Education Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 13th December 2004.

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Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions) 2:30 pm, 13th December 2004

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I am delighted to be here today to speak about a measure which takes forward the Government's continuing drive to raise education standards. We all share the ambition for our children and young people that they should be given every opportunity to flourish and to achieve to their full potential. The Bill has a significant part to play in that process.

Perhaps I can start by paying tribute to the hard work and determination of those in our schools who have made such significant strides in recent years. Ofsted tells us that we have the best qualified cohort of teachers we have ever had. In 1997, in more than 350 secondary schools, less than 20 per cent of the pupils got five good GCSEs. Today that number is less than 100. In primary schools, 77 per cent of pupils are achieving level 4 in English and 74 per cent are achieving that level in mathematics. Both of those figures are very significant increases over previous years. The reforms in the Bill are designed to build on those achievements.

The Bill's first strong theme is about unlocking the energy and potential of frontline staff and their leaders within schools to get more educational achievement for more children. We plan to do that by establishing a new relationship between schools and those in central and local government who share the responsibility for the education service. This new relationship with schools will be built on smarter accountability, less bureaucracy, greater financial stability and transparency.

I turn first to smarter accountability. The new system of inspection, rather than being a disruptive event every six years, will provide a much more frequent "light-touch" check on progress. Drawing on the school's own improvement processes, each school will be supported by a school improvement partner. This system has already been trialled in 61 schools in six local authorities, and these school improvement partners will provide through the "Single Conversation" an annual challenge to the senior leadership of the school. Early feedback on the system is extremely encouraging.

I turn next to the matter of less bureaucracy: avoiding unnecessary preparation for inspection, removing multiple bidding processes for resources, doing away with separate post-inspection action plans, and replacing dry annual reports and poorly attended parent/governor meetings with a much more accessible and wide-ranging school profile. Those are some of the reductions in bureaucracy which we think are absolutely necessary to give schools more scope to focus on getting improved educational outcomes.

I turn thirdly to financial stability and simplicity. We will tackle the rationalisation of funding streams through internal processes in the DfES. But more than that, we will enable the setting of three-year budgets for schools. This will be the first time in recorded history that this has ever taken place, thereby giving, we hope, strong local leadership, clarity about resources, freedom from bureaucracy, support and incentive throughout the school improvement partnership to do better and to raise local authorities' ambitions for all their children. We believe that these amount to a significant regime of improvement for schools.

There has been much speculation on the department's view of local authorities, not all of it based on a reading of the department's five-year strategy or the discussion that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been having with local authority leaders. We believe that there is an important role for local authorities in the education agenda, not least in linking it up with the wider children's agenda. As the House knows, the Government have given local authorities a massive and major new leadership role about leading for better outcomes for all children in their areas, spanning not simply traditional education but all the five outcomes that we discussed during the passage of the Children Act.

But that role for local authorities is not simply the old role—it must change as society and schools and their needs for the public and children change. Key components of that will be reinforced by this Bill: first, the local authorities as the strategic leaders in their areas, working with partners, introducing strong self-confident schools to ensure that all the services for children in an area work together for the benefit of children and their families. Next, we must define and agree the way in which dedicated school funding is distributed among schools, and agree what part of it needs to be devoted to spending outside individual school budgets. Next, the local authorities will be the champions of the child and family—the guarantors of an appropriate level of service, responsive to need. They will retain their powers of intervention, acting at the earliest possible moment, to tackle school failure. No child should be condemned to attend a school which fails to offer an acceptable standard of education.

Also, the local authority, in its role as champion, will be responsible for providing education for those of school age who need to attend alternative provision. One of the changes in the role of local authorities over the past decade or so is increasingly in seeing themselves as bodies with a strategic leadership role to commission to achieve outcomes, rather than as the managers of a set of input services by themselves. Many local authorities have welcomed that shift of focus as providing a much wider leadership role. The Bill builds on the leadership that those local authorities have shown in that respect. Voluntary and community sector partners, as well as the private sector and other local authorities, may all have a part to play in delivering excellent and efficient services.

The development of children's trust arrangements will extend joint commissioning across children's services. We propose a modest extension of that concept—that where local authorities are planning to replace a secondary school, they should invite proposals from partners rather than simply proceed to establish another community school.

Before I flesh out these in a little more detail, I should add that another substantial theme of the Bill is to carry forward the work of the National Assembly for Wales. The provisions in the Bill take forward the Assembly's 10-year strategy for comprehensive education and learning—the Learning Country. That strategy also has a focus on raising standards, on breaking down barriers to learning and lifting the skills base in Wales.

Perhaps I may now return to the first of the themes and illustrate how the Bill will help to unlock the potential in our schools. Regular inspection by Ofsted was introduced 12 years ago and since then it has inspected every school in England at least twice. Under a succession of distinguished chief inspectors, including the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, Ofsted has made a major contribution to improving standards in education and the transparency and accountability of the school system. We want to build on that achievement. We now look to link the principle of inspection more effectively into schools' own processes, so that all the energy in the system is devoted to improvement—which is, of course, the purpose of inspection.

An inspection even once every six years is an infrequent and threatening event, with the current long period of notice involving extended and intensive preparation, causing stress for staff and disruption for the work of the school. Schools have made great strides in developing their own cycle of school improvement. Self-evaluation feeds into school development plans updated on an annual basis. We want to reinforce those trends in good schools. The new three-year, short notice, lighter touch inspection introduced by the Bill will be much less disruptive. External inspection should always be challenging, but we hope that the new arrangements will quickly come to be seen as a helpful health check. The evidence from the extensive pilots already points positively that way. Schools will feed in their self-evaluation evidence to the inspection team. Inspectors will then engage with the schools in a professional dialogue, examining the evidence in support of the self-evaluation.

We are not introducing these reforms blindly. Ofsted consulted on them in February 2004 and received over 1,000 responses, with more than three-quarters in favour of the proposals. These proposals and those for the new relationship with schools are being trialled with schools and local authorities. There are 29 school improvement partners working with the 61 secondary schools in the current national trial of the new relationship with schools. All partners have been accredited through a national development and assessment process.

The Bill establishes beyond doubt the role of inspection in reporting on how schools will contribute to all of the five outcomes for children set out in that Act—health, protection from harm, education, training and recreation and the contribution made to society and social and economic well-being.

Clause 2 provides that the Chief Inspector shall report on,

"how far that education meets the needs of the range of the pupils at those schools", and,

"the contribution made by those schools to the well-being of those pupils", as defined in the Children Act. Good schools have always played a part in promoting all those outcomes and it enhances rather than detracts from their core business.

The Chief Inspector will be directly responsible for the quality and content of all inspection reports. He will be able to intervene directly, and so more quickly, to rectify any mistakes and address concerns. Early experience from the trials shows that there is a greater consistency and quality in the inspection process. Head teachers have written to Ofsted, praising the improvements that the new system is already demonstrating. We shall also remove much of the activity after an inspection by combining the post-inspection action plan into the school improvement plan. Reports will also be improved. They will be shorter, sharper and provide a realistic picture of what life is like for the child at that school.

While most schools will continue to do well, one focus of inspection is to identify schools which are in urgent need of serious improvement and support. We propose to retain the category of "schools requiring special measures". Evidence supports that this serious category has led to significant improvement. Since 1997, more than half a million children have benefited from improvements in the standards of schools placed in this category.

The Bill also addresses some weaknesses, allowing the judgment of inspectors to be informed by recent developments, such as a new leadership team, or evidence that the school is now on an upward trajectory. For those schools judged to be causing most concern, the chief inspector will instigate a peer review by a senior HMI to review and assess the evidence and the likely judgment before anything is published.

We will simplify the other designations of schools with weaknesses, introducing the concept of schools requiring significant improvement. This can include those where pupils are not performing badly in absolute terms but are not doing as well as they should. Follow-up by the local authority and in some cases the Secretary of State will remain unchanged. The revised arrangements will ensure that poor schools are identified, supported and challenged to drive up standards.

The Bill will also ensure that extended schools experience a single inspection event and report rather than having separate inspections of education and childcare. We will also provide a more integrated approach to inspections of early years settings which are not schools and shift the focus of those, so that Ofsted inspectors look at what it is like for a child in the setting. These reports will show how the provision contributes to better outcomes for children.

Parents, as a child's first and closest educators, have a stronger influence on their child's educational achievement. So we must take every opportunity to have parents involved in education, both at home and in understanding the work of schools. The current arrangements do not work well. Given the opportunity to meet annually with the governing body, few parents ever turn up to do so and they do not find annual reports very informative. The Select Committee in 1999 proposed the abolition of the parents meeting as a statutory obligation and we are now giving effect to that. We want schools to engage with parents in a more proactive manner in much richer ways than simply holding a formulaic meeting. This might still mean holding a meeting, but for other schools it could mean more regular meetings. It is clear that, consistent with the overall approach, central government should get out of the business of prescribing the detail, be clearer on what the outcomes look like and support schools in their attainment.

We must all ensure that parents have a clear set of basic information on the performance and achievement of their school. We propose to do that through the school profile, which will be a four-page document, using centrally provided data to which schools will be free to add descriptive and contextual material. It will give parents a better understanding of how the school is performing, how it is meeting the full range of needs and what it is particularly proud of. It will also tell parents how their views have been taken into account and how they can be heard.

I turn to the subject of the skills of the workforce. If we are serious about helping every child to reach his full potential, we must provide coherent support for the development and continuous improvement of the professional skills needed by all members of the school workforce. The renamed Training and Development Agency for Schools will lead that task. Its key aim will be to raise educational standards by improving the training and development of the whole school and promoting career opportunities throughout the workforce. The agency will look at how the school workforce and its development can better support the outcomes for children.

We shall also reform the data collected on teachers and other staff. In future, information should be collected once and used many times. We shall use the available technology and have a single survey feeding a new school workforce database. A final step in freeing up schools will be the removal of the barriers that prevent our schools offering courses normally associated with higher education. Some schools are already making such an offer to their pupils—for example, by making use of the widely respected and accredited material produced by the Open University. Where schools feel that students are receptive to the stretch that these generally small or modular courses offer, we wish to allow them to be able to make them available as a small part of a young person's 14-19 programme of learning.

I turn to the crucial issue of finance. We intend to secure financial simplicity and stability for schools. The bidding culture is wasteful of time and energy and it can divert strategic planning into an unedifying chase for funds. Added to that rationalisation is a far more fundamental and far-reaching reform—three-year school budgets. Discussions with the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers show that there is real excitement throughout the 20,000-plus schools in our country at the prospect of being able to plan their budgets and resources on a longer-term basis. It allows them to have a clearer platform of financial certainty within which to give strong leadership to deliver improved educational and other outcomes for children. We consider that to be fundamental.

We are proud of that move forward and have been delighted by the way in which it has been so warmly received on consultation so far. The Secretary of State will be issuing a consultation paper in January next year, setting out the detail of how this will be taken forward. That will give the House the opportunity to get the flavour of the detail, as well as the headline message.

I turn to the new role of the local authority as strategic leader and champion of the child and family. As strategic leaders, we shall look to local authorities to be creative in ensuring the delivery of high-quality services in their areas. The joint area reviews, to be carried out under the Children Act, will provide them and their communities with an assessment of the work needed to improve services. Local authorities are uniquely placed to bring together the range of partners needed to create the effective partnerships—formal and otherwise—to realise those improvements. Schools will play a key role in that.

On funding, local authorities will continue to receive grant from central government. They will continue to operate and agree local funding formulae. They—not others—will need to determine the split of the dedicated school budget between individual school budgets and funding for alternative, non-school provision. In future, they will be able to agree that with their school forum rather than seek agreement from us in Whitehall. All local authorities now have representative school forums, and many find them to be growing in confidence and capacity.

As champions of children and families, local authorities will also retain all their powers of intervention and challenge. We shall re-enact the requirement for local authorities to set themselves challenging targets.

As the champion of the child and the family, local authorities must also have the capacity to intervene where things go wrong, and as soon as there are signs of problems. They will play a vital role in helping to turn around a school which is causing concern. They will retain responsibility for an action plan, setting out the steps needed to support the school in making progress.

Local authorities also have a key role in working with more vulnerable children, such as those in alternative provision and those at risk of exclusion, those who have been excluded, and teenage mothers or whatever. Securing the attendance of this vulnerable group is essential. The Bill closes a loophole whereby parents are now required to secure their children's attendance and it provides local authorities with the sanctions that already exist to enforce attendance at mainstream school. As with school attendance, the assumption must be that preventive work will secure attendance wherever possible, but the existence of sanctions reinforces the seriousness of this issue.

We intend to create a scheme that will allow all local authorities to check applications for free school meals online. Currently, more than 200,000 families are eligible to claim but do not do so. The scheme will make it easier for them to obtain the benefit with less of a stigma and less bureaucracy.

My final point concerns the role of local authorities as commissioner. Local authorities are already required to invite proposals from a range of possible providers when they plan to open an additional secondary school. The Bill extends that requirement to apply to the provision of all new secondary schools, including ones intended to replace existing schools which are closing.

We believe that that will inject more choice into the secondary education market, encourage new providers to come forward with their proposals and lead to a more diverse range of schools. These provisions will also give local people the opportunity to express their views on a range of options for meeting the needs of their communities and their children rather than a single option, as is currently the case.

I hope that my description of the provisions has been helpful. I am confident that there will be wide agreement about many of the measures in the proposals. As ever, we shall no doubt wish to scrutinise the detail, but the fundamental issue that I wish to make clear in my opening speech is that we believe that the Bill will make a significant difference to schools in terms of freeing them from bureaucracy, giving them a platform of financial certainty, and providing clarity about what they are seeking to achieve and support in doing so. That will matter both to parents and to the children whom the schools serve. It will also support local authorities as they move to their new strategic role. We believe that it will make a significant difference to educational outcome. We have been grateful for the active participation of many in shaping the thinking that has led to the Bill.

For Wales, the Bill represents a further legislative platform in the National Assembly's far-reaching programme of support and development for comprehensive education and lifelong learning, described in The Learning Country.

I look forward to what I am sure will be a wide-ranging and informative debate. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Filkin.)

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed and comprehensive introduction to this significant and important legislation. I also thank him for making the effort to meet colleagues from all sides of the House to explain in person a little more of the rationale behind the legislation.

In opening the debate for the Opposition, I want to take a moment to stress the importance of education. That is something on which I know we all totally agree, but I want to talk about it from my own personal standpoint, having been involved in it for many years through local authorities.

There is only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young people to receive a decent schooling and to have the opportunity to achieve their ambitions and desires to help them through the rest of their lives. Quality education is the key to opening a door of opportunity and success and to helping anyone through what can be a very difficult time of life. It is the means of self-improvement and betterment.

It is crucial that all of us who are involved in the provision of education—in schools, at the local level or as legislators at the national level—do the very best we can to ensure that the standard of education in our schools and colleges is among the best in the world. That is a heavy responsibility for us—I have felt it throughout most of my life—yet we must be unshrinking and unwavering in our desire to achieve that objective for young people.

We must fight to break down the barriers that have frustrated and restricted generations of pupils and parents; we must look at imaginative schemes that support and help young people and do not alienate and isolate them; and we must also look at imaginative schemes that allow parents a real and genuine choice of school for their children.

Yet, sadly, I think that the Government themselves would admit that, after seven years and having come in with the slogan "Education, education, education", our schools are a long way from where they should be. That is no indictment of our teachers, who battle daily against the rising tide of red tape and bureaucracy—any teacher will tell us that—and who worry constantly about the rising levels of classroom violence and intimidation.

The Government promised better discipline. In 1997 the Prime Minister said that,

"teachers will be entitled to positive support . . . to promote good attendance and sound discipline".

In one of his first speeches as Labour leader he said:

"It is important to stress that discipline is vital in schools".

Yet, sadly, every seven minutes a teacher is assaulted and in 2003 an estimated 4,000 exclusions in a single term were for attacks by pupils on adults.

The Government also promised to set criteria so that around 10 per cent of schools would qualify for earned autonomy. In 2002, a flagship policy was launched called Earned Autonomy. The Secretary of State promised that the Government,

"will energetically promote earned autonomy for schools that are well ran (sic) and managed so that those schools will have greater freedom for example in varying the curriculum and less frequent inspections".

To date, no schools have actually benefited from the proposal. The Minister said much about freeing up schools and giving them incentives, but nothing was said about that earlier policy.

The Government also promised,

"to ensure that every child is given a world-class education by encouraging innovation and continuing to be tough on failing schools . . . It is only because we hold schools to account so effectively for their performance that we can give them such radical new freedoms".

Perhaps the Minister will comment on that later.

The reality is that in 2003, 93,000 parents made appeals against the school to which their child was allocated but only 24 per cent were upheld. That was simply not good enough. That record is not good and it does not bode well for the Bill—a Bill which appears to be a large compendium of different issues without much clear vision or truly innovative ideas within it.

I had hoped that the Minister would give the flavour of the Bill, along with the consultations that are taking place at the moment; for example, about extending foundation schools and admission policies. The consultations are taking place at the same time as this legislation is progressing through Parliament and will very much affect the final position of education later on next year.

We hope that this legislation will cut down and simplify the level of bureaucracy that our teachers face every day. We hope that it will build added value to an education system already groaning under an excessive sense of interference, which we all admit has happened over the past few years. I only hope that the Bill achieves that rather than, like previous education legislation, creating more bureaucracy.

The Minister mentioned the Children Act. I support the Children Act because all the agencies cover areas that we have debated and it is right to bring all those agencies together. This morning I visited a children's home where educationalists gave presentations on how they were working collaboratively in schools to ensure that children from ethnic minorities, children with handicaps, children with learning difficulties and children with behavioural difficulties were all working in various groups with the various agencies. The senior officers had picked up the potential of this legislation and feared, having just had the Children Act, that this legislation could handicap some of that joined-up thinking. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. It is imperative that, having tried to bring the agencies together—the education system, the social services system, the police, the probation service, the health authorities—we do not pass legislation that gives schools a different position compared with other institutions.

Much of the Bill deals with the reform of the present schools inspection regime. We learn that schools inspections will be reformed to bring in shorter, no-notice inspections alongside a greater emphasis on self-evaluation. That objective is admirable, if rather late in the day. It is worth remembering that generally the level of inspection and the resulting bureaucracy have increased dramatically over the past few years. Ofsted has become more and more interfering in virtually every pie—from secondary schools to nurseries and day centres—with a tremendous growth in bureaucracy. One hopes that the Government will ensure that the reduction in bureaucracy and the improvement in the operational side of Ofsted will happen. We shall watch that closely during the proceedings on the Bill.

We have a Bill that simply attempts to move us back to a position that the Government inherited. On this side of the House, we find it slightly ironic that the Bill simply reintroduces, clause by clause, much of Conservative legislation from the School Inspections Act 1996, which I seem to remember generated a certain degree of opposition from the then Opposition.

It appears that, with this Bill, the Government are more concerned with reducing the level of bureaucracy on inspectors rather than on teachers. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. Much self-evaluation will have to take place in schools during inspections and schools are concerned about the amount of work that they will have to undertake, given the resources provided. During the passage of the Bill, we shall require substantial reassurance about removing the requirement for Ofsted inspectors to be registered.

We on these Benches firmly believe that it is teachers—not inspectors or bureaucrats—who are the most important professionals in the education system, and that we should do all that we can to help them. The Bill could also have tackled the 12 pages of guidance sent out by the DfES each and every working day to our schools, but that has not happened. We may debate that as we go through the Bill.

As I said earlier, we hope that the provisions in the Bill are co-ordinated across the board. There is a danger that disparate regimes will emerge, missing the opportunity to improve inspection. Under the legislation, I understand that there is an anticipated £83 million of savings due to the reform of Ofsted. We hope that that will be channelled back into the frontline of education, rather than being hived off into another quango.

As the Minister said, the Bill will also introduce three-year budgets for schools. We welcome that, as I believe everyone does. It will allow heads greater flexibility over their budgets and it will enable schools to plan. When wearing another hat—leader of a local authority—we were promised three-year budgets for local authorities. In the second year of my time with that authority, Essex County Council lost £100 million of grant because the Government reassessed grants. Schools will want to be assured that that will not happen under three-year funding regimes. Such regimes need stability rather than dramatic changes.

Much thought will need to be given to the manner of introduction. Suddenly, two years ago, when change was made to grant regimes, schools found that they were under-funded and, as the Minister will remember, there was a crisis at the time when no one could find out what was happening. There had been many miscalculations. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that there will be consultation on the introduction of three-year budgets because we have to ensure that we get the matter right. There must not be a gap in the first year. It needs to be thought about carefully, particularly if we are moving to a school year rather than to a financial year. Moving the funding of schools from April to September could also cause some problems. Much work is required and we shall scrutinise these points during the Committee stage.

The Bill also includes provisions that will give schools greater autonomy, a point I mentioned earlier, with a strategic role for local education authorities to focus on commissioning services and inviting proposals from possible providers in all cases where new or replacement schools are required. There is much to commend such a move and it may allow local education authorities and local councils to move to a radical new business model, which we would welcome. It will be interesting to explore that during proceedings on the Bill.

Another interesting point is that the Bill would allow a council to set up a new school outside its own area. That counterbalances provisions allowing private promoters to set up academies and foundation schools in a particular council area. It would be sensible for a successful local authority to work with another borough. We would want to explore that during the course of proceedings on the Bill. It would be a welcome step towards greater choice. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm, either today or in writing, whether my interpretation of this part of the legislation that I have briefly outlined is his understanding of it as well.

As has been said, a new school profile will be introduced, aimed at improving the quality of information available to parents and replacing the annual parents' meeting. We can generally support this, although we shall want assurances about how this model will work in practice. We are very much opposed to the profile being set centrally. Schools should be able to develop their own profiles. We would want to make certain that if parents did not have a parents' meeting they could still have the opportunity to get into the schools, meet teachers and so on.

The remit of the Teacher Training Agency will be extended to reflect its new role in the training and development of school staff. This appears to be a sensible step forward, but we would want to make certain that the Teacher Training Agency does not take its eye off the ball from what it does best—training teachers—to the detriment of the rest of the education system. In the Explanatory Notes there seems to be no increase in budget. Therefore, the provision might take something away from the training of teachers. We would like the Minister to explain that in due course.

We cannot support the Government's way of eliminating surplus places by instructing an LEA to reduce such numbers. That does not take into account specific local circumstances and may change from one year to the next. Therefore, we shall want to debate that as the Bill goes through the House.

A much better idea on closing schools would be to depoliticise the process and to make it far easier to open a new one, so that there is more flexibility on the supply side of the market.

The Government have missed an opportunity here to free up the system in opening up schools and improving education by introducing measures that would be of great satisfaction to young people. One sees that one in three pupils leaving primary schools are still unable to read or write properly. We do not have enough measures to allow our teachers to get on and teach without all the bureaucracy they still have in schools.

The Government have moved towards more parental choice. During proceedings on the Bill we would like to explore more of the Government's ideas on foundation schools and the local authority's ability to set up schools outside its home area. We shall want to explore the way in which the new Ofsted routine will work and seek to ensure that it really does not put more work on to schools.

It could have been a more radical Bill. We look forward to trying to improve it. I very much look forward to discussing the issues in greater detail in Committee just after Christmas. Scrutiny is a duty that this House performs admirably. I am sure that we will scrutinise in great detail the legislation before it moves to the other place. I think that we have an interesting month or two ahead.

I thank the Minister for his introductory remarks and we look forward to hearing the rest of the debate this afternoon.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, first I thank the Minister for his clear explanation of the Government's intentions in respect of the Bill and for the meetings that he has undertaken with us.

Although we welcome much that is in the Bill, I am afraid I cannot say that we are with him on everything in it. The Committee stage would perhaps be awfully boring if we were. However, he can rest assured that we will do our job of scrutinising this large and important piece of legislation very carefully, while at the same time expediting its passage through your Lordships' House.

The Bill presents us with some fundamental changes to our education system. I use the word "system" deliberately because that is what I believe it should be—not a disconnected and unaccountable set of schools.

The Bill reforms inspections, nationalises education funding, diversifies provision and centralises the planning of school places. It is interesting how people change when they get power. My noble friend Lady Hamwee told me recently that she vividly recalled hearing a previous shadow Secretary of State for Education of the time, one Mr David Blunkett, railing against the increasing centralisation of education and the removal of the powers of LEAs; and yet here we are.

In Part 1 of the Bill the Government propose major changes to the inspection system. From these Benches we welcome the general direction in which these changes are moving, in particular regarding the "single conversation" and the "development partner", although we might say that the changes do not go far enough. We welcome shorter, lighter-touch inspections.

However, we believe that what is really wanted is a radical reform of inspections ensuring constant vigilance, while at the same time moving towards a more supportive and developmental system, rather than the punitive structure we have now. It may be semantics, but I wonder if the new "in need of significant improvement" is the same as the old "serious weaknesses". What about going the whole hog and calling schools where inspections discover significant weaknesses "schools needing additional support"? That would be a lot more positive.

From these Benches, we would like to see schools have a total quality management system, as they have in many businesses, where improvement happens every day, and where there is no place to hide for bad teaching. Then you would need no notice whatever for inspections because the school would be ready for inspection at a moment's notice. A lot of TQM is done by self-evaluation and I see no reason why that should not be published in the way inspection reports are now. The success of such programmes depends on a supportive and helpful environment where no one is blamed for the quality of the intake, the lack of resources, the size of classes or the greater ills of society.

Reform of school inspection should not be seen in isolation from the rest of the broader inspection and improvement agenda, which should be independent of government, fair, and seen to be fair, and accountable to Parliament.

Perhaps I may pick up a few details of this section. The Bill changes the functions of the chief inspector to include, in Clause 5, inspecting the contribution of schools to the well-being of pupils. The Children Act 2004 places a requirement on every children's services authority in England to make arrangements to promote co-operation between the authority and relevant partners to improve well-being. During its passage through this House we on these Benches tried to amend the Bill to give the duty to co-operate also to operational or delivery agencies, including schools. The Government refused our amendment stating that one of the "levers of influence" to ensure co-operation takes place between delivery agencies would be inspection.

While I welcome the provisions in the Bill for inspection of the contribution made by schools to well-being, there is no explicit provision for inspection of how well the school is co-operating with other strategic and operational agencies. That gives me concern, especially given the even greater autonomy for schools provided in other parts of the Bill. It is therefore unclear how the lever of inspection will apply.

The same applies to Clause 52 and Schedule 7, which add well-being to child minding and day care inspections However, again this covers only the contribution of the day-care setting itself and leaves out the quality of its co-operation with other agencies. The closeness of education, welfare and healthcare in those early years makes such co-operation vital. It is important also for older age groups, particularly when we are talking about extended schools with health, social services and leisure all operating from the same school site. Also I wonder how the duty to promote well-being will be transcribed to these almost independent schools—the academies—run by independent investors.

It also concerns me that, despite the fact that it is only a matter of six weeks since the Children Act 2004 went through this House, notwithstanding the references in the Minister's speech, there is no mention of the children's services authorities in the Bill. It talks only about LEAs, which exist now in a totally different framework. It is almost as if the Bill had been drafted in a total vacuum, taking little account of recent legislation.

The Bill also changes to whom inspection reports will go. The chief inspector can issue a report directly to a school causing concern. LEAs will no longer automatically be informed of the failure of schools they do not maintain in their area, for example, academies. It is unclear who will be responsible for supporting improvement in those if things go wrong. It is one of the many examples in the Bill of a sidelining of the power of local authorities to influence education matters, while at the same time continuing their responsibility to pick up the pieces.

I said earlier that the inspectorate should be as independent as possible. That is one of the many areas in which England can look to Wales for a better way of doing things. In England, the chief inspector reports to the Secretary of State and is pretty much an agent of government. In Wales, he reports directly to the Assembly and is therefore more independent. Why could not the English chief inspector report to Parliament via the Education Select Committee? That is one of the many ways in which devolution has given the Assembly the opportunity to develop a better system.

I do not intend to say much more about Wales, intending to leave that to my noble friend Lord Livsey, but I shall just say this. We on these Benches want Wales to be freed up as much as possible to do what is best of the children of Wales. That is what the devolution process is all about.

When we are making such radical changes to our inspection system, it is worth looking at what it has achieved so far. It is true that, every year, we are achieving better and better GCSE and A-level results and better literacy and numeracy in primary schools. The Government, children and teachers should be congratulated on that. However, we must always look beneath the statistics for those who are losing out. Half our children are still leaving school with fewer than five A to C grade GCSEs and too many with none at all. The Government cannot be complacent in such a situation.

The inspection system is an important lever to correct that state of affairs. It must serve all of our children all of the time. While some areas have as little as 17 per cent of pupils getting A to C grade maths and English GCSEs, there is no cause for complacency on the part of the Government, Ofsted, LEAs or teachers. High-quality inspections are a vital tool to give a true picture of what needs improving in our schools.

In that connection, why does the Bill propose the removal of the register of inspectors and of early years inspectors? I understand from the Minister that that will give the chief inspector maximum flexibility to place the right inspectors in the right places, but what about the quality? I see no reason why, if someone is good enough to inspect a school, he cannot be registered. The registration system gave us quality protection. There is nothing in the Bill to ensure the accountability of those non-registered inspectors, nor their suitability for the role.

Sadly the inspection section of the Bill has missed a perfect opportunity to involve children themselves and to listen to their views. No-one does market research in retail without talking to the customers, so why do we not take the view of children on the quality of their schools? We just observe them, but do we ask them? Why should not the inspection report also be supplied to children in accessible language? It could be a valuable resource for citizenship education.

Part 2 forms part of the Government's preoccupation with structures and diversification. It extends the requirement for LEAs to invite proposals for new schools to all circumstances where a replacement school is needed as well as an additional one. We on these Benches are in favour of greater autonomy for schools where it will free up schools to teach.

However, we do not support the sidelining of LEAs, making them little more than agencies to provide the right number of school places, and leaving them, through the greater power of school forums in the Bill, with little ability independently to vary the amount and allocation of money spent on education. The Government should remember that this year LEAs contributed an additional £200 million to schools over and above the Government's allocation. The more that education funding is centralised, the less inclined they will be to do that.

What is the rationale behind the additional power for the forums? Have they asked for it? Why do the Government believe that they need further to curb the autonomy of local authorities? When school forums were set up in the Education Act 2002, we questioned their role, to be told by the Government that they were purely advisory. Now they must agree to variations in spending. Things seem to have changed already. Are they to take over the role of school organisation committees next?

The most contentious part of the Bill is the extension of opportunities for sponsors to set up academies and for foundation and voluntary schools. The Government have made it clear that they want a national roll-out of 200 academies across the country, and this when we have only 17 existing academies. That is hardly a strong track record in which to put one's confidence for the future of our children. Some might call that a leap of faith. I call it reckless.

Where is the evidence for such rash confidence? From these Benches, we are not against private money being invested in our schools in principle. However, for less than 8 per cent of the capital, the sponsor should get no more than 8 per cent of the influence on the school. Under the Government's arrangements, a sponsor who puts in £2 million, attracting another £24 million of Government money, gets almost 100 per cent of the influence. The creation of 17 academies has brought to education only £34 million of private money. For that paltry sum, the Government have given away 17 valuable sites and total control of the education of thousands of our children. That is not a good bargain, in my opinion.

One of our main areas of concern is admissions. What happens if an academy refuses entry to a local child with special educational needs? The only power that the Secretary of State has to do anything about that is if the funding agreement has been breached. There is nothing in law to make the academies do anything relating to admissions, only to "have regard". The Government may recall my attitude to "have regard" from earlier Bills. It means next to nothing.

What can the LEA do if it is not satisfied with what those schools deliver? The track record of academies is not impressive. They have a reputation for being highly selective, and I do not believe that this is, as Mr David Miliband has claimed, a "myth". They exclude children at 10 times the national average. The King's Academy in Middlesbrough teaches creationism, a totally outlandish and discredited theory. The Government's choice agenda as epitomised by these academies seems to be selection and fees by the back door.

Local people do not want them, unless of course their local authority is being blackmailed that it will not get its money for repairs unless it considers an academy, such as happened in Newcastle. What they want is good quality, well-funded schools. If the Government want to improve education in the inner cities, as they should, they should pour money into them themselves. I recommend that as a very sound investment.

As I said, education should be a system, not just a collection of hundreds of independent unaccountable schools. This part of the Bill threatens to disengage schools from their local community. We will be seeking to amend Clauses 64 and 65 to ensure that there is a level playing field for community schools when the LEA invites proposals for new or replacement schools.

In Part 4, Clause 101 allows for schools to produce profiles instead of the annual report and meeting of parents. That is all very fine but are there any knock-on effects regarding the election of school governors—parent governors—if there is no annual meeting?

Clause 110 sets up the school workforce database and is very welcome: we have been waiting long enough. However, the powers of the Secretary of State to specify what sort of personal information goes into it appear to go well beyond what is needed for workforce planning and academic research. I will need convincing that those are not unnecessary and excessive powers.

I realise that Clause 111 is simply a technical correction to the powers of school governors to specify alternative educational provision for excluded pupils. But, especially in the light of the new sanctions, what are the arrangements about appeals? What if a child or his parents are not happy with the arrangements made for him? There are plenty of such children. Only last weekend, we learned from the Ofsted report that there are 10,000 so-called lost children, not all of whom are being educated at home. What we really need is more properly resourced in-school referral units with well trained teachers in charge. If the child simply cannot stay in the school, we need a system of managed transfer to another suitable school. In fact we need a managed transfer agency to take the problem off the hands of the school altogether.

We can move a child out of its class, or even its school, but if we move it out of its community we will produce social exclusion and alienation. Such children feel excluded not just from school but from society and often land up in the criminal justice system. That is why how we deal with them is so important. Here is another missed opportunity to take into account the Children Act 2004, in which a child's "wishes and feelings" must now be taken into account in the provision of most other services. I would like to see an excluded child have that right and a whole lot of other rights in relation to information, appeals and so on.

I have concentrated on Parts 1 and 2. My noble friends Lady Sharp and Lord Livsey will have more to say later about the other parts. I look forward to the Minister's answers to the concerns that I have raised and to working with him constructively to improve this very important Bill.

Photo of The Bishop of Chester The Bishop of Chester Bishop

My Lords, there is a great deal in the Bill that we on these Benches welcome. I am sure that noble Lords will be grateful if I do not catalogue all that we welcome but rather refer primarily to concerns which could affect the Church's stake in our diverse provision of education in England and Wales. Nor will I repeat the detailed figures that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth provided during the debate on the gracious Speech. Suffice it to say that broadly one in three schools in England is sponsored by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church or, in a much smaller number of cases, other denominations and faith communities.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth is prevented by a longstanding commitment from contributing to this debate in his capacity as chairman of the board of education of the Church of England. Although noble Lords would not recognise me as his facsimile—that is a rather alarming thought—I know what he might have said had he been here today. I am also aware that the director of the Catholic Education Service would wish to be associated with much of what I say. That is a welcome, but not unprecedented, sign of our ecumenical co-operation in education.

On the general provisions on inspection, the education service has not always expressed pleasure at the accountability to which it has been exposed since 1992. Indeed, teachers have often groaned under the burden of preparation, the rather long lead-up time and the weight of public scrutiny that regular inspections have brought. But that accountability has greatly benefited the quality of education provision in England and Wales and has therefore been to the advantage of schools and, above all, their pupils. I can vouch for that as a governor of a school going through the inspection process; it was a very helpful process overall. The Bill's proposal for a lighter-touch system of inspection with much shorter notice, reducing the agony of waiting and preparation, will be generally welcomed, as will be the basing of inspection on a school's self-evaluation. That does not necessarily imply to us a lack of rigour; scrutiny will need to be exact and even better targeted.

Schools will also welcome the intention that they should have guaranteed three-year budgets. That will allow them to plan more effectively, although the real challenge is to maintain the momentum of recent years towards real increases in the resources available to schools, after decades of underfunding. There has been progress in that area but there is still a significant way to go. It would be a mistake necessarily to characterise these measures as reflecting a lack of confidence in local authorities, which have their own respected and important place. But the culture has changed as a result of legal and administrative steps over the past 15 years, which have given head teachers and governing bodies effective control over their school budgets. They should be expected to take that process further.

The Teacher Training Agency has had an altogether remarkable success with teacher recruitment in recent years. The agency is said to have a high regard generally for the quality of teacher training. I declare an interest as the chairman of governors of University College Chester, a college founded by the Church of England in my diocese in 1839 for the training of teachers. It has grown and diversified, going from strength to strength, but still plays a major role in educating and supporting the teaching profession. The university college hopes soon to become a university in its own right, while retaining its distinctive character as a Church institution. We would be among the oldest institutions in the country to bear the title university.

The extension of the agency's powers with its change of name will bring together again responsibility for the initial and continuing professional development of teachers. That is a sign of a welcome fresh approach. The heavy emphasis in recent years on the introduction of government strategies for literacy and numeracy was understandable and at least partly successful. However, the delivery of those strategies took up much of the time and energy available for teachers' professional development. A fresh emphasis on continuing professional development with a broad scope and renewed support for academic award-bearing courses will free schools and teachers to focus on what is important for them and be a sign of renewed confidence in the teaching profession.

I said that I would mention some of our specific concerns. They relate mostly to the denominational inspection of Church and other faith-based schools. Those inspections became statutory in 1992, through the same legislative process that established Ofsted. But whereas Ofsted appoints registered inspectors for inspections of schools under Section 10 of the School Inspections Act 1996, under Section 23 of that Act the governing body of a voluntary-aided school with a religious character appoints the denominational inspector. In the case of a voluntary-controlled school with such a character, the foundation governors do that.

The system has generally worked well. In the case of the Church of England, the national society established a framework for such inspections and recruited, trained and qualified suitable inspectors, from which governors could then choose. The framework is currently undergoing its third revision, and staff of the national society are in close touch with Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools and his colleagues over the changes. Governing bodies generally seek the advice of the diocesan board of education over the appointment of an inspector and will normally follow its advice, but the advice has no statutory basis and could be ignored. A governing body could, if it suffered a moment of collective madness, lawfully appoint anyone it chose, qualified or not, to conduct a denominational inspection. There is no secure system, despite the Church's best efforts to provide good training in past years, and we think that progress could be made in that area. Roman Catholic canon law requires Catholic schools to be inspected by the bishop or his representative, but there is no provision in English statute law for the diocese to give advice which schools must heed.

There is an additional complication under these proposals. Although the law requires the Government to pay the cost of a denominational inspection where it takes place in the same year as the Ofsted inspection, it has been the practice in dioceses, agreed with Ofsted, to try to make the two inspections simultaneous or at least very close together. That enables consistency of judgment to everyone's benefit and reduces the accompanying bureaucracy and disruption to the school. With the short notice envisaged in the future plans, however, governing bodies simply will not be able to plan such simultaneity. The solution, which Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools has expressed himself willing to support in administrative terms, would be for the diocesan director of education to be trusted with confidential advance notice of a school's forthcoming inspection.

The registered inspector at the moment is so trusted, as are those whom he or she appoints to the inspection team. There is no reason why a diocese should not be equally trusted. But at present the diocese would have no power to make arrangements and to give authoritative advice to governing bodies that would allow the two inspections to continue generally to coincide. Members on these Benches will table amendments in Committee to give dioceses such powers both in England and Wales. That makes sense both theoretically and practically.

There is now a new and growing category of schools: academies. I am pleased to say that a number of them have or will have a religious character as Church of England academies. One academy planned in Liverpool by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool will have a greatly enhanced character and significance not only for the community that it will serve but as a joint Roman Catholic and Anglican academy. Those schools with a religious character should be subject to denominational inspection. An amendment will be tabled to give effect to such a provision.

Clauses 64 and 65, on school organisation, will require local authorities or other bodies such as a diocese that are contemplating creating a new school through amalgamation or a change to a school's religious character to advertise the fact locally and to seek the consent of the Secretary of State before publishing proposals. We understand that that requirement, which, on the surface, seems considerably to extend the powers of the Secretary of State, is, in fact, intended to secure diversity of provision. On that basis, it is to be welcomed, but we would be grateful for some assurances about the manner in which the Government intend to use the rather vaguely defined additional powers conferred by Clauses 64 and 65.

The Bill is yet another contribution to what one might describe as the flood tide of legislation that has broken over education provision in this country since 1986. It is less controversial and revolutionary than many earlier Bills, and it is to be hoped that it represents the arrival of calmer waters. Change must always be considered, but we believe, above all, that the education sector needs a period of consolidation and relative stability, to replenish the reservoirs of trust that any profession requires, both in the profession itself and in the wider community that it seeks to serve. In those general terms, we welcome the Bill.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

My Lords, I hope that it will not be considered any discourtesy to the House if I absent myself for an hour to attend the memorial service for the late Lord Murray of Epping Forest at 5 o'clock in the royal Robing Room. I hope to be back for the closing speeches.

I welcome the intention behind the Bill to provide a framework in which there is more trust and respect for teachers, greater freedom for schools and less burdensome control. I welcome in particular the recognition of the opportunity and the need for schools to respond to the needs of their most gifted pupils by reaching up into higher education in a limited way. I noted that the Minister referred to the possibility that the OU, which has already been helping in this area, might give a hand, as well as local universities.

I like the way that there are to be three-year budgets. That will give greater security to schools. Associated with that, if I remember rightly, is the intention to put more money into schools in each of the next three years through those budgets. I welcome the widened role of the Teacher Training Agency, which will become the Training and Development Agency for Schools. It will be able to contribute to the development of non-academic staff in schools. I have in mind, in particular, the bursars, who will manage the three-year budgets. They will need to be on top of the job, if there are not going to be accidents from time to time. I welcome the opportunity to be created by the Bill to provide services overseas and enhance this country's overseas earnings.

I welcome the new approach to school inspection, although I shall listen with respect to the views of two colleagues in the House who have greater authority and experience in such matters than I. Nevertheless, I shall want to offer a comment or two. I welcome the proposal for federated schools, which will provide an opportunity for schools to work together to offer a wider curriculum to pupils and thus serve them better. However, I have some concerns. Perhaps, they are questions as much as concerns, but I must pose them.

My first concern relates to greater freedom for schools. In their five-year strategy for schools, the Government made it clear that they wanted there to be more freedom and opportunity for successful schools to expand. They talked of an accelerated procedure for decisions on school expansion. The Government have it in mind that the three-year budgets should be flexed to respond to expansions in numbers in schools. That sounds good, but I have a concern. It touches on the role of local authorities, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred. It may be good for a school that is succeeding to expand, but any such decisions should be taken within a strategic framework for the whole community.

I shall be specific: the odds are that the more successful schools will be those serving middle-class, well healed communities and those that are doing badly will be in areas of social deprivation. I do not want to see communities that need their schools to help regenerate the community and provide the integrated services to which the Minister referred going down the pan. That would be bad. In those cases, we should not write off such schools, while their pupils are creamed off to more successful middle-class schools. There should be a means through the LEA—the noble Baroness made this point—to offer increased support for the regeneration of such schools. I hope that there will be a positive role for LEAs in that area. There will be a problem. As I read the demographics for the next 10 years, there will be declining rolls. There will be a hunger among schools to grab pupils, if there is an opportunity. There could be real danger for community schools in areas of social deprivation.

My second point of concern relates to federation. Three cheers for the concept, but, as the Secondary Heads Association has said, it needs to be facilitated, to some extent, financially. The territorial imperative is a powerful motivation; people like to keep things in their own hands. However, it may be in the interests of the pupils that schools should come together in a federation. That will not be without cost or disturbance. I agree with the Secondary Heads Association that, through the LEA—another role for the LEA—there should be some facilitation and encouragement for such mergers.

What about the three-year budgets? The Minister said that there would be consultation on that, which I welcome. It occurs to me that it is not easy to take money out of a budget quickly, if a school starts losing numbers quickly. School costs cannot be run down quickly, so there will need to be sensitive and informed thinking on how that should be done.

I wanted—with some diffidence in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark—to concentrate on the new approach to school inspections. I have said that I welcomed it, but I have some questions. It has been said in previous publications that, for a small school, inspections will take a day and, for a large school, two days. The weight of resources committed is to be one quarter of that committed in the past. That fits in well with the intention to have a lighter touch, but I notice that, in addition to the requirements of the 1996 Act, inspectors' responsibilities will include the areas identified in the Children Act. I counted up all those elements and found that they amounted to an extra 11. They are wide-ranging. They include pupils' physical and mental health and emotional well-being; protection from harm and neglect; education—I thought that that had always been the purpose—training and recreation; the contribution made by schools to society; and social and economic well-being.

That approach is stretching the inspectors' remit, in some cases, beyond what it is realistic to think that they can do. However, that is not my main point at this stage. If, in statutory terms, the inspectors are required to consider all those things, is there time to do that well—by which I mean "reliably"—in two days and with a quarter of the resources? Of course, they will work from the school's own documents, and that is good. Nevertheless, it is asking a lot of them to do all that without the resources.

I note that it has been said that the draft report should be in the hands of the school the day after the inspection. That allows very little time for the team to mull over all the issues and reach a considered judgment. I am also concerned that the intention is that reports shall be published within three weeks. For example, the governors may have to be brought in. Often, they are busy people with heavy diaries. The Bill puts them in the firing line, if the job is not done well. The relevant clause is Clause 43. Can all that be done in three weeks? I am all in favour of doing it briskly, but the most important thing is that it is done well and reliably.

That matters a great deal, not only as regards the standing of teachers—particularly the leadership team in the school—but also perhaps for the existence of the school at a time when school rolls are falling and the report will be in the public arena and parents will be reacting to it.

Is it possible to do that well so quickly? I am also concerned that there should be an effective appeals procedure so that, given that this will be in the public arena, the school is not unreasonably damaged. In the past, I have had what seemed well founded expressions of dismay, concern, despair and even anger that this has got into the public arena before there has been time for effective consideration of the accuracy, fairness and balance of the report. I think that I know of two head teachers associations that have made the same point.

I turn now to behaviour, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, referred in his speech. On previous occasions, I have referred to the Government's recognition that good behaviour in a school is essential to good learning. They have said that there is a wide problem of low-level disruption in schools. I do not propose to add to that extensive list of things that the inspectors have to look at.

In the past, I have referred to a report by a professor at the University of Sunderland, from which the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has quoted. In his view, behaviour in British schools is about the worst in the world. If we want teachers to do their jobs and to serve children well, that must be an issue which is in the minds of the inspectors.

I also want to refer to health in particular, which is tucked in the 11 extra items that arise from the Children's Act. That is not sufficient prominence. In September 2003, the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST), which was set up to provide dispassionate, well balanced advice to both Houses of Parliament, said that 15 per cent of youngsters at the age of 15 are obese. By "obese", it means that there is the potential for serious—I repeat, serious—harm to health. That is fairly desperate; 15 per cent of youths at 15 years old are obese.

The report goes on to say that it is a wider problem in society. There is a forecast that by 2010, 25 per cent of youngsters will be in that category, at a cost, according to the National Audit Office, of £3.5 billion per year. That must concern society deeply. It is not a matter that is remote from the normal job of the inspectors; for example, physical education and learning about good health. It is not the social and economic well-being of society; it is an issue that lies clearly within the remit of the inspectors.

Against the Government's view that schools should provide two hours of physical education and sport every week, Sport England did a poll and found that only one in five primary schools devoted two hours to PE. That can be identified and it matters a lot: the issue of health must engage the attention of society. It should be given more prominence than one of 11 add-on items to the requirements of the 1996 Act.

I do not draw back in any way from my opening remarks. This is a welcome initiative to reduce the burden on schools to give more trust, respect and opportunity. But there are areas of concern. This is not a Bill that has attracted any headlines in the national press. However, from what I have heard in this Chamber, there will be some lively contributions in Committee, which will be to the good of millions of children.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. As I speak, I shall pick up on some of his points. It is also a pleasure to see someone from Bolton as one of the people responding. In welcoming the Bill, I want to comment on one or two aspects of it and to explore how it might fit in with a holistic and comprehensive philosophy for education and holistic and comprehensive systems for children. I welcome the Minister's comments about agencies working together and the promise of future debate.

As a school governor who has been involved in two recent inspections, it is somewhat of a relief to know that the system is to be simplified. I welcome the fact that school self-evaluation is to be the basis for inspections. In my school, that involves talking to pupils, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred. As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, emphasised, it also certainly involves health and behaviour.

I welcome the fact that local education authorities will have to produce an action plan for recovery if a school is causing concern. I assume that that includes support, which is an important issue that again was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I welcome the notion of training for the whole school workforce and the production by governors of the "school profile" to replace the current report to parents. I welcome the references to childcare and budgeting arrangements.

I shall set out some issues relating to the Bill to which we should return; that is, the well-being of children in general, including well-being in schools. Children are not in school all of the time. This is about integration, integration, integration. Here, I am trying to balance several documents, including the new Children Act, the report, Every Child Matters, and its sequel, Change for Children, the five-year strategy for children and learners and the publication, A New Relationship with Schools.

I am also aware that there are other reports, to which noble Lords may refer, such as the Social Exclusion Unit's report, A Better Education for Children in Care and the Home Office publication, Youth Justice—the Next Steps, which are incredibly important. Their implications should contribute to our thinking and actions about how we educate and treat children and young people. Every Bill that includes children should cross-reference.

We all know that schools cannot be all things to all children, but they can make a difference to children's lives. Perhaps I may reflect on the five well-being outcomes for children listed in the Children Act that are to form the basis for inspection of schools. Indeed, in my school they already are.

Well-being is defined as physical and mental health; emotional well-being; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation; and the contribution to society and social and economic well-being. Schools can be building blocks to those outcomes, but they are only one building block—I shall say more about that later.

The report, Every Child Matters: Change for Children, spells out in more detail what each outcome means. I will not go into all of those details, but they include: choosing not to take drugs; being sexually healthy; engaging in decision making; developing self-confidence; dealing successfully with significant life changes and challenges; and developing enterprising behaviour as well as achieving stretching national educational outcomes at primary and secondary schools.

As I suspect many noble Lords would say, education is not education unless it goes well beyond academic subjects, inspires curiosity, creates aspirations and pupils learn how to learn. We might say that that is very difficult to inspect and assess. However, I believe that the interventions that encourage those qualities can be noted and assessed. If a school does not have such interventions, and concentrates simply on achieving academic targets, I believe that it is failing its pupils. Moreover, I suspect that unless those qualities are encouraged academic achievement will suffer and so will behaviour.

I give an example. Last week I took a group of 10 year-olds from a school in the Midlands around Parliament. They wrote thank-you letters, no doubt at the insistence of their teachers. One girl wrote, "I really enjoyed going round Parliament"—spelt correctly—"with you because I want to be Prime Minister when I am older". That visit encouraged self confidence and aspiration as well as interpersonal skills and literacy.

What will be in the framework for the school profile? Will school self-evaluation be encouraged genuinely to include interventions, either within or outside the curriculum, which support personal and social development? How will schools and inspectors be enabled to acknowledge and assess success in those domains? Will the existing framework for inspecting personal, social and health education be used as a basis?

That issue links to the school workforce. Some of the most exciting training I ever carried out as an adviser for health education in the Inner London Education Authority—before that body disappeared—was interprofessional training. We brought together teachers, school nurses and other professionals to consider how health education might be delivered. Surely the Bill presents an opportunity to train across professions. For example, what about schoolkeepers? At the school where I am a governor, the schoolkeeper talks to parents and children and helps with extra-curricular activity including gardening. He is part of the school team. What about school nurses? What about visitors to the school, including the police? The Change for Children report is ambitious on this subject, stating:

"delivering more integrated services requires new ways of working and significant culture change for staff used to working within narrower professional . . . boundaries".

In discussing workforce strategy in relation to the Children Bill, the Minister for Children, Margaret Hodge, stated:

"We are looking at new routes into working with children and are developing training programmes so that all professionals share a vocabulary and an understanding of child development, which will enable them to fulfil their . . . duties properly".—[Hansard, Commons, 3/3/04; col. 987.]

On inspections, Change for Children states that,

"local children's services will be held accountable for delivering improved outcomes through inspection arrangements. The inspection criteria have been developed with reference to the new national service framework and partners will want to consider this as part of their planning".

If we are to have public service agreement targets across government which are relevant to children and young people (which we have), local area agreements, the national framework for change for children and a single children and young people's plan to be drawn up by each local authority, schools must be included. The issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. I, too, was concerned over the recent Ofsted report which estimated that thousands of children are lost to the school system. If we are to deal effectively with young people excluded from school or truanting, I suggest that many agencies will need to play a part. Sadly, some pupils are beyond parental control so we cannot count on that route alone. The improved outcomes to which I have referred will depend on serious collaboration at local level.

I know that the Government's intention is for more collaborative work: it is the intention of many good local education authorities and many services for children. Many are already working in an integrated way at local level. There is good practice about. Some examples have been written about. We perhaps need more examples of good practice with schools and parents drawn more closely into the picture. By taking a look at inspections and school profiles, I hope that the Bill will contribute to integration. I find the picture complex at local level. I welcome a simple map of how the system should work which includes national service frameworks, local area agreements and so on.

When referring to inspection frameworks, school profiles, LEA action plans, targets, workforce training and so on, I make a plea that we keep in mind and in active service those five outcomes for children of which I spoke earlier: physical, emotional, social and economic well-being, education, training, recreation, and the ability to contribute towards society. I also make a plea that services for children share a vocabulary and strategies which benefit all children. I believe that we can contribute to that in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

My Lords, I wish to say a few words about Welsh aspects of the Bill which have already been mentioned as relating to the National Assembly's document, The Learning Country, which is still the Bible of the Assembly Government in Wales on Assembly education matters.

The Welsh aspects are extensive. Of the 120 clauses, 59 apply to England and Wales, 25 relate to England only, and 40 to Wales only. Of the 40 which relate to Wales only, I am told that 33 are re-enactments and seven only are really new. I am not sure that I have yet found them all but I have spotted some.

It might be argued that there should have been a separate Bill for Wales. I am sure that proposal was considered by the Government and clearly rejected for a variety of reasons. It would be of some constitutional interest to know the substance of the Government's consideration of that issue and how they came to the conclusion that a combined England and Wales Bill was to be preferred.

One advantage of having a combined Bill is that we can see the differences that are developing between the education systems in the two countries. Many of the clauses relating to Wales are enabling clauses which allow the devolved administration in Wales to follow England should it wish to do so at a later date.

That applies to the new inspectorate system, for example. Under the very sweeping powers contained in the Henry VIII clause, Clause 61, Wales could adopt the new English inspectorate system in its entirety. I understand that, currently, the Welsh Assembly Government take the view that having only recently introduced a novel common inspection framework, it is too early to change systems yet again. That sounds reasonable enough. I hope that the Assembly will read the queries raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and possible answers. What is important is that Wales should have considered the possibility of change and decided to keep its options open as to the future. The net result may give the impression of a lack of decisiveness and joined-up government at central and devolved levels but I prefer that to Wales closing off an option entirely and later regretting a missed legislative opportunity. We want the best of all possible worlds.

There is to be a panel appointed to advise the Assembly on inspection matters and, if the panel is properly composed, it can be beneficial and advantageous. Similarly, I can see the advantage of allowing the Assembly to have its say in the appointment of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector because the holder of that office reports to the Assembly.

I welcome too the inclusion of the Careers Service within the ambit of the inspectorate. Careers service companies are already covered by the Welsh inspectorate, Estyn, which is a very apt name because "estyn" means "reach" in the sense of "extend". The Careers Service has had a varied career itself within the education system. It now has a very important role, and its inclusion within the purview of the inspectorate acknowledges that importance.

I note that school governors in Wales are to continue their annual meetings with parents and to produce annual reports, although those requirements too may be abolished under another Henry VIII clause, Clause 100(3). The English experience in that context has not been a happy one by all accounts—meetings have been poorly attended—and change is clearly envisaged under the Bill. It would be interesting to know whether governors' meetings in Wales have been better attended and are not considered a "waste of time", as reported by the English governors themselves at their national council meeting last May. Governors should be an important link between parents and school.

With regard to school budgets, we are all anxious that as much of the money available should find its way to the chalk face and not be diverted elsewhere. Of course we recognise that money has to be reserved for special educational needs and similar limited purposes. But the education element, being the largest in most local authority budgets, is subject to the constant temptation to filch from it one way or another. I hope that the new arrangements for both England and Wales are thoroughly examined and tested in Committee to ensure that as many resources as possible go direct to the individual schools.

England is to introduce a three-year budget cycle. That seems a welcome proposal, but it does not apply to Wales at this stage, although again the option remains open under Schedule 16. That is another matter that we should probe in Committee. My impression of the Bill is that it is fragmentary and lacks a cohesive scheme, but I am open to persuasion. I listened carefully to the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and his glowing hopes for the Bill in terms of reducing bureaucracy and so on. However, we have heard all that before, as my noble friend Lord Hanningfield said. The approach in the Bill is still very top down rather than bottom up, which usually means more interference and bureaucracy rather than less.

The most visible current educational concern in Wales is the closure of rural schools. Only last week, there was a strong protest meeting against a Carmarthenshire proposal to close 32 small schools that are clearly highly valued by the parents of the children who attend them. What relevance does the Bill have to that situation? I dare say that at least the governors of those schools will have their say and may have some influence on the local education authority, but my answer has to be that the Bill has a limited effect on such a situation. However, I do not want to end on a pessimistic note. I am still full of hope that the Minister's optimism will be justified in the event.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Shadow Minister (Agriculture), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, I too wish to speak about the Welsh aspects of the Bill. I was interested to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, who had a very distinguished career in the Welsh Office for, I think, 13 or 14 years.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Shadow Minister (Agriculture), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I stand corrected, my Lords. The noble Lord spent those years largely in charge of education, and a very good job he did of it too. Indeed, he ploughed a furrow that was applicable to Wales in a real sense. I thank the Minister for the way in which he referred to the Welsh clauses, and also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who commended some of them generally and the principles on which they were built. Obviously I will allude to some of what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, mentioned. I shall not repeat all the Henry VIII clauses, but I shall refer to them.

The Bill is a classic case of an England and Wales Bill, as education in Wales is in fact blazing a different trail from education in England and, indeed, building on it. That is entirely logical, because education in Wales has always been somewhat different and has always gone along a different path. There has been an important and long tradition in that respect. I feel strongly that there should be a separate Welsh Bill; education in Wales deserves one. It is interesting that the Richard commission proposed giving more primary legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly, and a prime candidate to emanate from the Assembly itself would be a Welsh education Bill. We have to put the whole process through here, with two Bills really contained in one.

The England part of the Bill makes me feel somewhat uneasy, but I shall not comment on that today. There are enabling powers in the Bill that could convert some of the principles to Wales should that be required, if that were the opinion of a government in Westminster. Certainly, after a long period, exam results in Wales have improved greatly. In the very recent past, they have become better than those in England. Due credit must be given to the local education authorities and teachers in Wales, and to the National Assembly document The Learning Country, to which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred. It showed the way; Welsh Liberal Democrats had some input into that policy.

In many of the 40 clauses in the Bill that affect Wales, two statements frequently appear. One is that the Bill gives the National Assembly for Wales the power to introduce similar reforms in the future. Another version of that statement is that the Bill allows for similar provisions for Wales enacted by the National Assembly for Wales, should it wish to do so at a later date. When one looks in some detail, one finds that that can apply to the question of budgets, as in Part 4. Indeed, the number of clauses that it applies to means that such provisions can best be described as delayed enabling powers.

Fortunately, school funding in Wales will continue through the local government funding settlement. In taking the Henry VIII powers, the Assembly can create a changing legislative framework, which would be similar to England, with, for instance, powers to repeal annual parents' meetings and governors' annual reports at a later date. I tend to subscribe to the view taken by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. As a former school governor, I can say that the meetings that I attended were certainly quite well attended. As a former Member of the other place, I know that that was the case in the area that I represented. He referred to the closure of rural schools. In the 30 years before I became a Member of the other place, one primary school a year was closed in our area. I always said that enough primary schools have been closed, but I shall allude to that a little later from another viewpoint.

It is said that the school funding provisions could be repealed. We have been given the Wales Office briefing and have had a meeting on it. Its argument that the Assembly will have the flexibility to introduce the changes at a later date is not at all convincing. I believe that Wales is playing a constructive part in education at the present time and I cannot see some of these issues coming to the fore in Wales. Indeed, an unfriendly Westminster government at some future date could impose some very unacceptable functions on the Welsh education system, if they wanted to, by getting hold of these measures.

Fortunately, the bedrock of the education system in Wales will still be the local education authority. I say "thank goodness". My mother was a teacher for 25 years and a member of the NUT. I know something about the internal mechanisms of education in Wales. Indeed, I was a lecturer for some 14 years, although that was some time ago now. The educational reputation of Wales is at present being restored by the LEAs and by their teachers and it is quite right not to disturb radically that cohesion. It would be a very unwise thing to do.

When referring to Wales, it is important to recognise that geography and social conditions, whether urban or rural, dictate that choice is very often not an option. The distances between schools, the sparsity of the population and social deprivation play big parts in access to education. The luxury of opting for one school or another is nearly always not there. Housing in rural areas is often unaffordable for young people and their families. One can contrast that with the past, when a county council could build council houses and ensure the age balance in the population so that the local school had a steady stream of young people coming on to the educational ladder. That does not occur now and it contributes to the fact that schools are still being closed in Wales. The market in housing has put a stop to that social cohesion. In some parts of urban Wales, the sale of council houses has had a similar effect. That is an interesting observation.

Part 1 of the Bill refers to inspections. The fact that the chief inspector in Wales will report direct to the National Assembly for Wales, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, will, we believe, produce a better outcome than in England. In addition, the creation and introduction of an advisory panel in Wales is to be welcomed in relation to Estyn, which inspects the schools. Therefore, the legislation will ensure that there will be a separate legislative framework for school inspections in England and a completely separate system for Wales. It is important to recognise that the democratic accountability to the Assembly of inspection brings with it very welcome transparency. However, the position of contractors in carrying out inspections is questioned by some people because LEAs may be in a position to provide a similar service.

In Part 3 of the Bill, regarding Teacher Training Agency matters, the re-enactment of legislation for the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales to allocate and regulate the fees charged for teacher training courses is to be welcomed. Like the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, I believe that the provisions for the careers service are also to be welcomed. It is a very positive move indeed.

At the core of Part 4 of the Bill, which has many and various aspects—it is described as "miscellaneous" and it really is that—is the proposal for three-year budgets. I understand that it is not intended to change that option in Wales and that funding will continue to come from local government revenue settlements. Indeed, school forums will not be applied in Wales and the Assembly already has the ability to get involved with LEA targets. There are also other matters, to which I could refer. I congratulate the Government on defining the difference of education in Wales and bringing it forward. I give that a slightly warmer welcome than my Front Bench did to some aspects of the situation in England. But we will find out in Committee and I am sure that there will be amendments to that effect.

Photo of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Crossbench

My Lords, in general terms, I welcome the Bill and the provisions with regard to the inspectorate and to the Teacher Training Agency. In addition, I welcome two specific provisions in relation to schools. One that has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords is three-year budgeting, which I am sure will be a significant help in the efficient and effective running of schools.

Along with my noble friend Lord Dearing, I also welcome the provision for federated schools. But I echo his word of caution. At one time, I was head of the largest federal university in the country, as was my noble friend Lord Quirk. We bear the scars from that. I came to the conclusion that federation is not a natural state, but it is sometimes a desirable state. That means that the caution offered by my noble friend Lord Dearing—that there may need to be support for the initiation and continued success of federation, where appropriate—is important. With that qualification, I commend the possibility and flexibility provided by this clause in the Bill.

With regard to inspection, the Bill builds significantly on the Education (Schools) Act 1992 and the Education Act 1996. The Minister has been kind enough to refer to my contribution in that area. I was given the job of helping to bring to birth the concept in the 1992 Act that became Ofsted. I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Patten, is present. He was Secretary of State at the time and provided support and encouragement in bringing that difficult birth to an initial successful conclusion.

There were three fundamental principles in that Act and in the founding of Ofsted, as it became. First, it was absolutely fundamental that inspections were independent in character. Secondly, they had to be regular. Initially, a six-year pattern was established but I am pleased to see that that has developed into a three-year pattern. Thirdly, the reports—the products of inspection—had to be in the public arena and parents, in particular, and local authorities, had to have access to them.

We very easily forget how it was in the pre-1992 days. There was no regular inspection. Indeed, I met some head teachers who said that their school had never had a formal inspection in 20 years. There has been a significant gain on that. Equally, I met many teachers who said that they were occasionally confused because if the inspector turned up wearing a smart suit and driving a Ford Prefect, he was in the business of being a referee, but if he turned up in a woolly jumper and driving a Morris Minor, he was a coach. Those two roles can be confused, to the detriment of both. There was confusion and the whole point of regular independent inspection was to get rid of that. I have to say that if the inspector turned up on public transport, he would probably be late, tired and irritable.

However, I welcome this as a move forward. From the earliest days, it was envisaged that 10 or 12 years on there would be significant experience to build on and there would be change, particularly the move to a lighter touch inspection. As my noble friend Lord Dearing made plain, there is a risk that we can fill up the lighter touch with many other duties. They are important duties, but a balance has to be kept or it will not be a lighter touch.

Turning to the Teacher Training Agency, I warmly welcome the extension of its powers to include provision for staff training and the development of the whole-school workforce. That is much to be commended. If they are operating well, schools work in teams. To have an agency responsible for the development of that team seems an admirable direction to take.

I welcome also the possibility of additional services being offered by the TTA, which is to be the Training and Development Agency in due course. This latter provision is a sign of the fleshing out of the statement made recently by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills about devoting more time and energy to the international horizons of the department. There is real potential here for the department to show what is good in British education. While a lot has to be improved, there is much that is good in British education. Indeed, I declare an interest as the non-executive chairman of a small company working with Malaysian partners to set up an independent, private university engaged in teacher training in science through the medium of English in Malaysia. Why am I involved? It is partly because the Malaysians have looked at the success of British education, not least in the improvements made to teacher training over past years. They want to find out what are the best practices here and introduce those influences to that corner of the world. So in my perception this particular provision is extremely important.

None the less, I have one or two specific questions and concerns on which the Minister may care to comment or perhaps clarify as the Bill progresses through its stages. I echo the question raised earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the registration of inspectors. The Bill seems to remove the need for registration in England, but will retain it in Wales. There must be some inwardness here that I have not grasped. Why should Offa's Dyke mark the barrier at which registration becomes appropriate or inappropriate? Elucidation of that would be most helpful.

I also welcome the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester regarding religious education and denominational inspection. I have always been rather uncomfortable with the fact that the nomination of an inspector in this area was pretty much solely in the hands of the school governing body. On the whole when it works it does so very well, but some form of outside moderation, perhaps in the terms suggested by the right reverend Prelate, would be well worth considering when the Bill reaches its Committee stage.

My third and perhaps most significant concern is about the implications of the Bill for the role of parents. A close look at the Bill shows that parental responsibility is stressed in relation to attendance at school—which is absolutely right—while in many other areas parents are held very tightly responsible for what their children may or may not do. At the same time, however, the Bill will withdraw the parents' meeting; it will withdraw the governors' report, which must have been one of the points of access for parents to learn what was happening in the school; and withdraw the possibility of parents meeting inspectors when they are in the school.

I have heard good reasons for each of those points, but taken cumulatively they suggest that the role of parents is being diminished rather than enhanced. I listened carefully to what the Minister had to say about this. However, I felt that we were told more about what was about to go rather than what would replace it. The replacement was devolution, and not surprisingly he could not be very specific about that. That is right because it is the responsibility of schools and local education authorities to ensure that parents are aware of what is happening in their children's schools. However, it is very important to look at how this can be positively encouraged, as distinct from being merely pushed down the system.

When I was in the inspectorate, we noticed that one of the key criteria for successful schools was that of leadership and the role of the head teacher. However, over recent years I have become even more aware, as the result of conversations with teachers and head teachers, that the second key criterion is the role, attitude and aspirations of parents. That can make a complete difference to the way in which a school carries out its proper duties and responsibilities. Hence, I regard with a little regret how the Bill seems to take parents further out of the picture without giving them specific routes back into the system, albeit in more creative and effective ways.

I have one suggestion that the Minister may care to consider. Within the protocol for inspections, the inspector might be asked to comment specifically on the relationship between the school, the head teacher and teachers, and parents. I do not suggest that this is a matter for inspection in the sense of making judgments because often such relationships are not wholly within the control of the school, but if there is good practice out there, I suspect that the inspectorate is in the best position to garner and feed it back into the system for other schools. Many head teachers have spoken to me of difficulties encountered partly because relations with parents are not as strong as they could be and ought to be. I leave that specific suggestion with the Minister, and I thank him for the careful way in which the Bill was introduced.

Photo of Lord Chan Lord Chan Crossbench 5:06 pm, 13th December 2004

My Lords, I welcome this Bill because it has the potential to improve the experience of parents and children in our education system whose first language is not English. Changes are to be made to the inspection of schools, to the Teacher Training Agency, and to the involvement of parents, in that schools are to be encouraged to develop a more proactive role for them. Last, I mention the role of local authorities to act as strategic leaders under the Children Act 2004 and to intervene when things go wrong. School inspections are to be made at three-yearly intervals and will focus on outcomes of schools, which in turn will be given three-year budgets. That should provide opportunities for children from some minority ethnic groups who are currently failing in our system.

Although ethnic minority groups form 8 per cent of the UK population, by the end of the present decade they are projected to account for half of the growth in our working age population because they are comparatively young. For example, 38 per cent of Bangladeshis and 35 per cent of Pakistanis are under the age of 16, compared with 19 per cent of white people. These are the findings of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations at the University of Warwick.

While Chinese and Indian pupils outperform white students at GCSE, black Caribbeans, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis have similar low levels of GCSE attainment. A significant proportion of black children, particularly boys, are excluded from school. We know that school exclusion leads to failure in education and contributes to a whole host of community problems such as crime, as well as problems with mental health. Solutions found to the problems affecting our ethnically diverse groups will often yield benefits for the general population. Our ethnic minority groups are unevenly distributed around the country, mainly in England, and just under half live in Greater London.

Raising educational standards for all pupils is essential if everyone is to be given the opportunity to realise their full potential in an inclusive, fair and prosperous society. But this task will prove particularly challenging for some ethnic minority groups, who tend to live in areas of deprivation and in lower social classes. For example, Pakistani families are twice as likely as white families to be classified as semi-skilled or unskilled.

Social class-related factors specific to some ethnic minority groups include a lack of fluency in the English language; unfamiliarity with the workings of the education system; a lack of role models; teaching based on unfamiliar cultural norms; low expectations of teachers and parents; and racial abuse and harassment. Would school inspections identify these factors, ones which local authorities are to be responsible for improving in partnership with community groups and agencies?

Social class problems manifest differently in different ethnic groups. For Bangladeshis, low family income, poor parental education and a lack of fluency in the English language are common. For black Caribbeans, educational disadvantage is related to low expectation of achievement from schools and society, exclusion from the classroom of boys, negative peer pressure, lack of role models and high numbers of single parent families. For Pakistanis, low achievement in education includes factors such as high family unemployment—resulting in poverty—low teacher and parental expectations, negative peer pressure and parents who do not speak English.

In March 2003, the Department for Education and Skills launched a consultation document entitled Aiming High: Raising Achievement of Minority Ethnic Pupils as part of its new ethnic minority achievement strategy. This was linked to a three-year Teacher Training Agency strategy focused on improving the quality of trainee teachers' skills and knowledge about how to raise attainment of pupils from diverse backgrounds.

The Strategy Unit of the Cabinet Office also published its final report, Ethnic minorities and the labour market, in March 2003. It observed that the DfES had implemented policies that would have some effect on closing the attainment gap between low achieving ethnic minority groups and the white population. These policies included excellence in cities, extended, specialist and beacon schools, Sure Start and the standards agenda.

The Strategy Unit of the Cabinet Office concluded that, despite attainment targets at LEA level, schools did not give sufficiently high priority to ensure that ethnic minority pupils do not systematically underachieve. Publishing attainment results by ethnicity is one way of encouraging schools to pay attention to educational underachievement. Will ethnic group data on the educational achievement of schools therefore be included in school reports?

The Teacher Training Agency has developed a three-year strategy to assist initial teacher training providers to train new teachers to tackle attainment problems among all their pupils. It has been estimated that four-fifths of current cohorts of student teachers expect to teach in ethnically diverse schools at some point in their career.

Pupils from Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities would benefit from teachers who are better able to incorporate English language development into the teaching of a wide range of subjects. Pupils with challenging behaviour should benefit from teachers who are better able to identify these issues and provide solutions. The new training and development agency should train teachers to improve the educational attainments of these communities. We look forward to seeing whether this takes place.

My third concern is that of provision for children under five years from culturally diverse backgrounds. The DfES published a five year strategy for children and learners in July this year in which it promised greater personalisation and choice; the opening up of services to new and different providers and new ways of delivering services; freedom and independence for head teachers and school governors; a major commitment to staff development; and partnerships with parents and others who can maximise life chances for children.

I have information on Bangladeshi families with young children who live in Birkenhead and Wallasey and whose life-pattern would not fit into the recommendations. Children, for example, are cared for at home by their mothers, who do not go out to work and have no incentive to make use of nurseries. Because their mothers do not speak English, the children do not develop English as a second language. Our local Bangladeshi mothers want a centre where they can learn to speak English, and they need to be encouraged to let their young children play with children from white and other communities. These disadvantages will not be identified in routine inspections of nurseries.

Finally, greater parental involvement in their children's education is to be encouraged—the provisions in the Bill are welcome and are to be applauded—but if parents who are migrants are to benefit from the arrangements they will require the help of bilingual, trained interpreters. The removal of communication barriers due to language and cultural differences by the provision of trained interpreters will not only improve parent-teacher relations but also prevent the segregation on ethnic lines that was apparent in the Lancashire towns of Blackburn, Burnley and Oldham, where community conflict and disturbances took place in 2001.

Schools and schoolchildren continue to be a central route for building cross-ethnic relationships, harmony and inclusion. The Bill has the potential to improve the education of the ethnic minority groups which are currently failing in our system.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I welcome the Bill. I thank my noble friend for the excellent way in which he presented its substantive contents in his introductory speech. Like most noble Lords, I welcome the main principles of the Bill, particularly the light-touch inspection by Ofsted and the desire to give individual schools much greater budgetary responsibility. I am sure that it is taking us in the right direction.

However, there are a number of conditions which have to be satisfied in order to ensure that we make the most of these changes. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, implied in his interesting contribution, we have to be assured that Ofsted is up to the task of running these new light-touch inspections. Secondly, as the Bill will place great responsibilities on governing bodies, particularly in relation to the budgetary freedom that they are to be given, again we have to be assured that the governing bodies are in a position to accept such responsibilities.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, in regard to parental involvement. I understand the arguments for moving away from the "token" meetings which are sometimes held between schools and parents, but we have to be careful not to disenfranchise parents from some of the circumstances described in the Bill.

Finally, this is such a general Bill that it allows us to pursue hobby horses. I hope that we might use the Committee stage as an opportunity to discuss how we can encourage schools to do more in relation to school trips, and to take up the points that have been made about health and sports in schools. These issues lend themselves to discussion, particularly in relation to the judgments that Ofsted will have to make in its quick, light-touch inspections.

As regards Ofsted, the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, rightly said that the result of Ofsted has been a distinct improvement in the quality of education in our schools. I have no doubt about that whatever. We are indebted to Ofsted. Over the years the quality of its inspections has improved and many of its inspectors are people of high quality.

But we need to bear in mind that Ofsted inspections can be stressful occasions for teachers. An adverse inspection will almost invariably lead to loss of post for the head teacher. The reputation of a school which Ofsted judges to be seriously weak will go down in the community, and it will be many years before its reputation can be turned around. That means that Ofsted inspections have to be of a very high standard.

Anyone reading the Times Educational Supplement on a weekly basis or listening to teachers will know that there has been, overall, a distinct improvement in the way that Ofsted conducts its inspections. I have no doubt about that whatever. However, we are still hearing, rather too frequently, of inspections that are not so well conducted: of inspectors who are rude to teachers; of inconsistency between one inspector and another; of a lack of robust evidence to justify assertions made in the report on an individual school; of inspection teams who are composed of people who are actually rather out of date from life in today's classrooms; and inspection teams who sometimes have little knowledge or insight into the particular features of the school that they are inspecting.

For me, such a problem was highlighted by the recent inspection in Lordswood Girls' School in Birmingham, which is an excellent girls' school. The headteacher felt that the report of the inspection team did not square with the events of the four or five days' inspection process. With great industry she ploughed through the reports on the web. She was particularly concerned about the section in the Ofsted report on leadership and management. Lo and behold, she found that the report on her school seemed to be a direct lift from a report on leadership and management in another school, Parkside School, many miles away. To be fair, she has gone through the complaints process. Ofsted has acknowledged a number of errors and duplication of the leadership and management section in the report and said that it was not acceptable. However, the lead inspector has not apologised to the school and is apparently still lead inspecting.

Of course, my noble friend will not comment on one particular report and I do not pretend that the work of Ofsted is easy. When one is responsible for inspecting thousands of schools, there are bound to be some issues around ensuring robustness and consistency. However, the impact of an adverse Ofsted inspection is so dramatic on an individual school that, during the process of this Bill, we want to hear rather more about how Ofsted will ensure that its inspections are of the highest quality.

I have read with great interest the DfES/Ofsted report, A New Relationship with Schools. It sets out very sensible ideas in terms of the framework for the new inspection and I have no doubt that, overall, it will be successful. I was particularly interested in the intention to use serving head teachers in future inspections. One thing that I observed from my experience in the health service is that the inspectorate is composed almost entirely of serving NHS professionals. Ofsted inspections would increase in credibility if there were either a head teacher or a serving senior teacher on every inspection team. That would enormously improve the credibility of those inspection teams. Again, I hope that we can pursue that in the passage of this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, raised the issue of parents and their involvement in Ofsted inspections and the annual report to governors and so forth. It is a pity that parents will no longer have an opportunity to meet the inspection teams when they undertake their Ofsted inspections. I understand that Ofsted is disappointed with the turnout, and I suspect that it feels that parents who do turn up do not represent the body of the parents as a whole. Fair enough, but as someone who does try to turn up to these meetings, I would find it difficult to learn that an inspection was taking place in one of my children's schools and I did not have the opportunity to go to a meeting. I do not believe that it is impractical to organise such a meeting. Even if two days' notice is given, many parents would turn up to an Ofsted meeting. I hope that my noble friend will give sympathetic consideration to ensuring that there is some face-to-face dialogue between the Ofsted team and parents during an inspection.

I turn briefly to the budgetary responsibility that will now be given to individual schools, which I welcome. There is no doubt that the more responsibility that is given to individual schools, the more most of those schools will be able to do to take advantage of that flexibility. I am sure that we all wish to remove a lot of the current bureaucracy from schools to allow them to get on with the real job of teaching students and pupils. But we should recognise that giving budgetary responsibility to governing bodies brings great responsibilities. I ask my noble friend, what can we do to ensure that governors have the support and expertise to accept that responsibility?

In my own LEA, in Birmingham, there is an excellent school support service and I know that other LEAs are similarly positioned, but we need to do more than that. We must think about how we can ensure that governors are prepared to take up those responsibilities. Governors are unpaid and give their time free of charge and we know that the responsibility of governors today is much tougher than 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

The converse of this—where things may go wrong—is where there is a weak governing body and a strong head, but a strong head who is taking the school in the wrong direction. Many of us have experienced that position. There must be a safeguard either within the Bill or in the infrastructure arrangements that ensures that, in such situations, either the governing body is encouraged to ensure that it exercises proper stewardship or that there is a way in which the LEA or some other body can intervene to help the governors discharge their responsibilities appropriately. I speak from experience. Schools can have a strong head and a lack of proper governance and there are real difficulties at the end of the day. Having said that, these are issues that we can debate very fully in the passage of the Bill. I have no doubt whatever that the Bill itself is going in the right direction and will ensure that, as we have seen over the past few years, standards will be rising year by year in our schools.

Photo of Baroness Perry of Southwark Baroness Perry of Southwark Conservative

My Lords, on my count we find ourselves debating the 11th education Bill in seven years of the current Labour Government. I ask the House to note the comment of the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association who said that his biggest wish was for a holiday from legislation on schools. No doubt his sentiment is echoed by many heads and teachers.

The Minister must have been feeling a very warm glow from the number of times in the past hour or two that he has heard the word "welcome"—many of us are welcoming many aspects of the Bill. I start by saying—not many noble Lords have mentioned this point—that I welcome the opportunity for competent, and I stress competent, providers from the private sector to bid to run schools. Healthy competition does drive up standards and it is a positive part of the Bill.

I also welcome, although with some queries that we will no doubt go into in Committee, the extension of the remit of the Teacher Training Agency. To have one agency that is able to look across the whole of the workforce in schools and look at its training and development needs is a positive move.

Thirdly, I welcome—I think—the permission for schools to run short modules in higher education for their brighter students. I ask myself exactly what that will lead to. Many years ago, when I was working in the United States, I observed high schools there that had a programme of advanced placement for very bright students. They were able to take the first year of a university course, and the university then gave them credit for it and they entered a year later. If very bright young people are taking a considerable amount of a university course in the sixth form, let us hope that universities will give them proper credit for that. I commend the longstanding advance placement programme which has survived for some decades in the United States and proved very successful in motivating very bright children.

I will confine my remarks today mainly to Part 1 of the Bill, the part which deals with inspection and the lighter touch. I welcome any attempt by the Government to remove some of the burden from schools—although I note, alas, that the Bill does nothing to relax the burden of regulation and the setting of targets from which schools suffer. I welcome also the introduction of the concept of self-evaluation, another concept which is long recognised in the United States.

At one time in my ancient career I was one of the accreditors of American high schools in New England, and that was built entirely on the concept of the school evaluating itself, going through a very rigorous programme of self-evaluation. We moved in as an accrediting team to cross-check their own self-evaluation. It was pleasant very often actually to upgrade what they had said about themselves. They were better than they thought they were, in our opinion.

Having said that, I have some concerns. Perhaps I should begin by declaring my interest. I spent 17 years as an HMI in the ancien régime, which now seems to be in the process of being discredited although I am personally very proud of the record of what HMI did. It was doing a very different job from Ofsted and I think that it did it in ways that were to the benefit both of Ministers in the Department for Education and children and parents.

However, despite that 17 years' scar on my reputation, I should like to claim my credentials as being far from resistant to change. Indeed, I was fortunate enough to be one of those at the famous Chequers weekend in 1991 in which the then Prime Minister was discussing how he could take forward his plans for changing the culture of the public services through the Citizen's Charter. I was lucky enough to be able to lead the discussion on inspection and how it could bite on standards. From that discussion, the setting up of Ofsted took place. So I feel I have a small part in the birth of Ofsted.

At that seminar, I emphasised and advocated, first and most important—and this is relevant to what we are discussing; I promise that it is not history—the importance of the independence of the inspectorate and of the regularity of inspection. Our reports had been made public since 1991, so the public could see what was said about schools and about the education system in various aspects. Finally—and this is where we come to my concerns about the proposals today—I emphasised the importance of the involvement of a minority of lay membership on every inspection team.

The latter proposal was to enable the lay member of the team—or lay members if there were two, who were nevertheless a minority—to ask the layperson's "idiot question", to remind the professionals that however elegant the structures or innovative the ideas of teachers and lecturers, the outcome must be to the benefit of the students and pupils learning. So although the layperson is able to ask that question, are the pupils actually helped by it? Is it improving things?

The point of my emphasising that is that the rest of the inspection team, not only in the old days but in the early days of Ofsted under the excellent leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, was professional. It was the professional judgment of people who were experienced and expert in the area of education that was being inspected.

My fear is that the Bill's provisions blur the lines between the layperson and the professional in a way that I regard as wholly unsatisfactory. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, under Clause 59, Section 10 of the 1996 Act is repealed and the chief inspector will be able to appoint additional inspectors who are not registered in any way, have not been through any of those rigid quality controls that were set up for registration, and may not even have any appropriate expertise in the nature of the education provision that is being inspected. I find that extremely worrying.

I hope—and I hope that I am wrong—that that is not being proposed because Ofsted is taking on the rather large task of inspecting child minding, day care and so on, and that the temptation of civil servants and even—dare I say it?—of Ministers is to think, "For very small children it does not really matter whether you are expert or not". I believe very strongly, being no expert in early-years education myself, that it is just as important to have experienced and expert people looking at the education of very young children as it is to have physicists inspecting physics A-level or historians or whatever.

Someone should of course be there to represent the interests of the parents. We want the laypeople there. But the majority of any inspection team in this important phase of education, as in all phases, should be undertaken by those who understand the needs of little people for appropriate toys, equipment, play and rest in order to explore and understand their world. The psychologists tell us that 40 per cent of all academic learning takes place before the age of five. It is a terrifying thought. So let us, for goodness' sake, have input not only from good parents but from professionals expert in the inspection of this field.

I should like to echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, about his concerns regarding the shortness of these light inspections. Ofsted inspections very often involved 10 or 12 people for the best part of a week, but even then, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said—and I am so glad that he said it—they often got it wrong. That needs to be said. It is no criticism of the splendid work being done by the majority of Ofsted inspectors. However, some really serious mistakes have been made. In the debate on inspection on 9 September, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred to two particularly bad cases which match the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

If they get it wrong with that number of people in that number of days, how much more wrong can they get it when they have only a couple of days? I feel deep concern at the proposal. No matter how carefully they are structured, these judgments can affect the reputation of the school and its teachers, staff and pupils for many years to come. It is no fun looking for a job if you are a teacher, or looking for a job or a university if you are a sixth-former, if you come from a school that has been declared as unsatisfactory.

Finally, I repeat again that I grieve at the downgrading of mature professional judgment as a key element in inspection. The framework which has been piloted in the current year for the light-touch inspections smacks far too much of bureaucratic ticks in boxes, moving away from professional judgments which in courts of law and parental minds were trusted for more than 100 years. Much of what the ticks in boxes require could be performed by a clerical officer with no knowledge of education at all. That would not be progress, if that is what we end up with. I agree that there must be change; change is right. However, let it, please, be change for the better and not change for the worse.

Photo of Lord Moser Lord Moser Crossbench

My Lords, as it is late in the debate I shall confine myself to one broad general point, though I too, like most others, want to welcome the direction of the Bill and some of the specifics. It obviously is of particular importance in improving inspection. I myself could also quote examples from my grandchildren's schools, where inspection of an inadequate kind has been positively harmful to the lives of the children, which is ultimately what matters. So I welcome both the focus on an improved and "light touch"—an unusual government idea, but I welcome it—inspection and the central role given to what we hope will be improved teacher training.

I wish to comment on a broad issue. The Bill inevitably, and rightly, is confined to organisational and structural changes—that is the role of legislation. I do not mind that and I expect it. But whenever I see, not just from this Government but from all the governments in my long life, structural and organisational changes taking front place, I ask myself what the ultimate benefit will be to those who really matter. Those who really matter are the children. The Minister, in his opening remarks, referred to that, which I welcome. Moreover, the Bill as a whole is prefaced by the comment that this is,

"the first piece of legislation to take forward our five-year strategy for children and learners".—[Hansard, 30/11/04; col. 387.]

It is another set of building blocks in a long-term strategy.

We have seen many such building blocks over the past few years and I pay tribute to some enormous successes in our educational world in those years—notably in pre-school education and in the primary years. The primary years have been radically transformed for the benefit of young children, both through teaching quality, teaching quantity, the buildings and, perhaps not quite so much, through the curriculum. But they have been remarkably transformed, which is good news.

The same could be said of some other parts of the education system, but that could not be said of secondary education, which is still in dire straits. I know that there are improvements in the pipeline. I particularly welcome the Tomlinson report and I hope that it will obtain speedy acceptance from the Government and others, but, on the whole, there are still some appalling problems in our secondary schools. This is partly due to history and partly due to constant changes in structures and curricula. No one quite knows where he is and there are many problems.

I wish to be brief, so I shall confine myself to the matters that worry me most in secondary education. I shall ask the Minister not to assure us but to explain, more than he was able to in his introduction, how the changes in the Bill will help solve those problems. There are four problems, three of which I shall deal with quickly, which are all crises and are subjects close to my heart.

First, mathematics is a crisis, as we all know, and the Government have now appointed a mathematics tsar, Professor Hoyles, which is good news. Meanwhile, there are thousands of vacancies and a third of universities are having to introduce remedial courses in numeracy and mathematics. Secondly, the situation regarding languages is not just a crisis, it is shameful. It is shameful how poorly our children are educated in languages in a country such as this that has pretensions to be international and European. It will not do. Thirdly, in music, in which I am particularly interested, decline has been so radical that hardly anyone studies music in schools any longer. It is a great shame to anyone interested in that subject.

Those are passing references to the teaching problem, so I ask myself—and perhaps I may more usefully ask the Minister—to what extent will the improvements in the now renamed TTA help? I feel sure that they will help, but quite often a structural change loses its way in actually improving the lives of those who matter.

So I end with the fourth matter, which I believe is the most vital of all. I dare to do so , because the Minister referred to it in the debate on the gracious Speech. I refer to literacy and numeracy—above all, literacy, which was well discussed in that debate. I declare a past interest, because about three years ago I was the author of a report on adult literacy which had shaking results.

Noble Lords may think that that is a long way removed from the schools—but that is not the case at all. Adult illiteracy in this country is the worst in Europe, apart from Poland. We are second from bottom in the league table. It is still the case that some 20 per cent of children leave secondary school unable to read or write. I return to the early years of school; and the Minister in the debate on the gracious Speech rightly gave credit to the enormous improvements in literacy in primary schools. So much so, that we can now boast that most 11 year-olds can read, write and do numbers.

If we were to stop there, we would be complacent. Unfortunately, by about three years into the secondary years that gain has been lost. It is one of the major crises of our educational system that shortly into secondary education, children who learnt to read and write and, up to a point, to do numbers in primary schools, can no longer do so for all of the reasons to do with secondary education's pressures and so on.

To me, this is the basis of the educational pyramid. How can we expect children to learn better in other subjects as they continue? How can we stop so many leaving at 16 and how can we stop so many thereafter becoming illiterate and innumerate adults? That is one of our country's disgraceful problems. The question to the Minister and the Government is this: while I and others welcome the structural and organisational changes summarised in the Bill, to what extent do the new inspectors' roles and functions, and do the new powers of the TTA and so on, help us overcome the sort of problems that I have mentioned?

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, must be pretty pleased with the way that the debate is going—and quite right, too. In many ways, this is a very reasonable Bill. But such a wide-ranging and uncontentious Bill gives us all, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said, an opportunity to ride our own hobby-horses. That is typical English deprecation—they are not hobby-horses at all, they are thoroughbreds with a good chance of winning the Derby. They are absolutely the horses of the moment. I very much hope that during the proceedings on the Bill we will see one or two of them canter home as amendments. They certainly deserve to. Mine is to enter a plea for the evaluation of Ofsted.

The Department for Education and Skills understands very well the value of evaluation. If you make an application under one of the DfES's grant programmes to do something innovative, you will be told informally that about 20 per cent of your budget should be devoted to evaluation, because it is through evaluation that results gain credibility; it is through evaluation that you can improve what you are doing; and it is through evaluation that something can be picked up, understood and taken on by other people.

That is the position if you are looking for £100,000. If you are spending £1 billion—perhaps that is what we have spent on Ofsted to date, perhaps more—what would you think had been spent on evaluation? I can give the exact figure—nothing. To some extent that was due to the character of a previous chief inspector who is not present and that seems to have continued. It is terribly destructive because evaluation should be an enormously positive force. I am not talking about spending 20 per cent of the budget, but £1 million or £2 million a year from Ofsted's budget should be going into independent evaluation by independent people who look at the methods used by Ofsted, the credibility of those methods and the way in which they can be improved. They should take a good, long look at Ofsted's data and ask, "What else can we do with these?"

Looking back to the BSE crisis, there were some lovely scientists in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but it was only when they opened up their data to outside people that we understood what was going on. It was there all the time but not in the imagination or experience of those scientists.

All the data that Ofsted has must be a resource that is used but, more particularly, it must allow itself to be criticised. All kinds of useful questions can be asked. For example, how does the evaluation undertaken by Ofsted match up with value added systems? We do not know. Why do we not know? Many data are available and it is easy to find out the answers but Ofsted has not allowed that in the past. How well do the systems that Ofsted uses measure how we are doing in relation to kids with SENs or kids from difficult backgrounds? How do we tell how well we are doing for kids whose expertise is vocational rather than academic? All these things are answerable.

Many longitudinal studies are taking place in the health service and we utilise them for just that purpose. There is all the great work done with NICE. The health service is way ahead of education in this respect, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, deserves some personal praise for having been part of that. It is time that the Department for Education and Skills caught up. In a way, it spends a great deal of money on research in supporting the universities, but it does remarkably little in respect of one of its core activities—that of inspection. Much benefit would flow from that and I hope that it can be given some encouragement.

I want to pick up, and place a bet on, some other hobby-horses of noble Lords. I shall start with that of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, concerning the involvement of parents. I agreed with everything that he said and I agreed, too, with his prescription for dealing with it—that is, giving the inspectors a remit to report on how good the relationship is between a school and its parents.

I spend much of my time—my wife would say a great deal too much time—editing the Good Schools Guide. But it is clear that many of the schools that we put in the guide in areas where one would not necessarily expect a school to be good are there because of the way that they are supported by parents. I shall pick out one example. There is a primary school in north London which is enormously sought after these days. It is sought after because 15 per cent of the children are Kosovan-Albanian refugees and their commitment to education has infected the whole school. It does not take the whole parent group to do that; it just takes enough.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, picked up a related question very well—the way in which the spirit of the school is perceived among the children, and it can be extraordinarily different from the way that teachers and parents see the school. I remember that to be the case from my own school. If you had asked the children and teachers at my secondary school to describe life there, they would have come up with totally opposite visions. It was only when the catharsis was reached at the end of my period there and the teachers realised what life was actually like for the kids that something was done about it.

The spirit of a school is enormously important to the pupils. It resides within the pupil body but does not travel much to the teachers. It will decide how boys view learning, how girls view personal relationships and how bullying is established and dealt with. It is true that the teachers can do something about it—they should be interacting with it—but, for an inspection to be good, it is enormously important that the children are listened to properly.

Another area on which we could listen to the children is the curriculum. The noble Lord, Lord Moser, bewails the end of maths and, on other occasions, I have noted the decline in history. But the curriculum is incredibly boring and totally irrelevant. Kids and adults are fascinated by history programmes on television, but the history that we are asked to follow in school is just dull.

Not long ago, I was helping my son through GCSE mathematics. I have spent my life with figures but have used nothing that was in the curriculum. Yet successful and almost impenetrable books, such as In Code: A Mathematical Journey, are gobbled up by many people because there is an awful lot about mathematics which is wonderful and fascinating and about which we all want to know. An appreciation of risk would do us no harm at all, but it does not feature in the curriculum. There is so little in the maths curriculum that has an interface with most people's real lives. If we listened to the kids, we would do much better at designing the curriculum.

Another body to which we should listen in the context of the Bill is the universities. There is a proposal that some HE courses should be taken in secondary schools. That is fine, but will Oxbridge give them any value? That is what killed the AS-levels. The decent universities said, "Well, yes, you've done these five AS-levels but we are actually interested in the three A-level results". We never brought the universities on board in implementing that change and so they did not accept it. If someone suggests to some poor kid, "Why not do an Open University module in philosophy because it will broaden your education?", the reply will be, "Well, actually it will take away three hours a week from studying for my three A-levels, which is what this narrow-minded university is going to insist on". How can you ask a kid to take that kind of decision? We must bring the universities on board if we are to go down that road.

I want to pick up another point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. She referred to Clause 66, which concerns the rationalisation of school places—a matter that my noble friend on the Front Bench bewailed, as do I. In order to have choice, we must have a decent number of unused school places. I want to mention those extraordinary academies run by nauseating creationists. I find them gut-wrenchingly awful. I had better say that now because Mr Blunkett is about to make it a criminal offence to express such an opinion of creationists. None the less, people may want to send their children to that kind of school. But we should not put ourselves in the position where the supply of school places is so small that a certain school cannot be avoided because it is the only secondary school within reach.

However, I thoroughly approve of allowing that kind of eccentricity. Why do we not have Mr Badley back again and all those founders of broad and extraordinary education? We should allow them to start schools again but only if parents are not forced, by circumstances and geography, to use them. This must be a matter of choice, and that requires that we have a surplus of school places. Therefore, I shall want to understand why Clause 66 is in the Bill at all. This should be a local matter and, indeed, a surplus of places should be encouraged.

I conclude by referring to what the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said about LEAs being champions of the child and the family. That is a wonderful vision, is it not, but are we not a very long way from that now? Let us look at the LEAs as champions of looked-after children. If I am to go on the record regarding what LEAs have achieved for the children in their care, I shall ask whether they are the sort of people that I want as champions and friends of myself and my children. In my view, they really need to look after their own before they start looking after mine.

LEAs are facing a terrible difficulty in that many of their responsibilities incur costs. In theory, the LEA should be the great champion of children with special educational needs, but the situation is exactly the opposite: they are fighting to keep them out; they are fighting not to recognise the need because they cannot deal with the budgetary response. Another child with autism will cost £250,000 a year. Where will the LEAs find that money? They have already allocated the money to schools. Can they drag it back? They cannot, so they find a way of putting the diagnosis off for a year so that they can deal with it in the next year's budget.

Many parents of children with special needs find the process of getting the children diagnosed and supported long, tedious and confrontational. It should not be that way. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. It should be a process that the LEAs are supporting. We must think through a structure which enables an LEA to take a supportive position and which does not place on it countervailing financial pressures. The same arguments apply to pupil referral units, which LEAs should be supporting far more, but all that costs money.

If one knows one has to provide support to do things well, but money comes from what is now a very narrow discretionary budget for LEAs and education, we have to consider how to enable LEAs to become friends and how we take away the pressure that forces them in the other direction. I hope we shall be able to explore that in Committee because I entirely approve of the sentiments of the noble Lord. I would just like to see them become reality.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I too warmly welcome the Bill and the policies informing it, as far as I can, with my rather limited experience of educational matters. I welcome the policy, of which the Bill forms a part, behind the legislation. I believe it allows teachers more freedom to think more carefully about what individual children best need to fulfil their educational needs.

I am put in mind of a visit that I made to a primary school about three years ago. The head teacher had taken the school out of failing-school status into succeeding-school status. In the three years preceding her arrival, 60 teachers had left. In 2002, only one teacher left. Over the course of a morning, we discussed the situation for teachers. From our discussion I received the impression that historically we had treated teachers as technicians because of the difficulties that had been experienced in the past in relation to decent teacher training and teaching. From above, we have forced them to fit into a very controlled mould. The head teacher hoped that we would move towards a situation in which teachers were given more responsibility and freedom so that they—the closest to the children—could give them what they need.

In passing, the reason that that school was so successful was that it had a number of funding supplies, such as from Excellence in Cities, and from the European Union. So the head teacher had more control over a sizeable budget which she could use imaginatively. I imagine that three-year budgets will be helpful in allowing head teachers to be imaginative, tailoring the education to the needs of the children in the school. I welcome the extensive consultation undertaken by the DfES with teachers in developing that point. It does not happen in all legislation that comes our way.

I welcome the changes in the inspection regime. The wife of a friend of mine is a primary school teacher. She has two children—seven and three years-old. My friend said to me that he was worried that his wife was not getting enough time with the children because she had to work late into the night and rise early in the morning. He was talking of her writing reports on the children for the parents and another set of similar reports, but with differences, for the school. That took up much of her time and she felt that no one would pay much attention to them in the end. I believe that elements in the Bill will deal with such a situation. Also the less burdensome inspection will probably make her life easier and enable her to be a more effective teacher.

I have some concern about deregistering inspectors, which was also voiced by my noble friend Lord Sutherland and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. A few weeks ago I spoke to the manager of a children's home where recently the inspection regime has changed with the introduction of the Commission for Social Care Inspection. That children's home was inspected by someone with no experience of children's homes, but with experience of care homes. The manager emphasised that that was a difficulty—and not just in her own experience. We need to know that those inspecting schools have the right experience to carry out a proper job and command the confidence of those whom they inspect.

I welcome the increased autonomy for schools, but I wish to mark my concern about the tension that exists that the minority of very vulnerable children in schools is not compromised. We need to consider the 1 per cent of children in schools who are looked after by local authorities, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred. In the past, there has been excellent guidance on the education of those children, but it has not been fully implemented. I refer to the designated teachers for looked-after children and personal education plans.

When we consider inspectors I hope that we take to heart what my noble friend Lord Sutherland has said about involving parents and checking that parents are involved. We must check that the corporate parents of those children are involved and that there is good communication between local authorities and schools. Mainly, that was mediated through the designated teacher and the personal education plans.

Some years ago, in my early 20s, I worked for three weeks with a group of children suffering from disabilities. One lovely, very effervescent girl, Victoria, suffered from Down's syndrome. Unfortunately, she would just disappear; she was so hard to control. We could not work out how to manage her. One day, driving back in the bus, the teacher running the group began to tease her about her boyfriend, David, and her relationship with him. Looking back, I believe the teacher was frustrated at not being able to control the child and he was taking it out on her by teasing her over someone about whom she felt embarrassed and about something with which she could not deal.

That was many years ago. I should have mentioned in my introduction that it is interesting to see the Ofsted report commenting on how much better qualified teachers are. In the past, I have heard with great interest the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who preceded the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, in his post, emphasise the very positive reports produced by Ofsted each year on the quality of teaching and teachers.

I hope that that kind of practice is a long way behind us now, but I want to ensure that there continues to be good communication between local authorities and schools so that teachers are properly sensitised to areas that may become a problem. I do not want to dwell on looked-after children especially, so I shall not go further on that point.

To conclude, I very much look forward to working on the Bill. I hope that the measures implemented under the Bill may result in my friend's wife spending a little more time with her children and being able to be more creative in her teaching; and that she will not feel as constrained as she has in the past.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Shadow Minister, Education & Skills

My Lords, various noble Lords participating in the debate have referred to the Bill as a relatively uncontentious Bill. Undoubtedly the aim is to get it through this House and the other place before an event which may occur in May.

There has been some discussion about the predecessors of this Bill. I was somewhat amused to discover a quotation from the debate on the 1992 school inspections Bill—the Education (Schools) Bill—which similarly went through Parliament just before a general election. I quote the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who was at the time the leading speaker on education on the Opposition Benches. She said of that Bill, to which many have referred today as being rather a good Bill:

"this is the worst piece of education legislation I have seen in nearly 30 years of studying education policy in this country. I wish that I could find something to say in favour of the Bill. I have looked in vain. I can find nothing. It is ignorant, misguided and doctrinaire".—[Hansard, 11/2/92; col. 598.]

The Minister will be pleased to know that I do not feel that about this Bill. As was indicated by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, we on these Benches certainly welcome a number of its aspects. We welcome the incorporation within the inspector's remit of the promotion of the well-being of children as incorporated in the Children Act 2004; we welcome the emphasis on short inspections, particularly the emphasis on self-evaluation; and we welcome the link between school inspection and the school's own development plan, including the systematic collection, use and development of data in the school's profile.

I was slightly surprised to receive the briefing from the Local Government Association, which said:

"LGA [is] extremely concerned at this large and complex piece of legislation"—

—it is certainly somewhat larger than many of us expected—

"which seeks to make fundamental changes to [the] education system, has been introduced without any public consultation, pre-legislative scrutiny or evidence that such reforms are necessary".

I think that that is a slightly unfair criticism. There has been a lot of consultation about the inspection processes. But, as always, the devil is in the detail and all kinds of little bits are hinged on to this Bill which perhaps have not been consulted over and which are, I think, much more contentions. We shall, undoubtedly, in Committee look at these and tease them out.

The big issue of the Bill is undoubtedly inspections. On the whole there has been a general welcome around the House for the proposals, which were initially put forward in a consultation document from Ofsted, The Future of Inspection, and subsequently spelt out at rather greater length in the department and Ofsted's joint publication, A New Relationship with Schools. I have made clear that from these Benches, we too, broadly speaking, welcome these proposals. A number of worries have been expressed around the House which we on these Benches share.

I start with the worry raised not only by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, but also by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. That is the relationship between this Bill and the Children Act 2004. How does this Bill fit in with the Children Act that we have just passed?

Clause 2 extends the duty of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools to include the contribution that schools make to the well-being of pupils among their remit for inspection. This was part of the Children Act and is now reflected in this provision. Beyond that, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley pointed out, there is practically no mention in the Bill of the implications of the Children Act and no mention of children's service authorities. We have local education authorities spelt out constantly, but we never talk about the children's service authorities and the role they might have.

We are putting greater emphasis on self-evaluation within schools, yet in the Children Act schools were not listed as key partners and strategic partners with reciprocal responsibility to co-operate. All this is particularly worrying in view of the Government's drive to put schools outside the local authority purview, as are academy and foundation schools.

Schools must be robustly measured against their performance. We are agreed on that. It is not then fair to judge local authorities against the performance of schools which are not within their remit, and yet a local authority is judged on these things. Where do these matters overlap? How do they fit in?

Let me give your Lordships another example of this overlap, where currently there is extreme uncertainty about what precisely is supposed to happen and who has the responsibility. We see this new categorisation of a school that requires significant improvement. We know now that for schools in serious weakness that require significant improvement the action plan is no longer the responsibility of the schools but of the local authority. Clause 14 makes that clear. Yet there is also much discussion of school improvement partners. Where do school improvement partners come in? But the local authority, as I say, is given the responsibility for helping the school. Effectively, you might say that those schools that are in serious weakness or those schools that require significant improvement, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley suggested, require help and support; and the local authority has to give this help and support. Yet, again it is often not clear where its responsibilities end and the school's responsibilities begin, particularly when some schools will be, so to speak, put beyond the remit of the local authority.

So I start by raising the question, and it was asked by other noble Lords around the House: how far do we really see the spirit of the Children Act carried through into this legislation, or is it really stuck on with bits of elastoplast and no more than that?

Secondly, I raise the question of the registration of inspectors. I echo the remarks made in this respect by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. Why, in Clauses 5 and 59, are we repealing the requirement that the inspectors need to be registered? In Schedule 1, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools can appoint such persons as he thinks fit, but there is nothing on the face of the Bill to ensure the accountability of inspectors or their fitness for the role. It is important to ensure, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, that we have some means of holding the inspectors to account. "Who inspects the inspectors?" remains a very important question.

Following on from that is the question raised by the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Hunt, of appeals procedures. The shorter the inspection, the more important it is that there are robust appeals procedures, which there are not at the moment. We need to think hard about that matter and make sure that within the system there are means by which schools can appeal when—and we all know it has happened—the inspectors somehow get it wrong and get the wrong end of the stick about a particular school.

I also echo the remarks made by the noble Lords, Lord Sutherland, Lord Hunt and Lord Lucas, in relation to the role of parents and governors. I want to come back to parents a bit later because I want to talk a little about the profile. I feel strongly that the proposal to limit the role of governors in inspections is most unfortunate. Over the past few years the role of governors and the inspection of governance within schools has increased, very much to the advantage of schools. Indeed, I believe that some research shows that this emphasis on improving the governance of schools has had a very marked effect on schools' performance. So why do we see in these proposals a reduction in the role and involvement of governors? It really is important that they remain there.

I also echo the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in relation to the responsibilities put on governors and the difficulty of finding people to fill those positions because they are onerous. It is important that we give governors the support and training they need in order to be able to fulfil those responsibilities.

I turn to Part 2 and school organisation. The main concern here is that new proposals give the Secretary of State undue powers in relation to three issues. First, in decisions not only on the establishment of new secondary schools, but also on the replacement of existing schools; secondly, on disposal of land when foundation schools want to dispose of what were originally local authority assets; and, thirdly, on the rationalisation of school places or closures.

First, let me pick up that final issue, because it raises a contradiction in the messages that we are currently receiving. If we consider it on face value, Clause 66 basically says, bluntly, "The Secretary of State can intervene and tell local authorities that they must close schools". That overrides local democratic responsibility; it overrides the new school organisation committees that have been set up to do precisely that job; but, at the end of the day, that is what the Secretary of State can do.

Above all, all this talk of rationalisation is very difficult to put side by side with a five-year strategy that talks about expanding popular schools. We cannot on the one hand have some schools expanding without, on the other, have others losing places. As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, we must look at schools as a system serving a local community and balance growth, on the one hand, with, perhaps, the waning of a school on the other. Perhaps it is not sensible to allow one very popular middle-class school to expand vastly when a whole area of that community will be left without a secondary school. We must be careful about the powers that we will give the Secretary of State here.

Similarly, as regards the disposal of land from foundation schools, is it not perhaps right that where the land has had an educational function, it should revert to that? Because the land goes to the foundation school, the foundation school then has the right to sell it but, if necessary, the Secretary of State can now override that foundation school decision. I argue that the local education authority or local authority must have a say. It might be useful if the land could be used for a children's centre. It may be that we need it for a new further education facility. There is no discussion in the Bill of the Tomlinson report; I imagine that we will get that later. It is necessary that there is more democratic accountability at a local level. That is what people are worried about.

I shall say just a little about the Teacher Training Agency. By and large, we very much endorse the expansion of its role. However, I draw to the House's attention the Explanatory Notes, which suggest on page 43 on Part 3, that we can do that at no expanded cost. Its role is very important and substantial and will cost a lot of money.

I conclude by talking a little about the role of parents. The proposal to abolish the annual governors' meeting and to issue pro forma school profiles has its downside, as well as the upside in that it means rather less work for everyone. The downside is that the annual meeting is the one opportunity to bring the parents together. It was suggested—I think in the Explanatory Notes—that it would be better to do that during a parents' evening when people are discussing children's progress. If I may say so, that is a silly idea. When you are there to talk about your child's progress, you are not there to talk about general school issues and, mostly, there is an appointments system, so people turn up at different times. That is not a suitable occasion.

It is important that there is an occasion on which to elect parent governors. All right, we can have postal ballots and circulate the manifestos through the post, but it is important that people hear those who are standing as parent governors, that there are hustings for them, and a meeting is required for that.

As for the profile, it may be fine. It will contain all the information that is collected centrally, so that the school can be compared with other schools and so forth. However, it could also be very dry and dusty and not very interesting, whereas the current annual report from the school can tell parents quite a lot about what is going on at the school. So I do not necessarily think that that is the right way forward and stress that consulting parents and the children themselves is fundamental. It is vital, both in the inspections and more broadly in the development of the school, that parents are involved and that there are means whereby they are consulted.

I look forward immensely to Committee. As I said, there are many particular issues that we shall then want to tease out and I look forward to discussions with the Minister.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Conservative

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his detailed introduction of the Bill and for taking the time to discuss its contents with colleagues from all sides of the House.

This afternoon's debate has been constructive, informative and notable for its high-octane speeches. I am sure that an Ofsted report would have judged it outstanding. I sometimes have to pinch myself when I speak in your Lordships' House. Here I am, speaking in a debate with the great names in education—the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and my noble friend Lady Perry—and it is sometimes surreal. However, one voice is not here today: that of my noble friend Lady Blatch. I am sure that she will be reading with an eagle eye everything that we say and will no doubt let us know if she does not agree. We wish her a speedy recovery because we miss her. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for her kind remarks from one Lancashire lass to another.

I should like to express my support for the comments and excellent contribution of my noble friend Lord Hanningfield. In his speech, he made a number of observations about concerns about the present inspection regime and emphasised the importance that a decent education plays in a child's opportunities in life. I could not agree with him more. As a governor, and as someone who trained, although never practised, as a teacher, I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, about our aspirations for our children.

As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Moser, and many of your Lordships, we all share the sense that today's Second Reading is an important event: important for the many schools and pupils whom, we trust, will benefit from the provisions before us. Contained within the Bill are important matters that deserve full and detailed debate.

We are told that the Bill sets out a radical new relationship with schools and even, as the Minister so eloquently put it in our discussion before today, provides an overarching philosophy. Yet, as my noble friend Lord Hanningfield said, much of this radical new Bill is strangely familiar. How curiously reminiscent it is of the School Inspections Act 1996, passed by a Conservative Administration. Indeed, we extend a warm and consistent welcome to Clauses 1, 3 and 4, 19 and 20, 22 to 29, 31 and 32, 35, 47 and 48, 50 and 51 and 57, and even to Schedules 1 to 4, which are all lifted intact from the 1996 Act.

Of course, I would be misleading your Lordships were I to suggest that all of the Bill's provisions had been copied from the School Inspections Act 1996. Instead, some have come from the Education Act 1994, which has similarly inspired Clauses 78, 82 to 89, 91 and Schedule 13. I use those examples simply to illustrate that there is much in the Bill and in its spirit that we on these Benches warmly welcome and wish to see effectively enacted.

I hope that noble Lords will permit the Conservative Party a wry smile when we reflect how in 1992 the Education (Schools) Bill, which announced the birth of Ofsted, was greeted by the Labour Benches in your Lordships' House and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, in another place. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned, we were warned that the Bill was ignorant, misguided and doctrinaire, and that if implemented it would cause serious damage to the quality of education in this country. We were warned that if it became an Act it would be repealed upon the Labour Party taking power. I do not think that those enraged voices had in mind that it would be repealed and re-enacted in the same breath.

Much of the Bill and this debate rightly centre on the improvement of school inspection. Any measures that speed up and simplify existing arrangements, concentrate effort on schools in need of help, and interfere as little as possible where things are working are to be welcomed. I am pleased that the Government have recognised, albeit late in the day, that reform of school inspection was long overdue. It must be right to lift the burden from schools, which today can spend up to 10 weeks in paralysis awaiting an Ofsted inspection. It must also be right to replace a lengthy, somewhat inquisitorial process with the better use of self-evaluation, as referred to by my noble friend Lady Perry in her robust contribution.

However, inspection, whether in schools, local government or the health service, has been one of this Government's growth areas. Labour will be remembered as much for its obsession with inspection as for spin and stealth taxes. The growth of inspection and the resulting army of inspectors are a sad indictment of Labour's failure to trust professionals on the front line.

The purpose of any reform must be to strengthen support for teachers and pupils to provide the very best education system. As the architects of Ofsted, we understand only too well the role that independent inspection plays, alongside dedicated teachers and a robust curriculum, in delivering the best possible standards. But, as always, there is a balance to be struck, a point so effectively made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. My noble friend Lady Seccombe, in an earlier debate in your Lordships' House, referred to it as a balance between inspection that is a champion of standards and inspection that is confrontational, intrusive and burdensome. Simply tinkering with an already mighty bureaucracy is not acceptable. For that reason, I cannot help but wonder whether the measures will go far enough in assisting teachers, 92 per cent of whom already think that the amount of red tape that they must deal with day to day is too much.

Along with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and my noble friend Lady Perry, we welcome the opportunities conferred on charitable, commercial and faith-based bodies to establish and run new schools. We wish the Government well in promoting those measures to Labour-run education authorities, which may not immediately discern their merit.

Along with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and most noble Lords who spoke, we welcome the fact that schools will benefit considerably from a three-year funding cycle, within which they can plan effectively. I enjoyed the thought posed by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that the wider training proposals could be used to train bursars to run the new budgets.

As there is much in the Bill that we support, we wish to see in place measures that will give real effect to its intent. That is why, when we examine the detail, we are concerned that the provisions as drafted will in many cases undermine the declared purposes of the Bill.

In his introduction to the five-year strategy for children and learners, Charles Clarke writes that its success will depend on Ministers like him holding their nerve and being able to resist the lure of the next initiative, in favour of a system that drives its own improvement more and more. Based on the evidence of the past seven years, we will watch this space with interest.

Through this legislation the Government wish to promote faith schools, yet they insist on denying those schools the right to interview and select pupils who might benefit from and reinforce their particular ethos.

The Minister says that the Bill will "help schools raise standards", yet is he undermining the sanctions for failure? Under Clause 43, as amplified in the Explanatory Notes, schools must actually fail rather than be likely to fail, as with the present position, before they are put into special measures. We are sympathetic to the arguments about the stigma attached to special measures and understand the desire to promote positive rather than negative language. But what possible benefit can there be in acting later rather than earlier when a school is manifestly destroying the life chances of its pupils? How can the Minister seek to promote diversity in the education system, as he puts it, while advancing Clause 66, which requires LEAs to produce plans to "rationalise" school places, which will, by definition, reduce parental choice?

In addition to the contradictions between the spirit and the detail of the Bill, there are many aspects on which the House should expect detailed assurances before it passes into law. Those include the need for clarity on the background and training of inspectors. The Bill removes the notion of registered inspectors, allowing the Chief Inspector of Schools to appoint,

"such persons as he thinks fit".

How can we ensure the accountability of these inspectors or their suitability for the role? Under the current system there is provision for any person no longer fit to be an inspector to be removed from the register.

What of lay inspectors? We feel that this is a crucial role in the inspection process, but it will no longer be a necessary component of each inspection. How will the new inspection regime be co-ordinated with the broader inspection agenda and the integration of children's services? What of the role of parents, as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Sutherland, Lord Chan and Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford?

As my noble friend Lord Lucas gallops off on his thoroughbred, he can bet on our support for thorough evaluation. I share his passion for making room in the curriculum for exciting and relevant study.

The new inspection arrangements may be speedier but will they be thorough and fair? Reduction of the period between an inspection and a public report to three weeks is in most respects commendable, but what if the school does not think the report fair? What possible appeal could take place in so tight a timescale? Similarly, the proposed centralised information database will inevitably alarm those who see in this Government a desire to know all and to control the minutiae of our lives. What safeguards are proposed to avoid its abuse? We share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.

I have already mentioned three-year funding cycles; giving schools a fixed budget on an academic basis is to be welcomed. But what will happen if other circumstances arise, including unforeseen changes in schools' cost bases, and budgets set three years in advance become straitjackets? If we are to avoid a repeat of the school funding crisis of last year, moving to such a system must be carried out with the utmost care and attention.

What measures are proposed to ensure that charitable, commercial and faith-based bodies can compete fairly for the opportunity to run new schools? We know from our experience of mandatory contracting-out of council services and from our efforts to promote ballots on grant-maintained schools that LEAs, if they wish, can do all that they can to circumvent the Bill. Do the Government have the stomach for this fight, and with what detailed measures and sanctions will it be fought?

Much of the Bill refers to education in Wales. We are delighted to have the expertise of my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy on our Benches. I agree with him that as much money as possible should go directly to schools. I sympathise with his view and that of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that those clauses could have been dealt with in a separate Bill.

Finally, I must observe that our major argument with the Bill is not about what it contains but about what it omits. If the Government really want to lift educational standards, the Bill should include measures to abolish the surplus places rule, freeing good schools to expand. They should encourage and enable schools to become foundation schools or create foundation partnerships. In short, rather than tinkering at the margins of the inspection regime, staff training and databases, a Government who claim that they are best when they are bold should trust our schools and set them free. There is much that must occupy us in Committee on the Bill, if we are to deliver legislation that lifts rather than compounds the burdens faced by all those working to give pupils the education that they deserve.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions) 6:40 pm, 13th December 2004

My Lords, it is good to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, to our processes. We will hear more of her, I am delighted to say. She was right to say that it had been a good Second Reading debate. It was characterised by a depth of knowledge and experience and by the fact that it did not have what can sometimes be agonising repetition. We opened up new areas of interest and challenge as the debate moved round the House. I welcome that.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others said, I would be foolish and churlish if I did not also acknowledge the degree of welcome and support that came from many parts of the House for the broad direction of the Bill, even though everyone reserved their right to fight to the death on the detail. That is a positive foundation for a process of parliamentary scrutiny, and I welcome it. I also welcome the recognition from the Front Benches of the importance of getting the Bill right and getting it enacted. That is to be commended.

I do not know how long I dare trespass on the House's patience. It will not be much more than 20 minutes or so, otherwise noble Lords will start to leave. In that time, I shall not be able to answer all the many points that were made, partly due to want of wit and partly due to want of time. Before the end of the week, I shall sign off letters to everyone concerned with more specifics.

I shall have a go at some of the main issues. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, spoke about admissions policies. We are consulting on guidance on admissions forums for developing admissions protocols that would ensure that all schools took a share of hard-to-place children, as they should. Similarly, the issue of foundation schools is out to consultation at present.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, asked about school forums. All that the Bill does is give the local authority and the school forum, if they agree, the power to bypass the Secretary of State. It does not take powers away from local authorities; it gives the local authority and the school forum more power than it currently has. They can do it without us, which is good.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, was right about three-year budgets. We had little discussion on three-year budgets. They are not the end of local government, and most people welcomed the move. However, I agree with the noble Lord that we must get it right in the detail. I was asked about schools being set up outside a local authority's area. That cannot be done between England and Wales, for reasons that are probably obvious. The systems are different. However, if two local authorities wanted to collaborate on setting up a school to serve across their boundaries, they could do so. That does not cover all the noble Lord's questions, so I shall write to him on the others.

Savings will be directed to the front line, and the reduction of burdens will enable more resources to be devoted to quality teaching.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised many points. References to "serious weaknesses" are not the same as references to "significant improvement". The important part of the new differentiation in categorisation is that a school that, although not dreadful, shows no ambition and no ownership of its weak performance or underachievement can be as much of—or more of—a cause of concern than a school that is worse in outcomes but owns its responsibilities and has the strategies to change. In the latter case, we can have more confidence that the direction of travel will be the right one. That is what we sought to capture in the Bill.

Few schools opt for total quality management. It is an expensive process. However, the noble Baroness is right about trying to reinforce the importance of owning skilful, radical, realistic self-evaluation. That is what the inspection process will cover. That is why it will be different and why it will be possible in a shorter time. The inspection will not start trying to map what is going on, as if the school did not exist. The school and its governors—a key role for them—will be charged with responsibility for considering the school's performance in comparison with others, locally and nationally, identifying areas in which it is not good enough and should go further and considering whom it is not serving well enough. Increasingly, inspectorates generally have the role of evaluating the self-evaluation. It is a more efficient model.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, was worried about whether that process might increase the burdens on schools. It will not. Such things are a core responsibility of the leadership in a school, as in any institution. The point is not to have somebody else tell a school where it is weak or where it needs to be improved; that must be owned by governors and the leadership team in the school as part of their basic job. That is the central point about how the mechanism will work better and about why it will be possible in the rapid timetable proposed. I might have time to come back to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, on that in a minute.

We have spoken of the duty to co-operate in connection with previous Bills. We will probably need to come back to it in more detail in Committee. The key issue is that the school will be under an expectation, as part of the guidance on self-evaluation, to identify how it serves all pupils and co-operates with others to meet the needs of pupils. Ofsted will inspect that as part of the process. The joint area review will also consider how the school and the local authority support the co-operation that is necessary between schools and between schools and local authorities to meet the needs of some children. We believe that those mechanisms are in place. We will come back to that another time. Self-evaluation guidance will emphasise the importance of that issue, and joint area reviews will spot it.

I was asked why the chief inspector was not accountable to Parliament. We do not believe that that is correct. HMCI is a Crown appointment and is subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

I was asked about the registration of inspectors. There will be quality controls in the contracting arrangements. Most are self-employed as RIs, and HMCI will have the flexibility to make sure that the team reflects what it is inspecting. I shall write to all noble Lords on that, as it was a theme of the questions about whether getting rid of the register would, in some way, be a loss of control. Noble Lords are owed a little more on that.

I got the sense that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was not totally enamoured of academies. However, the issue of how we turn around a failing school is a serious public policy issue. We believe that we have sought to address it with the academies, and we believe that we are seeing evidence that they are working. It is one of the biggest challenges of public policy. Sometimes, inspections will do it, but, sometimes, we need more than just the inspection process. Academies are independent schools and must comply with the special educational needs code of practice. They often take more than their fair share of excluded pupils. No doubt, we will talk about that at another time.

I was asked about data, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked who got the information. The Secretary of State may pass on individual-level information, as will be specified in regulations. Such information can be passed only to those who have existing powers to hold or be supplied with it. I hope that that will be a comfort.

Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, we would have been pleased to have—as well, not instead—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who is a good friend of the House and a good friend of education. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester mentioned several points on which there was support from the Churches—not solely the Church of England—for elements of the Bill. He made important points about how the inspection of religious teaching in denominational schools would be carried out. I have had discussions with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, and he knows that we share his serious interest in how to address that issue. We have not finalised the answers, but we are working on it. No doubt, I shall share details of that work with the right reverend Prelate and with the House before too long.

As ever, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, did us proud. He asked so many thoughtful questions that, without giving the noble Lord all of my 20 minutes, it is impossible to even begin to do justice to them, which is code for saying that I do not have all of the answers.

Attitude and behaviour will be given specific emphasis with the joint Ofsted/DfES guidance and self evaluation. In other words, it will be part of what schools have to report on and think about when they are dealing with behaviour. For reasons that the noble Lord has made very clear previously, to which we are committed, unless behaviour creates a learning environment, there is an impediment to learning for everyone, not just those who are misbehaving. Behaviour will also be covered through the inspection framework and its associated guidance.

Can it be done in three weeks? The trials so far show that it can. As we have signalled, there is an extensive trialling process, which will not just produce pieces of paper within that timetable. Those who were inspected were asked what they thought about the process; so far they have been remarkably positive about it. Again, I shall share some of the detail on that in Committee.

As regards the natural justice of the appeals process, it is right that mistakes are rectified, errors of fact sorted without too much fuss, disputes resolved early and the sanctions, which I think are necessary in a system of public service, are not unfairly levied. Yes, that points to ensuring that there is a proper process so that people are not unfairly judged. Ofsted is currently developing a new complaints handling procedure to accompany the system of inspection. The procedure will make clear that judgments about inspections can be challenged and will be considered seriously and fully.

There will also be an independent complaints adjudicator who will be able to examine complaints about the way in which an inspection has been conducted and the way in which Ofsted has handled such complaints. There is also a range of issues about information and advice that can be accessed during the process of the inspection. Those are issues to which we will return in Committee.

On the cost of federations, as is our way, we are currently piloting a number of federations and evaluating them. There is a whole range of ways in which schools might want to collaborate. There are a number of ways in which federations can benefit from sources of funding, economies of scale, joint procurement and pooling part of their budgets. Federations could form foundation partnerships and could be contracted by the LEA to deliver an agreed specified set of functions. In a sense, we agree with the noble Lord that at times people need a little incentivisation to collaborate, particularly because the benefits may accrue for longer or to others. That must be looked at. We think that we have an adequacy of glue, but no doubt that will be tested later.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is right as regards bursaries. Bursars will be increasingly important. It is bad enough to overspend on one year, but to overspend on three years really means trouble—I am speaking flippantly. The TTA—or the TDA as it will become—has had a bursary development programme. That function will transfer to the new TDA. Clearly, it will be an important part of its capacity building for ensuring that the system works well.

I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for a common vocabulary. She asked me to send her a map that shows how the framework of integrated children's services fits with our wider vision. Because I cannot wave documents, I shall have to write to her. I also agree with her that the school profile should reflect the broader ethos of the school, including its approach to personal and social development as well as academic record. We are currently trialling a version of the profile to do just that. The school self-evaluation should look at the quality of pupils' personal development and well-being, including how well the school is playing its part in delivering the five outcomes.

I am afraid that I am reverting to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, which I hope he will not mind. He was also right to say how important physical well-being is in the inspection process. It will be picked up strongly. The guidance will see to that. Of course, it will not be just through inspection; it will also be through PE, school sport and the totality of what the school does, not simply through how the inspection process will work. The noble Lord felt that the way in which it was referred to in the Bill was not perfect. Time will not allow me to give him a full answer about why parliamentary draftsmen and the policy team have got it perfectly, but he will receive a fuller letter from me another time.

On failing schools and support for them, as the noble Lord knows, the Bill will introduce a new category on significant improvement, which recognises and therefore encourages a school's capacity to improve. The relevance is that where the leadership of a school—whether governors or the school leadership team itself—faces up to how bad it is, putting it at its harshest, and puts in place a statement of what it will do about the situation, it is conceivable that a school could avoid special measures because the inspector was confident that it owned the reality of the problem and had devised a realistic way out of it. That is a powerful incentive to self-improvement and self-ownership, which is built into the policy mechanisms of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, was not excessive in his praise for the Bill. He argued that it is not part of a cohesive system. Because of the time factor, I shall try to set that out briefly. As part of how organisations or institutions are improved, particularly government bodies, they need clarity of objectives and scope to succeed in terms of a financial environment that makes it possible to do so, which is not excessively burdened by input controls.

They do not need their governing bodies—either the local authority or government—excessively involved in detail about the inputs, but they need to be held strongly accountable for the outcomes—the results—through powerful processes of inspection, reward and stimulus. Essentially, that is the model of improvement that underlies this Bill, which we and, I think, many others think is right. It is a big move away from specifying through regulations a thousand ways in which one should do things. So I can tell the noble Lord that he is right to have confidence in the Minister's optimism.

There is not a separate Bill for Wales because the policies of the National Assembly and the DfES were not thought to be sufficiently divergent to justify two separate Bills. That is the line on which I am advised to advise noble Lords. Long may it be so. I am also told that there is much in common in the policies of the two governing bodies. In Wales, in line with proposals set out in The Learning Country, Estyn has already taken steps to introduce a common inspection framework in Wales.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, gave a slightly warmer welcome. But, no doubt, with the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, he will wish to put my noble friend to the test in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, made an excellent speech in a number of respects. He reminded us, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, about the genesis of the Bill—I had not realised that there had been a Chequers conversation. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness. In terms of the parents of the Bill, I should also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I must be careful in what I say, although we would not be here now but for some of that earlier work. It is good that we are where we are now. As regards the noble Lord's point about the annual meeting in Wales and England, that should be dealt with in a letter rather than taking too much time now.

A key point made by the noble Lord and others was the role of parents in the inspection process, but, underlying that, the role of parents in education and educational outcomes more generally. That is the stuff of a fuller discussion at some stage. It is close to my heart because it is a subject on which I have the policy lead in the department. Knowing what we know about parents making a bigger impact on the educational attainments of their children than do schools, we have to think seriously in policy terms about how we harness that power of parents more positively.

Part of that view sees parents as part of the solution, as partners in educational attainment, rather than, as sometimes is seen in education, as the problem—that is, the people who get in the way of the system or cause trouble to schools and teachers at the end of a tiring school day. There is not time to do that justice, but the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, is right to point to its centrality. No doubt, I shall pursue those discussions with him or others at another time.

The noble Lord, Lord Chan, opened up a completely different perspective on the Bill, which again was valuable. He was absolutely right to point to the difference in educational attainment of ethnic minority groups in Britain. For example, there is a remarkable variation in the attainment of many children of Chinese origin—who I do not think that he mentioned—and other ethnic minority groups. We expect that the inspection system will examine how the needs of a range of pupils are being met. Therefore, in areas of high concentrations of children who traditionally had low educational attainment, I would expect the inspectorate to ask serious questions about how the school, and the local authority in its leadership role, will break out of that box.

The noble Lord and others referred to different perspectives on nurseries reminding us that solutions for some children may not be available to others. Those are important policy issues on which we have to reflect.

My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath welcomed the Bill but set out tough challenges on how it will work in practice, giving two examples. I shall not do justice to the points raised but clearly LEAs can add additional governors to the governing body and can withdraw the governing body's delegated powers to manage its budget. The withdrawal of delegated powers transfers the governing body's staffing powers to the local authority. Strong powers are available if local authorities want to use them.

We agree that the NCSL is supporting governor training, including the joint training of heads of chairs and head teachers. But the issue involves more than that and I apologise to the noble Lord for being unable to do justice to some important points in my brief summing up. I shall find a way of making restitution to him.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, touched on the subject of annual meetings. We do not say that the bodies cannot have annual meetings: they can do so. We say that they do not have to have them. More importantly, we say that the engagement of parents in the education of their child, in school, in challenging the standards of the school, and in helping the school to improve goes far wider than simply having an annual meeting. That requires a lot more thought by LEAs and schools. I do not wish us to focus on that aspect—that if we change the Bill on that issue we have sorted the matter—because there is a larger subject to be addressed by schools and LEAs.

I shall also write to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on serving teachers on inspection teams because time does not allow me to respond on that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, suggested that the Secondary Heads Association would like a holiday from legislation. From my discussions with its members, I sense that they do not want a holiday from this legislation; they would like this legislation passed. However, that apart, I am sure she is right. The noble Baroness also referred to lay inspections. On additional inspectors, there is already a practice used by Ofsted for many years: they must be suitably qualified for what they are inspecting, including any professional qualifications. I shall come back to the noble Baroness with a fuller answer on that.

Targets can be burdensome but we would not be where we are if we had not set the challenge of targets, and reinforced them by an inspection system over the past seven years. So they are necessary.

The noble Lord, Lord Moser, made a welcome speech. He touched on the fundamental test of the Bill and the policy framework in which it sits. It is not whether we change processes but whether the outcomes change. The only point that matters is that we gain better education outcomes. I should like to put his challenge to us above our Committee processes. When the music stops, that is the test: do more children receive better education? As a society, we worry about the levels of literacy in adulthood and at schools. I have a passion for that in terms of vulnerable children in the early years. If we can rectify the situation at that stage, we shall not waste secondary education. He was right to raise the issue as regards what is happening at times in secondary education.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, invited us to listen to the children and to the universities; and why not? I am fully with him on the issue of local authorities as champions of children. He asked whether we can believe that they will be so, given that they have not always looked after children as well as we would have wished. But we have to support them and move them into their new role rather than trying to hold on to a world that they have lost. That is where they will add such value to the system. The test will arise mostly on whether they are doing something about special educational needs, looked-after children, and the effective use of PRUs.

I apologise that I shall not do justice to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, raised a number of important themes which bear fuller inspection. She, and I believe my noble friend Lord Hunt, referred to the question of who inspects the inspectors. Ofsted recently carried out an inspection process of itself with the LSE.

On planning for school places, the Bill does not change the existing situation. The noble Baroness need not feel that the Bill is doing something different. She may not like the current law but the Bill does not change it. Nevertheless, I shall write to her as regards the planning of supply of places in an area as our policy is being implemented. I think it important to put that on the record to her; it was at the heart of her question. Although that issue is not at the heart of the Bill, it is a good question.

On TTA, the bodies have £500 million now. I am pleased to hear public bodies say that they will try to undertake these functions within their existing resources rather than automatically assuming that they need more in order to do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, took credit for a large number of familiar clauses in the Bill. I hope that means that I shall have her compliant agreement to all the Bill. It is a product of the excellent parliamentary draftsmen we have who, rather than making some changes, wanted to take the whole thing out and put it back in again. Do not ask me why they want that: I am sure it is for very good reason.

On Ofsted, the noble Baroness should rejoice over the sinner who repenteth rather than blaming for past sins.

We have had a good Second Reading debate. We have begun to sketch out the territory for further discussions and challenge. I very much look forward to working with the whole House on the Bill.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.