Bill’s introduction, it has included a new power for the Secretary of State to make such orders. Many regulators have a power of that kind for use in the rare cases when it is in the public interest to bar an individual while an investigation is under way, prior to a final decision being made. When the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee scrutinised the Bill, it asked about the safeguards that were going to be put in place. As a matter of policy, we intended the issue of interim suspension orders to be possible only when it was in the public interest, and subject to regular six-monthly reviews when requested. The Committee suggested that those quality safeguards be placed on the face of the Bill. The amendments were debated briefly in Grand Committee before being made in the other place.
On extending teacher anonymity, we have to proceed on the basis of evidence in restricting press freedom. I have already cited the findings of our survey. Teachers are much more likely to be the subject of allegations than other staff in schools. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the teachers of 16 to 19-year-olds in further education colleges, but the evidence from the survey shows that just 1% of allegations related to teachers in FE colleges, compared with 23% relating to school teachers. The NASUWT’s records show that, in the past 10 complete years, it has provided a solicitor in relation to 1,592 cases of allegations against teachers, of which 1,439 resulted in no further action being taken.
The survey related to local authority designated officers—LADOs—and the total number of allegations of abuse that were referred to LADOs in the 116 local authorities that responded to the survey was 12,086, of which 2,827, or 23%, related to teachers. Of those, allegations of abuse related to 0.6% of the teaching profession as a whole. That means that there are 1.5 times as many allegations against teachers as against support staff, which had a figure of 0.4% of the total non-teaching population.
On the basis of that survey, I believe that we have got this measure right. I say with all due respect to my hon. Friends that we must not let the best become the enemy of the good. I have heard Members on all sides of the debate today pushing to extend the measure to more staff, and not to extend it to teachers because of the effect that it has on them, but I think that we have got it just about right.
“we remain relentless about combating entrenched failure. We will soon have taken over more failing schools with new academies than in the whole eight years of the programme under Labour. But it’s just as important to tackle those all over the country content to muddle through—places where respectable results and a decent local reputation mask a failure to meet potential. Children who did well in primary school but who lose momentum. Early promise fades. This is the hidden crisis in our schools—in prosperous shires and market towns just as much as the inner cities.”
My hon. Friend is right to quote the Prime Minister, who in turn is right to identify this issue. What practical steps can be taken under the current regime to target those schools that are above the floor targets for five good GCSEs and that have limited resources for Ofsted? How will it be possible to ensure that they get the focus that the Prime Minister, the Minister and I would like to see?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the light of your ruling, I will make just one point to my hon. Friend which is relevant to the amendments. The performance tables will identify the results and show how well children did at primary school. There will be a column for children who achieve level 5 at key stage 2, and another column for those who achieve level 3 at key stage 2. There will also be columns for those with special educational needs and those with disabilities. That will help to identify those schools that are coasting, and we will then take action against those schools or help them to improve their results.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West also talked about triggers for inspections. That is a matter for Her Majesty’s chief inspector, but I can confirm that there will be annual risk assessment for outstanding schools, which will normally commence three years after the last inspection. Where there is a change of head teacher before that point, however, the chief inspector has agreed to bring forward the risk assessment, including an HMI review. Ultimately, however, we have to leave it to the professional judgment of the inspector to determine whether an inspection should be triggered. Factors to be taken into account might include: a school’s performance data that had previously been judged to be less than outstanding in achievement or teaching not showing signs of improvement since its last inspection; progress measures showing that pupils or students were not making good progress in comparison with similar groups nationally; or below-average attendances showing little sign of improvement. Many factors can act as a trigger for an inspection.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of admissions. I thank him for his attention to detail in scrutinising the codes, but I can assure him that they are statutory. “Must” means “must” in those codes; they have the full force of the law. On his wider point, the vast majority of the changes can be implemented quickly, but there are cases in which they might take longer than 14 days, at which point
What I will put on the record are the words used in paragraph 3.1 of the code, which states that admission authorities must where necessary revise their admission arrangements as quickly as possible, and no later than
“An Adjudicator’s determination is binding and enforceable.”
I will come back to that point when I address the hon. Gentleman’s amendments in more detail.
On Ofqual, the power to fine would be used only where that was the most proportionate response to an incident of non-compliance with its conditions. As I have said, Ofqual will consult on the use of its power and will publish a full statement as part of its qualifications regulatory framework setting out how and under what circumstances the power will be used. That will make clear Ofqual’s expectation that only serious or persistent breaches will lead to a fine. Of course, it will allow 12 weeks for responses to that consultation.
The incidents I would cite are those from this summer when there were persistent errors. The persistence came, in particular, after we had asked the awarding organisations to check that there were no further errors. They did those checks and confirmed that there were none, but then further errors were discovered and damage was caused. That is an example of persistence in the errors we are trying to eliminate from the system.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West asked for an explanation regarding Lords amendments 89 to 91 about land. The Bill introduces new powers to transfer the publicly funded land of foundation and voluntary schools to free schools and academies when those schools close or the land is to be otherwise disposed of. Lords amendments 89 to 91 reduce the reach of those new powers so that they do not apply to land that is leased to a new academy by a private landlord. Where we are engaging in commercial negotiations with private landlords for the lease of land to new free schools, we think it is more appropriate to protect any public investment in that land by contractual means rather than in statute.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the PFI issue and I am happy to restate the purpose of amendment 34. Under section 6(2) of the Academies Act 2010, a local authority “must cease to maintain” a school once it converts to academy status. Some banks and local authorities have asked whether that prohibition on maintenance might prevent a local authority from making a payment under PFI or other contracts. Our view is that local authorities have always been able to use their own resources to provide assistance, including financial assistance, to academies and to enter into contractual commitments and incur liabilities on their behalf. We are clear that section 6(2) of the Academies Act does not prevent the continuation of those activities. All academies are and will continue to be maintained by the Secretary of State under funding arrangements entered into under section 1 of the Academies Act, and any assistance provided by local authorities to academies, whether financial or otherwise, will only ever be a proportion of the total expense. Amendment 34 therefore confirms that local authorities can continue to make payments for academies under PFI and other contracts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford and the hon. Member for Cardiff West raised the issue of direct payment pilots. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend Sarah Teather, who has responsibility for children and families, wrote to peers in the other place explaining the importance of introducing this new clause and consulted on the text of the draft clause, including in relation to special educational needs and disability organisations as well as local government interests. The principles behind the clause—greater choice and control for the families of children with SEN—are shared across the House. Indeed, the clause is modelled on legislation on the direct payment health pilots that were introduced by the previous Government. Let me reassure hon. Members that the orders needed to give practical effect to the clauses are subject to the affirmative procedure. These are, after all, powers concerning pilots rather than a national scheme and the clause has a sunset provision of four years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness asked about anyone being able to refer complaints to the adjudicator. We do not believe this change will lead to many more complaints. The regulations on which we are currently consulting will ensure that repetitive, vexatious or anonymous complaints cannot be made. I hope that will provide him with some reassurance. On the issue of spite, which he also raised, “anyone” does mean anyone, so it could be a school or a charity. The only proviso is that they must be willing to put their name to objections and to refer matters that are new or substantially new to the adjudicator.
My hon. Friend asked about consistency in the referral of misconduct cases by schools to the regulator. Evidence suggests that there is already variation in referrals despite the blanket duty on employers to refer all cases, and this duty has not been affected. Employers will know when a case of misconduct is serious enough potentially to require a referral from the profession, and they can use the draft prohibition guidance, which I can send to my hon. Friend, to help them make this decision. If a member of the public is not happy with the decision, they can refer a complaint to the Secretary of State.
My hon. Friend also asked about Ofsted’s capacity to deliver more rigorous assessments. We have discussed and agreed the more rigorous risk assessment, and Ofsted has the resources necessary within its budget to achieve this. Every organisation has to prioritise its resources in the current economic climate and Ofsted is no different.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford for his continued and vocal support for academies and free schools. I assure him that it is right that admissions at academies and free schools must comply with the admissions code as set out in their funding agreements. As with all other state-funded schools, complaints about admissions will now go to the adjudicator.
My hon. Friend also raised concerns about particular families who do not adopt personal budgets—one third is the figure he cited—and the support they require. He argues for having pilots, and that is what the new clause does. I share his concerns about the possible burdens on families. That is why the pilots will look at the support available to families and how the system can be as straightforward as possible to use, as well as at which families take up those payments and which do not. On the point that the hon. Member for Cardiff West made, cost-cutting is not a driver for this policy—it is about having greater choice and control.
On the issue of Ofqual and how the Conservatives could support a regime of fining by a regulator, my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire set out the reasons why the qualifications market needs to be regulated. I should like to make it clear that turnover will be determined in accordance with an order made by the Secretary of State and that Ofqual will consult on how the fining regime is to operate.
I listened carefully to the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford and for Stevenage about primary schools. Primary national offer day will be
Let me deal briefly with some of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Cardiff West. He will know that we have listened carefully to the concerns expressed in this House and in the other place in response to our original intention to withdraw schools and colleges from the duty to co-operate. The evidence of that engagement is clear in these Lords amendments. We have removed the “duty to co-operate” clause as well as the clause that the hon. Gentleman seeks to amend regarding the children and young people’s plan.
The hon. Gentleman’s amendment (a) to Lords amendment 23 relates to our plans to allow anyone to refer an objection to the schools adjudicator about the admissions arrangements at any state-funded school in the country. The amendment would require admissions authorities and others to comply with the adjudicator’s decision within 14 days of receiving written notice of that decision. Current legislation in this area, which was introduced by the Labour party, requires compliance to be forthwith. Let me assure the House once more that our changes to admissions do not affect the adjudicator’s power to consider and decide on the matter put to him and other matters as he sees fit, or to make binding decisions as a consequence. The amendment would impose a stringent national timetable for the implementation of such decisions. It is based on two false assumptions—first that schools do not wish to put things right, which they do, and secondly that all situations are the same, which they are not. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press his amendment to a Division.
I am grateful to the Minister for those comments, but can he firm up what he has said by making it clear from the Dispatch Box that he sees no reason why, in the vast majority of cases, the schools adjudicator’s ruling should not be implemented if not forthwith, then within a very short period of time and certainly not at the last possible moment?
I have already responded to the hon. Gentleman’s point by quoting paragraph 3.1 of the admissions code. That makes it very clear that these changes should be made as soon as possible and that they are binding.
On school governing bodies, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud for speaking up for the key role governors play in schools and for the important work he is undertaking in establishing the all-party group on school governors. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend Dan Rogerson for his helpful intervention on staff and local authority governors and for his welcome for the amendments he has inspired. We have made concessions on staff and local authority governors, and I therefore hope the amendment in question will not be pressed.
Lords amendment 27 on the regulations specifying which schools are to be exempt from routine inspection was made because of a specific concern raised by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: that regulations made through the negative procedure could be extended beyond outstanding schools to whole categories of school—such as all academies or all faith schools—regardless of their inspection history, without sufficient parliamentary scrutiny.
To provide reassurance on that, the Government propose that any subsequent changes to the first set of regulations, which have been made available to Members as indicative regulations since March, would require approval through the affirmative procedure. The amendment made in the other place will allow for appropriate scrutiny by Parliament. It is not necessary for the first set of regulations to be subject to that because it has been fully consulted on. We shall reflect on the points raised both in this debate and elsewhere before finalising those regulations.
I hope the amendments to the Lords amendments will not be pressed to a Division, and I commend the Lords amendments to the House.
Lords amendment 1 agreed to.
Lords amendments 2 to 26 agreed to , with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 16 and 23 .