Perhaps I may use this opportunity to raise a perhaps rather esoteric point. From conversations outside this House, my understanding is that the new inspection regime will not involve contact between the inspector and the heads of department in a school, which used to be the case. I want to establish that that is true. The consequence I am aware of is that it seems possible that it will lead to the collapse of the present inspection system for independent schools. When Ofsted was set up, the ISCis swung in behind the system in the end. The argument which persuaded them to do that was that the benefit which would arise would be contact between the inspection team and the heads of subjects and departments and the way in which that would be used to spread good practice and improve the way in which all schools deal with it.
If ISCis is to swing behind the new system, as I understand is proposed, there seems to be a very substantial body of opinion that under those circumstances the inspections are not worth having at all. Without requiring an answer now, and I would appreciate a letter, I would very much like to know whether my understanding about subject inspections is right.
I would also like to know whether the Government are aware of the position being taken by HMCI and ISCis on the subject and whether they are content with that position. If not, I would like to know what they are going to do about it.
I am very happy to give the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, an undertaking that I shall reply to him on all three points and on anything else which is germane.
moved Amendment No. 33:
After Clause 5, insert the following new clause—
The Chief Inspector when conducting an inspection under section 5 shall exercise his functions with regard to the desirability of avoiding excessive administrative burdens being placed on governing bodies and head teachers of maintained schools."
The intent of this Bill is to introduce a far lighter touch, quicker and rationalised inspection regime and one that places greater emphasis on school self-evaluation. That is a desire that we can all support.
The need for such reform is evident. We are all aware of the pressures—they have been debated several times already—that an inspection places on a school from the headmaster downwards. It is often a nerve-racking, fraught and an exceptionally busy couple of weeks with a lot of preparation beforehand. The danger of the reforms outlined in this legislation is that the pressures will simply be concentrated not over a matter of weeks, as now, but with a reduced time-frame and notification period over a few days. Therefore, the level of stress and work is not reduced during that time but heightened. This could be a disturbing development.
However, I must share with the Committee a suspicion that the legislation, although it does much to reduce the bureaucracy on the inspectors themselves, does little to reduce the bureaucracy and the need to perform on the schools. The most important part of the education system is the teachers and they will have more work to do in self-assessment. They will have to collate it.
We on these Benches believe that the teachers' first priority must be to deliver quality education and not to please an official from Whitehall. Perhaps the Minister can explain to us how these reforms will reduce the levels of bureaucracy placed on our teachers by inspection. There is nothing whatsoever on the face of the Bill which addresses this key issue. We all know that one of the single biggest reasons why teachers are disillusioned with their jobs and are leaving the profession is because they often face too much red tape.
Therefore, Amendment No. 33 will place on the chief inspector a duty to exercise his functions with regard to the desirability of avoiding excessive administrative burdens being placed on governing bodies and head teachers. I expect that we shall return to this amendment at a later date, but I would like to hear the Minister's views on it now. I beg to move.
This is an important probing amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, because if we can obtain the same or better benefits with less bureaucracy, pain and even stress, then clearly we have advanced, and that is clearly one of the aims of the Bill. We are clear that an excessive burden should not be placed on the schools. That is one of the purposes of the revised inspection system and one which is sure to be more focused with far fewer inspectors, albeit at short notice. I do not agree with the noble Lord. I believe that stress compressed over a few days in response to a short notice inspection has to be less in aggregate than an inspection over a period of months, but be that as it may.
The regulatory impact assessment that was published to support the Bill, which has been made available to the House, highlights the benefits to the schools which will be brought about by the inspection process on exactly the issue the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has spoken of.
For example, it is anticipated that savings in schools, not to Ofsted, will be equivalent to at least £40 million a year as a result of these changes. I shall be happy to send a note to the Front Benches summarising that regulatory impact assessment, if that were to be of use.
The process will mean less preparation by schools. The self-evaluation form, which is the only form that will need to be available prior to inspection, will be used not only for inspection, but it will form part of the school's own self-review. It is important to see the self-evaluation form and process as not a burden of compliance with an inspection system, but a responsibility of management and leadership in the institution itself. That is part of doing the job properly even if an inspector was not about to arrive. It is different from the current procedure where schools require four pre-inspection forms, which are solely for the purpose of the inspection itself.
The basis on which inspections will be covered in the future will be the school's own self-evaluation evidence. We are also not being prescriptive about how schools self-evaluate, as we have said previously.
We have also tested this process through consulting with the Implementation Review Unit, which is a panel of 12 head teachers and senior school practitioners who have a function specifically to cut bureaucracy across schools. They have been closely involved in the new arrangements. They will continue to monitor, through visits to schools and meetings, with Ofsted and departmental officials.
Perhaps I may quote from its review and annual report of 2003–04, which states:
"A new, lighter touch inspection regime is something that we believe will be of great benefit to schools: we have shared this view with senior Ofsted officials. We welcome the emphasis on self-assessment".
Therefore, I believe that we have strong grounds for the expectation that this will not only reduce costs to Ofsted but perhaps, more importantly, reduce costs to schools. That has to be a continuing ambition and we intend it to be so. I hope that in view of what I have said, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is not minded to press his amendment.
I thank the Minister for that response. This is a difficult issue in many walks of life. As I have said before, I am the leader of a large council. The Audit Commission has asked for an assessment, but it has cut its staff and is now asking us to do a lot of the self-assessment. We have had to ask a very senior government officer who works part-time to spend all their time collating all the self-assessment processes operating within the authority. While I accept that we should take it on, it amounts to reams of paperwork.
Moreover, as a school governor I know that a great deal of self-assessment is going on there. Although there may not be quite so much on the PE and arts side at the moment as there will have to be in the future, someone will still have to collate all the data and, I hope, present it more frequently to the governing body so that it, too, can become more closely involved in the school's self-assessment processes.
If we are not careful, more work will be created for schools. Also, whenever money is saved by one person, it inevitably seems to cost someone else more. I fear that if Ofsted saves money, this will cost schools more.
The level of bureaucracy in schools is such an important issue that I should like to test the opinion of the House.
"The Chief Inspector may inspect any school in England, in circumstances where he is not required by section 2(2)(b) or 5 to do so".
The Explanatory Notes state:
"This clause replaces section 3(1) of the SIA [School Inspections Act] 1996 and gives the Chief Inspector the power to inspect any school at any time, even when not under a duty to do so under clause 2(2)(b) or clause 5. This allows the Chief Inspector to inspect any school where he may have cause for concern in respect of his general duty under clause 2. It also enables the Chief Inspector to conduct inspections for a range of purposes, including monitoring visits by HMI to schools in special measures, visits to schools to aid him in keeping the Secretary of State informed under clause 2, or to contribute to reports on, for example, the teaching in a single curriculum subject".
The probing issues I want to raise with the Minister are as follows: does this clause give any new powers to the chief inspector, or is it really just a straight mirror image of Section 3(1) of the School Inspections Act 1996? Will it mean monitoring visits for schools designated as "requiring significant improvement" as well as those in special measures? What will this provision mean for schools in terms of the notice period for such inspections? I beg to move.
In response to the first of the questions put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the intent and effect of Clause 7 is not new, although I will have to check the wording. It reflects the same powers as were previously in place.
However, the vast majority of the work of Ofsted will be undertaken through the powers given to the chief inspector under Section 5 for the routine inspection of schools, and through Section 2(2)(b) which will cover, for example, advising the Secretary of State on particular types of school such as specialist schools.
The purpose of the clause is to give the chief inspector the power to conduct visits for other purposes. This would include monitoring visits which take place once every term for schools causing concern, action which is based on a policy agreed with the Secretary of State as part of checking on the progress of such schools. In practice, therefore, there are very few instances where the chief inspector would be visiting schools without the prior agreement of the Secretary of State in some capacity. There will be a small number of occasions where the chief inspector has serious concerns about a school. Clause 7 gives him the power to act quickly, where necessary, if he has such concerns. We believe this to be fundamental to the independence of the chief inspector's role. As to whether he would be routinely visiting schools under the "significant improvement" requirement, the answer is no. These are inspected after a year.
In conclusion, we would not want to get in the way of the chief inspector's ability to discharge his duties effectively and to be able to inspect and report. As to what it means for the notice period, I will have to reflect on that question. I think it can be done without notice; but, if I am wrong on that, the noble Baroness will receive a rapid correcting letter. I hope that that is helpful. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment if she feels so minded.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Yes, he has elucidated the purposes of the clause. We were particularly concerned about whether this requirement for "significant improvement" gave the inspector power to intervene rapidly on those occasions. It is reassuring to know that there will be a regular inspection process after a year. In view of those reassurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
This amendment is designed to probe the Minister on those circumstances where the chief inspector wishes to inspect a school at his discretion as distinct from the usual round of normal inspections. There are a number of short questions that I should like to ask. I hope that the Minister can provide the Committee with satisfactory assurances so that we do not have to return to this amendment at a later stage.
Under what other criteria, apart from that outlined in Clause 5(5), does the Minister envisage the chief inspector might wish to inspect a school? Perhaps he could also provide us with some practical scenarios of when this power could be used. Furthermore, how often does the Minister envisage the chief inspector using this power? For example, could it be used more than once on the same school in a short period of time? I beg to move.
I do not have a great deal to add to what I said in regard to the previous amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. However, I shall see what I can do in that respect.
Amendment No. 41 seeks to place restrictions on the power of the chief inspector. As I indicated previously, we believe that is undesirable in principle because it would fetter his discretion.
The discretion given under Clause 7 is not new—the 1996 Act had an equivalent provision—and will be used for a range of purposes, including in relation to monitoring visits which are conducted for schools in special measures. It would also be used on the rare occasion where a school is causing serious concern.
However, the power should not be limited to these purposes. The chief inspector will want to use this power to inspect single subjects and other matters which have come to his attention, where the breadth of a Clause 5 inspection is not necessary or appropriate but nevertheless the inspector feels it is desirable to go in and assess the situation.
The inspection must also, of course, serve to identify good practice, an important aspect of how it can contribute to improvement. The consequence of this amendment would be that the inspector could not gather in evidence about good practice in that respect.
As to more than once per school, no, we do not expect that to happen. Although, if one thought hard enough one could clearly envisage extreme circumstances, but that is not the expectation. We do not want to, and the inspector would not want us to, add unnecessary burdens. I am certain that there will be good, strong and pressing reasons for an inspection to be carried out under these powers.
I hope that is helpful and that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, feels minded not to press his amendment.
Amendment No. 47 is similar to one of my previous amendments and it would perhaps have been better had it been grouped with it. However, I should like to return to the issue and perhaps have another go.
This is a simple probing amendment. As the Bill currently stands, it seems to imply that the chief inspector has to publish inspection reports only by electronic means—that is, presumably, on the Ofsted website. In his answer to my previous amendment, the Minister said that the Ofsted website had had a record number of hits. It may be that that was because Members of the Committee were preparing for the Bill.
I am pleased about that. It is a step that we can all support. However, is there not a danger that in doing so we could, in effect, withhold vital information from those people and parents of pupils at the school in question who do not have access to the Internet? Surely it would be sensible to ensure that copies are available in both electronic and hard copy to allow as many people as possible to access these reports. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is right in that respect but, in practice, that is what the Bill as crafted does. It does so in a careful way. It requires not that absolutely everything has to be both electronically published and printed at the same time but that the inspector has to use his judgment as to how it is published according to the circumstances. Therefore one could imagine a situation where a parent who, for some reason, had not been sent a copy of a report, or wanted a copy of a report but did not have access to the web, would write to the chief inspector saying "I would like a copy of this report about the school", or whatever. In a situation like that, it is hard to envisage that the inspector would write back saying "No, you cannot have it. Go to the website". You would expect, as a good public servant, that he would send a copy. He has got the power to do it either way without essentially forcing him to have a large warehouse where everything is stocked just in case someone asks for it.
With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, will feel that the Bill addresses the position correctly. It does not expect the website to be the only means because, as the noble Baroness said, there will be some people who cannot make use of it.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I hope that the chief inspector will be mindful that this issue has been the subject of debate. The Internet is not all singing and dancing. If we believe that that is the only means of communicating we will not ensure that everyone who has a right to read the reports has access to them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage, but I may well return to it.
"For the purposes of the law of defamation any report published by the Chief Inspector under either of those provisions"— that is, the provisions for publication—
"is privileged unless the publication is shown to have been made with malice".
This would appear to be a new protection which does not reflect the potential for real damage to a school's reputation arising from an inaccurate report. While it is obviously important to discourage court action being taken against individual inspectors, there is a need for a robust complaints procedure, as we debated this morning. Given the limitations of the inspection complaint process, this could effectively cut off the last possible course of redress that a school could pursue.
One of the reasons we have brought forward the amendment is that we wonder what are the reasons for, and the purpose of, the clause within the Bill. Does it reflect a report in the Observer last November? The article stated:
"Lordswood Girls' School—judged in government league tables to be the best in the country for improving pupil performance—is planning to sue Ofsted after discovering that two pages of a critical review were identical to an earlier report on Parkside School in Bradford.
"Ofsted admitted this weekend that the inspection team for Lordswood failed to give an accurate and fair portrayal in the section relating to leadership and management of the school. It has promised to amend the report and add an addendum on its website about the school".
The report continued: "But [Jane] Hattatt", the headmistress,
"who has been head of the 900-pupil school in Harborne for 15 years, and who launched a high-profile complaint against the Ofsted inspection system in February, plans to take her concerns to an independent adjudicator. 'I have no confidence in the system', she said. 'I would advise anyone with concerns who is going through the complaints procedure to keep on going because they need to be challenged'".
Clearly it is not a good idea to encourage schools to pursue the inspectors through the courts—we are very sympathetic with that—but we should like to know a little more of the background as to why the Government have felt it necessary to include in the Bill what is, in effect, a privilege clause. I beg to move.
I shall say more than a little in response, which may help during the later stages of the Bill.
In essence, the subsection is not new but a re-enactment. It establishes that the chief inspector is a Crown appointee. This effectively has benefits. It provides society with a very powerful tool—a truly independent chief inspector who is able to operate within government and yet is able to criticise the policies of the day if they are not contributing to the ambitions we all share for good education.
In conducting his inspections the chief inspector makes judgments, as we know, upon the school and how it meets the criteria that the chief inspector must report against. A truly independent inspector reports without fear or favour on the evidence as he sees it. He provides opportunities for the school to have causes of concern considered and he drafts inspection reports in a way to avoid identifying individuals in any negative statements within reports.
Inevitably there will be cases where the school is not satisfied with the judgment, but being able to publish reports that are critical of a school's performance is necessary and has contributed greatly to the improvement across the system over the past 12 years.
Of course, the chief inspector is a Crown servant who must adhere to the seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. He must present his findings as he sees them. To remove the protection afforded by the clause that has existed since 1992 would undermine his independence. Schools can challenge the findings. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was clear that a welter of litigation would not be beneficial, so I shall not labour the point.
We talked about the complaints procedure earlier. To pile on the agony further, the chief inspector is an appointee of the Crown and is liable to legal proceedings in tort, which would include an action for defamation by virtue of the Crown Proceedings Act. While it may be that the defence of qualified privilege would apply to reports published by the chief inspector in any event, Clause 10(3) clarifies the legal position where there might otherwise be some doubt.
Under the common law, the publication of inspection reports may be subject to the defence of qualified privilege in any event. However, since the common law doctrine of qualified privilege may be applied on a case by case basis, it is not possible to say with certainty that qualified privilege will attach to the publication of inspection reports for all purposes. Clause 10(3) removes doubt about that. I hope that that is helpful.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response and for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. We had a lengthy discussion this morning on complaints and appeals procedures. It is right that we have an acceptable form of complaints procedure within the framework of the inspection regime. Clearly, as a Crown appointee Her Majesty's Chief Inspector is covered by the defence of qualified privilege. As the Minister said, the clause reinforces that, and it was helpful to have his explanation. I had not realised that it was a straight re-enactment, so I am grateful to the Minister for his elucidation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 52:
After Clause 10, insert the following new clause—
(1) Any local education authority in England may provide a school inspection service for schools within their area.
(2) In this section "school inspection service", in relation to any local education authority in England, means a service providing for the inspection of schools (other than Academies, city technology colleges and city technology colleges for the technology of the arts) under section 5 by officers of the authority.
(3) Any school inspection service provided by a local education authority in England may, in addition to providing for the inspection of schools which are maintained by them, provide for the inspection of schools which are not maintained by them.
(4) Any school inspection service provided by a local education authority in England must be operated by the authority in such a way as can reasonably be expected to ensure that the full cost of providing the service is recovered by way of charges made by the authority to those using the service.
(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations—
(a) make provision as to the making of tenders by local education authorities in England,
(b) make provision with respect to the accounts to be kept by local education authorities in connection with any school inspection services provided by them, and
(c) make such incidental and supplemental provision with respect to school inspection services provided by local education authorities as the Secretary of State considers appropriate."
The purpose of Amendment No. 52 is to ensure a greater role for LEAs in England with respect to school improvement by allowing them to provide inspection services. If, as the Government state, inspections are to be a lever for school improvement, there is no reason why LEAs, who have the responsibility for school improvement, should not have their hands on that lever.
The amendment re-enacts similar provisions in the School Inspections Act 1996 in relation to England and Clause 51 re-enacts Section 24 of that Act in its application to Wales.
In line with the provision under Clause 51 in Wales, the amendment would enable a local authority to provide a school inspection service for schools within its area. It allows the service to be provided for both maintained and non-maintained schools and requires the local authority to recover the costs through charges made to those using the service. It provides that the Secretary of State may by regulation make provision on the making of tenders and the keeping of accounts by local education authorities. Under the proposals for joint area reviews local authorities will be accountable for the performance of schools, and yet under the new relationship proposals their influence on the operations of schools is limited. This proposal would extend that influence.
In addition, we spoke on Tuesday about the benefits of regional arrangements for inspections—in particular, the benefits in Wales being a small country. Those benefits would apply here, too, where the local knowledge of the LEA about the ethos of local schools and the context in which they operate would be very helpful background to the inspection process. I beg to move.
I have brief points to make. First, none of us is unaware of the importance of the work of LEAs. On the other hand, some of us are a little cautious about going back on what seems to be an admirable policy in lightening the burden of the bureaucracy—that much used word—in inspections.
I wonder whether the amendment would effectively go back on restrictions on the powers of Ofsted to inspect worship and religious education in voluntary-aided schools. It does not have that power at the moment, and the inspection is done competently and properly by various denominational authorities. I speaking not just for the Church of England. Sometimes we have to apologise for that these days. I think that the Roman Catholics would be even more sensitive about this, so I need to ask the noble Baroness that question now.
I shall certainly attempt to answer the question, although if I am wrong, I shall write to the right reverend Prelate about it. I do not think that the amendment would restrict that. Religious education is inspected by appropriate people, and I do not think that my amendment would get in the way of that.
The right reverend Prelate has caught me slightly on the hop, and it is an issue that I had not considered. I shall check up on it.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. The last thing that I want to be seen to be standing for is a ghetto mentality for voluntary-aided schools. I want to be clear on that question, and I speak for other groups as well.
While the noble Baroness is still in action, perhaps she can clarify something for me. I read her amendment as a service rather than an imposition. Therefore, it is an offer that may or may not be accepted. My experience is that there are times when it is useful for schools to look to the LEA for advice. They may say, "You have the expertise. It may cost a few pounds, but we will pay you.". On that basis, I can say yes.
I am extremely in favour of Members of the Committee asking people other than me difficult questions. The clause applies to England only.
The amendment would reintroduce a provision in Section 24 of the School Inspections Act 1996, which enables an LEA to provide an inspection service for schools. The involvement of LEAs in the inspection of schools has declined markedly in the past few years. In 2001 LEAs represented about a third of the 125 providers of inspections nationally. In the past two years the number of providers of inspection services has fallen to two dozen and has not included any LEA providers. I suppose that they are not doing Ofsted inspections in that form currently.
We also think that it is consistent with the general development of a more strategic role for local authorities as the champion of children and education rather than necessarily the direct provider of services. The provision in Section 24 of the 1996 Act is no longer needed under the new arrangements, under which Ofsted will let contracts to a number of regional inspection consortia—substantial groups of inspection consortia. However, it will still be possible for local authorities to be involved in school inspections by subcontracting with regional consortia. Therefore, it will be possible for local authority advisers to take part in school inspections. That experience will benefit advisers and the authorities for whom they work.
Clause 50 of the Bill also provides a local education authority with power to inspect a school maintained by the authority, where it needs to do so for a particular purpose in order to enable the authority to discharge its statutory responsibilities. That power is still there, as it should be, without the local authority being seen as an essential provider of services to Ofsted. They can be a sub-contractor who is part of a wider consortium. I hope that that is helpful and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will not press her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his reply. In the past, a third of inspection services have been provided by local authorities. In the new situation of the "light touch" and the "single conversation", it could well be that more LEAs would be interested in providing such services in the future. I thought that the suggestion that they should continue to be allowed to do so as the prime mover was interesting. I accept what the Minister said about advisers being able to subcontract, but that is not the same as being in charge of the inspection. I shall read the Minister's comments carefully and consider whether we shall want to come back to this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In moving Amendment No. 53, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 56, 64, 70, 91 and 94, which are grouped with it. The purpose of the amendments in this group is to change the designation of schools in "special measures" and those requiring "significant improvement" to a new, more positive, categorisation: "schools in need of additional support".
This is not just semantics, although it has to be said that the tone of the designation can affect the morale of a school; it is also about the right of the school to appropriate support. In its document Bringing down the barriers, the NUT argues that the terms "special measures", "significant weaknesses" or "notice of improvement" should be replaced by the term "schools in need of additional support". Such support may involve external support. If external evaluation identifies problems in a school, the local authority should be required to provide support, including advisers and seconded teachers based in the school. There should be no "one size fits all" deadline for improvement. That is the NUT's view on this and I have considerable sympathy with it.
The initial Ofsted consultation on the future of inspection, which was published in June 2004, states that "schools designated as requiring significant improvement" suggests that the inspectors' judgments would be largely reliant on performance data, even though it is widely recognised that the accuracy and reliability of such quantitative data are not always secure. The consultation document also implied that such schools would be reinspected within a year. It is important that LEAs should have the responsibility for supporting schools with problems, including the provision of additional targeted resources. The progress of each school toward resolving its problems should be evaluated on merit by validation teams and LEAs.
I think there is a great deal of merit in a system similar to that in Guernsey. There, if serious problems are identified as a result of an external validation review, the school is given three months to draw up an action plan to address the problems identified. It also has active support and input from an external adviser, such as an EMI, to enable the school to make progress in the right direction. A year after the initial visit, the school is revisited by the external validation review team to look at the progress that has been made. The emphasis is on supporting the school. There are no labels such as "special measures" or "improvement notices".
All noble Lords are keen on ensuring that the inspection process results in a school improving. It is important that we are very clear that schools have a right to the appropriate support to make that improvement. It should be done in a way that sounds supportive to the school and makes it feel that it is not being punished or criticised, but is being helped. Even if there is fault, or less than the best teaching practice, the carrot always works better than the stick. Semantics are important, but the right to appropriate support is extremely important. I beg to move.
I have put my name to Amendments Nos. 91 and 94 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, but I agree with everything that she has said. It is not just a question of semantics or political correctness. The phrases in her amendments usually—but not always, as the noble Baroness indicated—show what a school needs; that is, the extra time, resources and staff needed to cope with the special needs of often multiply-damaged children. I had this argument years ago, when I served on the ILEA. Personally, I would pay teachers in such schools double and have a contract to ensure that they achieved whatever they declared they would achieve within a limited period. That is what schools need. They need more teachers—the best teachers—and outside support than schools in middle class areas that are better able to cope and to benefit from the education provided in the generality of schooling. I hope that, as well as approving these amendments, the Minister will indicate that these schools will get the extra resources that they undoubtedly need.
One of the pleasures in taking part in this kind of debate is the evidence that there are very few ivory towers here. I do not live in an ivory tower. On Tuesday afternoon, when I was in your Lordships' House, I was handed a note from Portsmouth that told me that St Luke's School, which is not in a middle class area of the country, had just been designated the seventh most improved school in the country. Having watched that school, and others in other parts of the country, going through the process of being "improved", persuades me that these amendments merit careful attention and possibly even improvement.
This is an interesting opportunity to go back to issues that we touched on briefly at Second Reading because they are part of the central architecture of the Bill. Therefore, this amendment gives an opportunity to engage with those issues.
After a lot of consideration and consultation, we decided on two categories for schools causing concern; that is, "special measures" and "significant improvement". These categories, defined in Clause 43, underpin the provisions in the Bill relating to the schools. The amendments in this group would provide for one category of cause for concern, "in need of additional support", in relation to the schools causing concern provisions in Clauses 12, 14 and 43. We should pause on that before we engage with the question whether one uses positive or negative language.
The Bill seeks to capture the differences between schools that are very seriously failing and there is no confidence that they will turn themselves around. It is the most serious signal possible. In different language, that has been part of the history and development of Ofsted designation and governmental interventions to try to turn schools around.
Without being able to recollect off the cuff the figures, the experience has been a powerful one—that although it is ghastly for a school to be so designated, sometimes one has to say that a spade is a spade. The consequence of that is that although it must be dreadful for heads or governors to know that they are put into that category, the need for improvement is so massive and serious that it also engages a range of other action, such as planning and intervention, and the evidence from that has been that schools so designated have turned around. I wish that I could remember the date of it. No doubt I shall.
If we went from that system and sought to put everything into one category, as is suggested, and did not make the differentiation that we are talking about, either the schools needing significant improvement would be put into the very heavy sin bin category or we would compromise on the very heavy intervention sin bin category because we had many others that needed significant improvement. That would not be good public policy. For those reasons, I do not believe that it is right.
We agree, of course—we are full square with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on this—that schools facing particular difficulties should receive additional support. It is not a case of saying, "Let us give you some marks and then leave you to sin or fail for ever more". It is a case of trying to evaluate fairly where schools are not performing and, as part of a whole range of processes, to turn them round and make them better.
Under the Bill's arrangements, a designation will continue to trigger such additional support where necessary. In the new relationship schools, we will be able to look to the school improvement partner for ongoing advice and support. The school improvement partners will have important roles in relation to schools that fall into any "cause for concern" category. They will work closely with the school to address weaknesses, mobilising additional support from the LEAs or other agencies where appropriate.
We recognise the wish to see more positive terminology used for schools that cause concern. However, we do not believe that it would be right to refer to schools as "in need of additional support" in that terminology. That would be misleading. The term "special measures" is now well understood in the education world and by parents. It is synonymous with school failure. All concerned—pupils, parents, LEAs, governors and staff—recognise that a designation of special measures is very serious and that radical and urgent action needs to be taken to turn round the school. I believe that children and parents in such schools need that clear signal for those limited number of very serious cases. The fudging should stop and there should be a recognition that things must change.
The designation of "in need of additional support" would carry the implication that matters were not so bad, that all a school needed was a little extra support. The risk is that it would be taken less seriously by schools and LEAs and would not trigger the urgent action, including the very significant support that sometimes forms part of it, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, wants to see, that the special measures categorisation currently brings with it. We therefore risk undermining our policies to tackle school failure rigorously and drive up standards.
The "schools causing concern" categorisation is about more than just identifying schools that need additional support. It is certain that most, if not all, schools would welcome additional resources, and many would welcome additional support. Schools that fall into one of the two "cause for concern" categories will need a range of challenge, support or intervention. The lesson from our experience of school improvement is that the solution must be tailor-made for the school.
Every school can improve. A key role for SIPs will be to challenge schools to have the highest aspirations and expectations. The new "significant improvement" category will help to identify those schools that are not performing as well as they should. The remedy for such a school is not necessarily, although it may be, a range of additional support. Where a school already has strong leadership, it may be able to develop strategies to improve performance, with the school improvement partner playing a part as necessary.
As we all know, leadership is a key factor in the success of a school. In some cases of schools causing concern, weak leadership will be a major issue. Intervention may be necessary to secure effective leadership and management of the school. It would be misleading for parents and the wider community simply to refer to such a school as being in need of additional support. It would not. It would need new, stronger, tougher, more skilled, more effective leadership. We believe that the Bill's arrangements provide the necessary framework for accountability and intervention to tackle failure and drive up standards.
The current definitions have been successful in raising standards. We believe that the revised arrangements build on that success and will ensure that the schools that need significant improvement are identified, supported and challenged to raise standards. The current system for schools causing concern has therefore worked, and the designations have concentrated minds on remedying weaknesses.
Our proposals are designed to build on the success of the current arrangements. We still need to single out the very worst cases—special measures—and to recognise that in some cases improvement is necessary but that the failure is not so serious. Since 1997, over 1,200 secondary schools have recovered from special measures. As a consequence, over 400,000 pupils have benefited from special measures.
In summary, although I do not believe that a shift to a single category would be right and although I believe that support is a necessary component of improvement in many cases, one needs to identify the cases in which it is not only about support but may also be about leadership.
I am not sure that I can add anything further. Having said a good deal already, if there are points that I have missed, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, can bear a letter from me.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I am delighted that 1,200 schools in special measures have turned around, but I do not believe that it is necessarily down to the term "special measures". On the contrary, I believe that it is down to the big package of support that they receive.
To some extent, I take the Minister's point that one category will cover an enormous spectrum of what some may call failure. I may perhaps come back on Report with two categories, if I decide to pursue the matter.
I do not find myself agreeing with the Minister's suggestion that only negative language will spur people on to greater things. One of the most difficult things that I have done recently was in the Antarctic last January, almost to the day one year ago, when I was with the Science and Technology Select Committee. We were asked to abseil down into a crevasse, which was not so difficult, but climbing up the rope to get out was extremely difficult. If the trainers had shouted at me, "Baroness Walmsley, you are failing, you are terrible, you are weak, why are you not doing it?" instead of saying, "You can do it, you are really doing well, come on, just a little more", I do not think that I would ever have made it to the top and would still be down below in the ice.
I shall consider carefully whether or not I want to return to this matter at the next stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 54 in relation to England and Amendments Nos. 87 and 88 in relation to Wales would allow the respective chief inspector in each country to take action to notify the Secretary of State, the LEA or the proprietor of a school whether in his opinion the school was likely to fail.
We are concerned that, as the Bill currently stands, the chief inspector can recommend that action be taken only if special measures are required or, under the new phraseology, if the school requires significant improvement. That suggests that action to improve a school could be taken only once the school was already in difficulty. Our amendments would therefore introduce the category "likely to fail", allowing the inspector to recommend action if he believed that the school was likely to encounter serious concerns at a future date.
We cannot afford to jeopardise the future or the education of a single child. Action to improve a school may take a number of months to implement, with results taking even longer to come to fruition. All the time, the educational attainments and life chances of the pupils will suffer. The introduction of this new category would allow action to be taken before the problem worsened. We should allow the inspector to decide whether he or she believes that there is a serious enough problem just around the corner to merit immediate action, thereby nipping in the bud any concerns.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 93 and 95 in this group. As the Bill currently stands in relation to Wales, a school would require significant improvement only if it had already been deemed to be performing significantly less well than it might in all the circumstances reasonably be expected to perform. This suggests that action to improve a school could be taken only once the school was already in difficulties.
Our amendment would therefore introduce the category, "likely to perform significantly less well", allowing the inspector to recommend action if, in his view, he believed the school was likely to encounter serious concerns at a future date and was likely to perform significantly less well. I beg to move.
The Bill provides two categorise of schools that cause concern, as defined in Clause 43—special measures or significant improvement. Amendments Nos. 54, 87, 88 and 93, would add an additional category of school causing concern—a school likely to fail.
We will reflect on that but do not think that it is appropriate. We appreciate that the current definition of special measures refers to a school likely to fail to provide a satisfactory standard of education. We propose to move way from that. Under the revised definition in Clause 43, a school's capacity to improve will be taken into account, which is an important shift, because it makes a judgment as to whether that school is likely to move from its position of weakness as a consequence of the leadership, the commitment and the honesty of the self-evaluation and so on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and I agree that this is a more positive approach, because it recognises the capacity to move forward. This will be welcomed by schools which have made good progress and can show they have the capacity to improve further.
Amendment No. 95 would mean a school would also require significant improvement if it was likely to perform significantly less well than might reasonably be expected. Again, we do not believe that this would be appropriate, as it would introduce a negative element into a judgment, which would be unhelpful to schools. The focus of inspectors will be on the progress being made by schools. In making the significant improvement judgment, inspectors will give specific attention to the progress of pupils and the value added by a school. They will consider how a school's performance compares with other schools in similar contexts. This will ensure that schools that are not doing as well as they should, are identified and, given additional support and challenges, can raise their performance.
The Bill's arrangements provide the necessary framework for accountability and intervention to tackle failure and drive up standards.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I am not unsympathetic to his comments, the proposals in the Bill, or, indeed, the previous amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I am mindful how positive language can help enormously in a paradigm shift. However, I am concerned that warmer language should not simply be an excuse for inaction. We need to examine this again and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
This series of amendments would reintroduce the requirement on the inspector to produce a summary of his report and to send it to the appropriate authority when he was informing them of his particular decision.
Again, I stress that we support the intent to speed up the inspection process, but what advantage is there to be gained from ending the requirement to produce a summary in time, cost or quality of information? Can the Minister explain how he believes ending this process will assist and speed up the present arrangements?
Surely, in the case of the chief inspector informing the Secretary of State or relevant LEA that a school was to be placed in special measures, a full report would already have been produced. Therefore condensing this information into a summary would require minimal additional effort and time.
Our other concern is that communicating such a decision in the first instance would be based on the opinion of the chief inspector without any accompanying documents or evidence. Surely the Secretary of State and her officials would at least like to see a summary of the report before the main report arrives. We believe that the summary report is a useful document which, at the outset, informs all interested parties of the key findings of an inspector's report. It is also likely to be more attractive to parents and pupils in a more reader-friendly and lighter format.
We are not convinced that abolishing such a requirement is either a sensible move or likely to bring substantial benefits in speeding up the process. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 61 and 63 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. These minor amendments seek to clarify the wording of the Bill and to extend its provisions to pupils.
"such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure . . . every registered parent of a registered pupil".
I do not believe that there is such a thing as a registered parent. It also refers to receiving a copy of the report. At the moment, parents receive only a copy of the summary of the report and it seems absurd that they should have to receive and that the school should have to duplicate the report and send a full copy to every parent, many of whom will not wish to read it. They would prefer to receive a summary.
So the purpose of our amendment is to replace that wording and to do away with the concept of the registered parent so that the parents of pupils registered at the school receive a summary of the report and may request a copy of the full report. That would be sensible. If they wish to receive the full report, they can have a copy. Most parents would not want a full report and would be perfectly happy to receive the summary.
Amendment No. 63 takes up the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, this morning, regarding treating pupils as full stakeholders within the school. That amendment seeks to clarify that pupils should know about the report and, if they wish to see it, they should have access, either to the summary or to the full report, if they wish and as is appropriate. Clearly most pupils in a primary school would not be involved, but some senior pupils might wish to see it. Certainly some pupils in a secondary school might wish to see a copy of a full report.
So, the purpose of these two amendments is, first, to make clear that the school does not have to go to the length of producing the report in full and circulating it to all parents, and, secondly, to extend access to the report to pupils.
I wish to comment briefly on the process and then on the amendments. In listening to this and to Tuesday's debates, I have constantly been struck by the difficulty that we face. I know that it is not the first time where one is trying to legislate in a simplifying way in the context of something that is much more complex. Many of the amendments fall in a sort of "no-person's land" between a legislative process which is about freeing up and simplifying in a context in which people say, "Ah, but might there be problems and do we entirely trust each other?". The amendment is another example of that.
My comments may betray that I am a devil's advocate or that I am even more cynical than everyone else. But might there not be an unintended consequence of the summary, in that the report itself will go back to being long? In the academic world it is now common to have English-speaking summaries at the end of articles of immense complexity, which allows the articles to become even more complex. That probably means that the scholars read the summaries rather than the articles.
In making that somewhat whimsical remark, perhaps I may ask whether the amendments might produce the opposite of what is intended. I speak as a parent as well as a cleric.
Not for the first time, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth has put his finger on the kind of dilemma that governments face and that we are facing in this debate. One is trying to simplify and yet, within government, there is always a tension between that and seeking to move to less regulation, less specification and less dirigisme. At the same time, there are always one or two in the corner who will say, "Well, that's all right for you but we must have X, Y or Z". That is a characteristic of government and we are part of that tension.
What is different here is that one of the key features of the new inspection arrangements is that the inspection report is meant to be much more focused. Secondly, it is an inspection report that sits on the self-evaluation. So, whereas at present Ofsted goes in and almost measures, evaluates, quantifies and describes everything for itself and writes up the basis on which it comes to its conclusions, the process that we are now talking about is very different.
In a sense, through the inspection process and the report, Ofsted is commenting on the self-evaluation of the school and on the enormously powerful set of data that has been built up over 12 years of the process showing objectively how the school is performing. There is no need for all that information to be put into the report because, effectively, it is a commentary on the inspectorate's judgment on the performance data which are accessible, and on the school's evaluation and therefore its judgment on what is really important about the school's performance and its capacity to improve.
As a consequence, while current reports are 40 or more pages in length, under the new system they will drop to around six pages because they will focus on the key essentials that need to change. I think that it may be helpful to the Committee if I send examples of those to all Front-Benchers and to all who have taken part. They will give a flavour of the fundamental difference in the process.
It is not a matter of seeking to quantify and define absolutely everything and then, from that mass of documented detail, come to a conclusion. It is basically a case of taking two foundation sources—the evaluation and the data—and then, through the process of inspection and the interactions that go with it, coming to judgments which focus on what matters most. From our previous debates, I think that what matters most in inspections is being clear about what matters most. It is not a description of the 75 things that it would be nice to change but about the five or six things that really must change. Focusing in that way is crucial and that is why the report can be completed in six pages.
While parents currently receive only the summary and have to ask for the full report if they want it, in future they will receive the full report as a matter of course. They will have the whole job because parents are seen as the prime audience for the report. Ofsted is currently using focus groups of parents to check that the new style reports meet their needs, and that will be an ongoing process. So far, the early feedback is that parents have been extremely positive about the change.
In terms of the amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, I have said that a summary does not need to be sent because parents will receive the full report. I have also spoken about the arrangements for involving pupils in inspection and reporting to pupils on the outcomes.
The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, to Clause 12, which sets out the inspector's duties where a school causes concern, include a requirement to send a summary of the report to the Secretary of State, local authority or proprietor when giving notice that the school has been identified as causing concern.
I am not trying to tease the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, but I should also mention that all the reports will be available on the website and the full report will be sent to the appropriate authorities. The chief inspector already has a duty to send the reports to the local authority or proprietor, and therefore there is no need to increase burdens by requiring each report to be sent to the Secretary of State when he is notified that a school causes concern.
Replacing the current lengthy report and separate summary with the new style report will therefore not place additional burdens on schools or governing bodies. But it will mean that parents and others have direct access to the full outcome of the inspection.
I think that by far the most useful thing that I can say is that I shall send Members of the Committee examples of the summaries so that they can get a flavour of why we think this is both possible and highly desirable as a different form of outcome for the inspection process. I hope that that has been helpful.
In moving Amendment No. 65, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 66 to 70 and 76. The purpose of this set of amendments is to ensure that the action statement prepared by the local authority where a school is deemed to be in need of significant improvement or special measures is produced in consultation with the school concerned and, in particular, with the head teacher and the governing body of that school.
When a school is in special measures or requires significant improvement, the Bill places sole responsibility for action on the local education authority without mention of the contribution that the school, or any other body with a key part to play in the school's performance, is expected to make. LEAs cannot be expected to improve a school's performance without there being a legal requirement for the school and the other relevant bodies also to contribute. This is of particular concern as, under the new relationship with schools, it is proposed that a school improvement partner will work primarily with the school, although it will be managed by the LEA.
The limited number of days available to the school improvement partner is likely to result in a disconnection between the school and the LEA. The LEA has had little or no involvement with the school. It is not reasonable for the LEA to find itself responsible for a school when it goes into special measures. Again, it is not reasonable for local authorities to be judged against the performance of schools in their area if they have direct involvement with a school only once it is in special measures and then cannot guarantee the support of the school and other bodies in trying to secure its improvement.
Another issue that concerns us is leaving out the responsibilities of governing bodies. Under the new arrangements the proposed reduction of involvement in inspection by governors is disappointing and surprising. The important role played by governors in school improvement was first highlighted by Ofsted itself in 1994. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the Education Act 2002 set out ways in which governing bodies should contribute to school improvement. Subsequently, that was used to underpin successive inspection frameworks relating to the leadership and management of schools.
The current inspection framework indicates clearly that governors are expected to have a significant leadership role. That role is not intended to be performed in isolation, but in conjunction with the head teacher and other school staff as part of the corporate team. However, the proposed marginalisation of the governing body in inspection would not support such strategic involvement in the school. Such an approach seems to us to contradict the research evidence that has found a very strong association between the inspectors' judgment of a school's effectiveness and their judgment of its governing body. That finding is supported by evidence from Ofsted, which similarly reported a clear association between effective schools and effective governing bodies.
In conclusion, in moving the amendment and in speaking to the series of amendments grouped with it, we feel that, where a school needs to be turned around, the team element involved has proved to be significant. It is wrong to move away from that team element, back to placing the sole responsibility on the local education authority when often the local education authority will have but a minimal role. I beg to move.
Sometimes the problem is that until the Government have expressed, as a result of probing amendments, the intended system in more detail, it is difficult to spot what on earth is going on. On reflection, it is sometimes an inefficient process, but now is not the time to speculate on that.
I understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, says what she has said. I would share her horror if we intended to do what she worries we will do. But that is not so. We would not for a second consider that it would be remotely sensible to place the sole responsibility for turning a school around on others, to the exclusion of the school and governors. Nor do we believe that the local authority has a minimal involvement in the process of deciding what is going on in a school before, during and after an inspection report. We would expect the reverse: we would expect that the local authority, through its SIP—if I can use that ghastly abbreviation—would be very actively involved in understanding that. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has indicated, a good local authority knows where there are worrying areas and it would focus its efforts accordingly.
The amendments would introduce additional requirements to the arrangements for schools causing concern, including the action to be taken by local authorities and others. Amendment No. 65 would require the local authority to consult the appropriate body for, and the head teacher of, a maintained school before preparing a written statement of action that it proposes. We totally agree that the LEA should consult with the school in preparing the statement. It is essential that the head teacher is involved from the outset. That already happens without any legal requirement. It must and will continue in the future.
Where a school is judged to be a cause for concern, inspectors give oral feedback to governors and to the head teacher at the end of an inspection and, therefore, the head receives early notification of the inspection findings. It is then for the governors and the head teacher to consider how to address the issues identified by inspectors. The current guidance from the department makes it clear that governors, head teachers and staff should be closely involved in drawing up school action plans. I can give the Committee an assurance that that will continue and will be made clear in guidance in the new legislation.
A similar consideration applies in relation to Amendment No. 76. That would require the proprietor of a non-maintained school to consult the head teacher before preparing a written statement of action, when notified by the chief inspector. Again, such consultation will happen as a matter of course. It is not necessary to cover it in legislation, but it will be in guidance.
In all cases, therefore, we expect the head teacher, the staff and the governors to be closely involved in decisions about action to be taken to address issues raised by inspectors. The current guidance makes that clear, as it will in the future.
Amendments Nos. 66 and 67 would require the LEA's statement to include any action it recommends the school or any others should take and the timescale for this action. I think that that is unnecessary. As we have explained, in practice, LEA's statements will be drawn up in consultation with the school and anyone else whom the LEA considers has a part to play in securing improvements.
Amendments Nos. 68 and 69 would require the LEA to send its written statement of action to the head teacher and governing body. Once again, it is not necessary to put that in legislation. Much of the action needed will fall to the head teacher and governing body. It is unthinkable that the LEA would fail to send a copy to them and anyone else with a role to play. We will ensure that this is also covered in guidance.
Amendment No. 70 would extend to significant improvement cases the Secretary of State's power to specify a shorter period than prescribed for the LEA to prepare the action plan. We do not see a need to extend the Secretary of State's powers in this way. The intention is that regulations will prescribe 10 working days from receipt of the inspection report as the deadline for the LEA to prepare its statement of action. In the majority of cases this will ensure attention is given in a timely manner to the needs of schools judged to require special measures or significant improvement. In a few cases the needs of a school may require more urgent action. The clause gives the Secretary of State power to ensure that this happens. It is appropriate for only the categories of school which give most cause for concern.
The Bill is intended to simplify existing arrangements for schools causing concern, including the requirements for follow-up action by LEAs and schools. Clearly, this simplification would be undermined by the amendments, but the thrust of those amendments will be protected by the guidance that I have indicated—and given a commitment to the Committee—will follow through from the Bill. I hope that clarification has therefore reduced the need to press the amendment.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. In some senses it is reassuring. It raises exactly the same issues as those we talked about in relation to appeals procedures and the involvement of pupils, and so forth. We have the assurance that of course this will happen and that it will be set out in guidance. Yet, in a sense there is always the question of, "Is it going to be set out in guidance?". Is it not useful to have at least some short mention of these issues in the Bill in order to make sure that guidance is there and that it follows the wishes of the legislature? That is the reason for seeking to have this provision written on to the face of the Bill.
Without labouring the point, as a government Minister I have given a commitment to the Committee that this will happen. Noble Lords will know what happens if it does not.
Perhaps I may support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. If the issue is not specifically laid down in legislation, what happens is that, over a period of two or three years, different people come and go and shortcuts are taken. Therefore, there needs to be more than just guidance. We keep getting assurances from the Government, but we would like to see some of these issues on the face of the Bill so that we know that they will still happen in three or four years' time. Ministers and inspectors come and go and some of these issues might be lost if they are not in the Bill. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on this issue. It covers not only this point but also several points in the Bill.
Without wrecking our process by drifting into philosophy, there is a judgment about where that line is drawn—we had discussions about that this morning—on issues like this which are essentially about important administrative procedure. I think that we have to resist cluttering up primary legislation with detailed specifications of process. That is what guidance is for. I repeat: Hansard is for ever. If we have given a commitment, we have given a commitment.
I am grateful to the Minister for his further clarification. Obviously it is extremely useful to have in Hansard the full explanation of the Government's intention here. Nevertheless, there are occasions where it is useful to provide the little hook within the primary legislation on which to hang the secondary legislation. I think that we shall come back to this at later stages of the Bill, because issues of principle are involved on which we may wish to provide some little hooks within the primary legislation. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 66 to 70 not moved.]
Clause 14 agreed to.
Clause 15 [Destination of reports: non-maintained schools]:
[Amendments Nos. 71 to 75 not moved.]
Clause 15 agreed to.
Clause 16 [Statement to be prepared by proprietor of school]:
[Amendment No. 76 not moved.]
Clause 16 agreed to.
Clauses 17 and 18 agreed to.
Schedule 2 agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 77 and 78 not moved.]
Clause 19 [Functions of Chief Inspector]:
[Amendment No. 79 not moved.]
Clause 19 agreed to.
Clause 20 [Annual and other reports to Assembly]:
[Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 not moved.]
Clause 20 agreed to.
On Question, Whether Clause 21 shall stand part of the Bill?
We were moving on so well that I felt trepidation at getting up again. In opposing the Question that Clause 21 shall stand part of the Bill we hope to elicit from the Minister more detail on how the advisory panel will operate, its remit and purpose. The Bill and Explanatory Notes provide scant information on the panel's remit. We do not even know how many members it will comprise. What role, therefore, does the noble Baroness envisage? We should be careful to ensure that we do not just create another quango.
Who will choose the members of the advisory panel: will the First Minister, the Welsh Education Minister or the Assembly have the final say over the appointments? How will the independence and impartiality of each member be guaranteed? What criteria will be used to judge each candidate? How much will the panel cost each year, and where will it be based? I note that much of those details, such as members' remuneration, will be left to the regulation-making powers of the Assembly. However, it would be helpful if the noble Baroness could shed some light on this particularly cloudy area.
Why, if the National Assembly for Wales believes it would be useful and advantageous to have such a panel, does the Secretary of State feel that she can do perfectly well without it? I have heard that our new Secretary of State is an extremely talented and gifted individual, but why do we not have such a panel in England if the Welsh are to have one?
I, too, find it difficult to see why the Assembly requires a panel to advise it on matters relating to the inspectorate, bearing in mind that it has a Minister in the Assembly Government and a committee of Assembly Members dedicated to education. They also have Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), a Crown appointment, on which the Assembly is to be consulted.
One would have thought that the chief inspector and the education committee would provide sufficient advice. It might be argued that further advice from a panel, presumably consisting largely of professionals, would be superfluous and could even cause confusion in decision-making. On reading the clause it is noticeable that the Bill is uncertain on the functions of the advisory panel, other than its own appointment, fixing remuneration and allowances, ensuring co-operation with HMCI and making reports to the Assembly. The proposed panel gives the impression of being superfluous from its inception. There is little that it can do that HMCI cannot do better or more authoritatively.
The briefing on the Bill that we received from the Government Whips' Office states:
"the Assembly discharges a range of responsibilities with regard to Estyn (the Chief Inspector's Office) related to appointments, agreement of terms and conditions and funding. Currently, there are no mechanisms to provide the Assembly with independent advice on such matters".
Is a special panel really necessary for those functions? I doubt it very much. Surely, they are matters for the Minister and civil servants. The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, who covers a far wider spectrum of services and is also a Crown appointment, does not require a special panel attached to him and his office to advise the Assembly. I am not aware of any other similar case. This panel is an Assembly quango by another name and I am surprised to see the proposal in the Bill bearing in mind that the Assembly Government are currently setting alight the long-promised bonfire of Welsh quangos.
In fairness, I should point out that the NUT believes that the panel will be welcomed by teachers in Wales, but that welcome was extended in the context of the inspectorate's increased accountability to the Assembly after a period when the NUT endured what it described as a punitive system of inspections. It is not at all clear that the panel can have a role in changing perceived attitudes on the part of the inspectorate. I do not think that the panel will be able to change the inspectorate's functions at all. Any change of that nature in the style of the inspectorate, and so on, will have to come from the inspectorate itself or from the Bill.
Like my noble friend, I do not find the case for the proposed panel at all compelling; quite the reverse. It is an unnecessary addition to the bureaucratic burden on the education budget. Admittedly it is a permissive clause; it is a "may" clause; but that is no reason for us to allow it to proceed in the Bill.
On these Benches we do not support the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. We feel that the Assembly might perhaps be somewhat undermined. It should be allowed to keep its panel. The situation in Wales, as people often say, is somewhat different. In England we have the Education Select Committee in another place; they do not have that in Wales, therefore an advisory panel of experts may very well be most useful in advising the Assembly on inspection matters. Wales is different and I would like to see Clause 21 left in the Bill.
I am grateful for the support of one part of the Opposition. I hope to bring the other part round to my way of thinking by the time I have explained in a bit more detail what the panel is supposed to do. I take on board the specific questions asked by both noble Lords; if I cannot answer them all then I will write.
Clause 21 provides the Assembly with a new and necessary power to establish through regulations a panel to advise the Assembly on any matter relating to the functions of the chief inspector. It might be worth stating the role of Estyn in relation to the Assembly. Estyn is independent of but funded by the National Assembly for Wales under Section 104 of the Government of Wales Act. It is accountable to the Assembly in relation to financial matters and to the audit committee. It has a key role in raising standards in quality of education and training across Wales in all areas through inspection and advice. Although the management of the inspectorate is a matter for the chief inspector, the Assembly is required to discharge a range of responsibilities with regard to Estyn. It is in relation to those other responsibilities that we seek to enable the Assembly to discharge its duties with a little more dialogue and enrichment, without imposing any new duties or any new bureaucracy.
Clause 21 allows the Assembly to make provision for the appointment of members of the panel, remuneration and allowances, and the preparation of reports. It requires the chief inspector to co-operate, for example, by providing the panel with access to staff and papers.
We fully recognise that the management of the inspectorate is clearly a matter for the chief inspector. However, the new panel will provide what has been felt lacking for some time—it will fill a gap with an informed and independent view on the range of duties and responsibilities the Assembly is required to discharge with regard to Estyn—Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales. There is no mechanism for providing the Assembly with independent advice, and it is the independence of the advice that concerns us particularly.
It might make sense to noble Lords if we consider what the panel might do. It will have three potential tasks. It will be able to advise the Assembly on the annual remit issued to the chief inspector by the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning. The chief inspector can devote 20 per cent of inspectorate time to strategic issues and development. That might go across a range of educational issues; it might relate to primary education, curriculum development or whatever. The inspector has the right to request that but, to date, has had no mechanism to obtain or commission advice for that purpose. So we look to the panel to provide an expert and informed view on the development of such a programme that would identify and address key issues consistent with policy objectives and priorities throughout Wales. It will bring a new strength to the inspectorate's arm and to the Assembly's arm and would draw them closer together into that dialogue. The panel will be able to advise on that range of issues.
The panel will also be able to provide advice to Ministers in meeting the Assembly's statutory obligation to approve Estyn's annual plan. It will be able to advise the Assembly on the extent to which it believes that the plan will provide an effective platform for raising standards and quality in education and training to support the vision. It will be a critical friend to the Assembly in assessing how effective education and training in Wales has been, as mediated through Estyn's annual plan. I would have thought that that would be an extremely helpful new resource for the Assembly.
The panel will also advise Ministers on the handling of any complaint against the chief inspector. There is no current mechanism for the consideration of such complaints, if they do not fall within the remit of the Welsh Administration Ombudsman. Therefore, it will be in the interests of all parties to ensure that the panel has unfettered access to papers and is in a position to provide such an informed and full opinion on the subject matter.
The panel is essentially advisory. It will not have executive powers. It will be for Ministers to determine whether to accept or act on the advice, but it will be new advice that will be useful to the Assembly.
Who will be on the panel? The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, asked me how many members the panel would have, who they would be and how they would be appointed. Much of that detail will be subject to consultation by the Assembly as part of the framing of the regulations, but I can tell the Committee that the panel will provide an informed, independent view on the role and contribution of inspection in raising standards. Essentially, it will be composed of practitioners. They will be people with wide experience in education. There will be representation from the business sector. We expect the membership to be no more than six, and the appointments will be made through the established Assembly procedures. I can write to the noble Lord with more detail about that. The clause sets out the basic principles, and the detail will be subject to consultation, as we frame the regulations.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, asked what the panel would cost. The costs will be limited to travel and subsistence for panel members, and we expect Assembly officials to provide support for the panel. It will not be expensive.
There is no duplication of roles and responsibilities in that there are no executive powers. It is not adding to the bureaucratic burden, but is added value. We believe that it is an important development. There can be no assumption that the panel will be an advisory, Assembly-sponsored public body. When it is established decisions on its status will be taken as part of the process to establish the panel itself. We believe it unlikely that the panel would draw one-third of its membership from outside the public sector, for example. It will be based in Cardiff. I do not have any other information available to me so I make that assumption.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, concluded by asking why it is unnecessary in England. Part of the answer was given by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. We have the education committee in England which provides advice. In addition, we have mechanisms in England: there is the body which enables a chief inspector to be called to account. We have independent adjudicators available to deal with complaints against a chief inspector. We have a different system.
We are trying to create something which we have been advised is needed and will be welcome. It is very good to know that the NUT in Wales has welcomed it. It will be limited, advisory, modest and effective as regards what it is intended to do. I hope that reassures Members of the Committee. I shall certainly write if we can provide any further details.
I am very grateful to the Minister for her justification of this clause. Nevertheless, I am far from convinced of the necessity for this particular panel. I turn to the three functions which the noble Baroness described, the first of which is the advice on the inspector's remit. I would have thought it is very much a matter for the education committee of the Assembly. There is a statutory education committee and it is a matter for that committee and the Minister as to what the inspectorate's remit should be. Similarly, as regards the inspectorate's annual plan, that is surely a matter for the Minister to approve. It is not a matter on which to seek advice from a body of practitioners.
If the advisory panel is there to examine complaints against the chief inspector, that is a role, as we heard this morning, which can also be played by the public services' ombudsman who is about to be created under another Bill which is coming before this House.
I am sure that it will be costly. The noble Baroness referred to allowances, but she did not refer to the other related item—remuneration. Therefore, these advisors will be paid. There is not much doubt that they will find something to do. I shall certainly seek to inquire into the matter further.
Perhaps I may have the last word. As regards who sets the remit, it is advice which is required by the Minister for Education. One of the points I hoped to get across to Members of the Committee is that it is an independent group providing advice which the Minister and the Assembly will be unable to obtain anywhere else. That will be extremely important. I reiterate that the costs are limited because the panel members will be covered for travel and subsistence. I have no further advice as regards remuneration.
I thank the noble Baroness for her replies. She will realise that we still have some concerns, although she has undertaken to write to us, in particular on the point about remuneration. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 85:
After Clause 27, insert the following new clause—
The Chief Inspector may inspect any school in Wales, in circumstances where he is not required by section 19(2)(b) or 27, where he may have cause for concern arising from his duty under section 19."
This amendment would allow the chief inspector in Wales the same power as his counterpart in England to inspect schools at his discretion where, under his duties outlined in Clause 19, he has cause for concern.
The particular merit of this clause is that it would allow the chief inspector to inspect any school at any time if he had cause for concern. He would not necessarily have to wait for the usual and planned range of inspections. This is a step we can support in relation to England, and is why we thought it would be a useful addition to the powers available to the chief inspector in Wales. We are in favour of any measures that bring greater flexibility and responsiveness to the position.
Perhaps the Minister could explain why such a power is to be granted to the inspector in England, but not in Wales. I beg to move.
This is a valuable new clause in that it would give the chief inspector the right to inspect any school in Wales, whether required to do so or not by the Assembly or under Clause 27, if he has cause for concern arising from his general duty under Clause 19.
I assume that the clause would allow a snap inspection when a school suddenly comes into the news and allegations fly—such a situation is not unknown in Wales. I am reminded of an occasion not so long ago in a rural area of Wales when some trouble arose. A school and its teacher were in the news, which occasioned a visit by a television camera crew. I recall the interviewer asking one of the mothers of a pupil at the school whether she had, "something against Miss Jones"—or whatever was the teacher's name. The mother replied, "Oh, goodness me, no. Only what I've heard". Clearly she knew something, but there was no way in which the interviewer could elicit what it was.
That kind of situation does boil up from time to time and might require a snap inspection. I am not sure that it is the kind of circumstance that any HMI would like to step into, but at least they would not be debarred from doing so. Indeed, the inspectorate might be positively encouraged by the presence of such a provision. Moreover, public pressure often calls for a snap inspection, which might ease pressure on the Minister in the Assembly.
Although just a few minutes ago I said that England and Wales do not always have to be the same because they are very different countries, particularly in size, on this occasion I think there is merit in the proposed new clause. The reason I say that is that to a great extent children have only one chance at their education, although there are reparatory mechanisms available—sometimes, sadly, in the education department of a young offender's institution. We all know how difficult that can be. So if there is a need to get in quickly if there is immediate cause for concern and the chief inspector believes that an inspector will be able to identify clearly what the problems are and kick into place mechanisms to help put things right then there is no reason why that should not be as valid in Wales as in England. I support this amendment.
I can give the noble Lords the assurances they seek. They have sought to bring forward a power for the chief inspector to inspect any school in Wales irrespective of whether such an inspection had been specifically requested by the Assembly under the powers in Clause 19(20)(b) or was part of the cycle of regular school inspection provided for in Clause 27.
We talked a bit about Estyn and its functions in the previous debate. I agree with everything noble Lords have said about how essential it is for the inspectorate in discharging its remit to have unfettered access to schools and to be able to have the freedom to disseminate good practice without fear or favour. It should be able to identify shortfalls and be able to praise success. In the new inspection arrangements in both England and Wales we are trying to maximise the access that is vital to raising quality and standards.
It is for this very reason that Clause 23 enables the chief inspector to arrange for any school in Wales to be inspected by an HMI. It also provides for an HMI to monitor school inspection being carried out by a registered inspector under Clause 27 and makes provision for right of entry and a right to inspect documents for the purposes of inspection.
Inspection plays a key part in school improvement. The chief inspector must have the flexibility to arrange inspection and to monitor as and where necessary. That is the basis for open and fair reporting, and without that the integrity of the inspection system could be seriously impaired. Clause 23 ensures that is provided for Wales. On the basis that Estyn can inspect at the chief inspector's discretion at any time and at any school in Wales I hope that this amendment will be withdrawn.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 4 agreed to.
Clause 28 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 86 not moved.]
Clauses 29 to 35 agreed to.
Clause 36 [Duty to notify where inspection shows maintained school causing concern]:
[Amendments Nos. 87 and 88 not moved.]
Clause 36 agreed to.
Clause 37 [Destination of reports: maintained schools]:
[Amendment No. 89 not moved.]
Clause 37 agreed to.
Clauses 38 and 39 agreed to.
Clause 40 [Destination of reports: non-maintained schools]:
[Amendment No. 90 not moved.]
Clause 40 agreed to.
Clauses 41 and 42 agreed to.
Clause 43 [Categories of schools causing concern]:
[Amendment No. 91 not moved.]
Amendment No. 92 is a simple probing amendment in relation to categories of schools causing concern and where special measures were required in relation to schools in Wales.
As the Bill currently stands, special measures would be required to be taken if the school was failing to give its pupils an accurate standard of education and the persons responsible for leading, managing or governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement.
My question is simple: why before special measures are taken is it necessary to have both categories of failure occurring at the same time, as the inclusion of the word "and" in line 2 suggests? Surely it is possible for one to occur without the other. Indeed, as it stands, one would have to wait for the other to be judged to have occurred before special measures could be implemented. Given the seriousness of either of these categories, action should be taken if only one occurs. I hope the Minister can provide some assurance in this regard. I beg to move.
I will do my best. It starts with a recognition of the seriousness of special measures. We have spoken about that and I shall not elaborate upon it, but clearly it is understood that they are implemented only in a situation where a school is very seriously failing.
The way in which Clause 43 defines special measures—and, therefore, the way in which it triggers intervention action—is when a school is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and the persons responsible for leading, managing and governing the school are not demonstrating a capacity to secure the necessary improvement. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, that means that both criteria would need to be met before a special measures designation would be appropriate.
This probing amendment would require a school to be made subject to special measures if only one of the two criteria was not met. That would mean that a school could be placed in special measures even though it was providing an acceptable standard of education but the leadership was not likely to secure improvement. We do not believe that would be right. Special measures are a serious matter and require radical and urgent action. They are not appropriate for a school whose performance is acceptable even though the leadership is not of the quality that would lead to the school being judged as likely to improve significantly.
In any case, the standard of education is unlikely to be acceptable if the leaders, governors and managers do not demonstrate the capacity to secure the improvements that the school needs. The two often go hand in hand. Leadership is often a factor when a school is judged to require special measures.
We believe that it is right to continue to identify the most serious cases of failure and to require action. The Bill does that. It also strengthens our drive to achieve higher and higher standards. A significant improvement category will ensure that schools with weaknesses in sixth form or other aspects of their provision are identified and receive additional support to help them. It will also put the spotlight on schools which are doing reasonably well but should be doing better. It will ensure that these schools, too, raise their performance.
Let me with some hand signals—again to the bafflement of Hansard—try to illustrate that. Under the Clause 43 definition, there could be a school which was not giving its pupils an acceptable standard of education but which could, in the judgment of Ofsted, improve with new governors coming in, a new head and some new key staff. For the sake of argument, let us say that, after a year, it may have demonstrated such leadership potential that Ofsted could be confident that that was likely to move the school out of that unacceptable standard of performance without needing the heavy hand of the full special measures category. I expect to have the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, with me on this point of the argument.
The alternative is that a school could be coasting. It could be perfectly acceptable in terms of performance but not brilliant, in which case the judgment of Ofsted might be that the head or the governors, or both, did not demonstrate the necessary ambition and seriousness required. It could be classified as an average school which did not have the push to go further. If Ofsted judged that the leadership was such that it was not going to improve the school further, it would be a case for action but it would not be a case for special measures.
That is the reason, therefore, for the differentiation that the clause, as currently drafted, allows. We believe that it is a proper differentiation. Of course it is Ofsted's judgments which trigger different actions. I hope that has been helpful.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Sometimes the leadership is not particularly good but pupils still do quite a good job because of their wonderful teachers. As long as there is pre-emptive action to ensure that poor leadership does not permeate downwards, effectively causing the children to suffer, we are satisfied. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I am here under my own flag now. Clause 44 alters the power contained in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 for the Secretary of State or, in Wales, the Assembly to direct a local education authority to close a school that is causing concern.
At present the Secretary of State or the Assembly has such power in relation to schools that require special measures or have serious weaknesses. In future, that power will apply only to schools that are placed in special measures.
The change gives rise to a number of questions on which we would welcome the Minister's comments. We understand that the clause has been prompted by the change in the terminology and categories of schools that cause concern. My question is simple: what will happen to those schools that were categorised as "in serious weakness" and which were liable to be closed by either the Assembly or the Secretary of State? Presumably they will now be termed as "needing significant improvement" and will stay open. What will happen to the pupils in those schools?
Perhaps the Minister can also give us the relevant information on how many schools each year were included in that category and were closed. The figure would be helpful in understanding the nature and scale of the problem that we are addressing.
The clear and simple questions are always the worst, but I shall have a go.
The clause continues the power of the Secretary of State or of the National Assembly for Wales to direct a local education authority to close the school that has been in special measures. The clause gives the Secretary of State and the Assembly such a power only in relation to the most serious category of schools which give cause for concern.
In that sense there is nothing new. The power has existed for several years. The clause largely re-enacts Section 19 of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998, as amended by Section 56 of the Education Act 2002.
At present, the Secretary of State and Assembly have power to direct closure of a school that is either subject to special measures or has serious weaknesses. The clause covers only those schools that require special measures. We do not believe that it would be appropriate to exercise powers in relation to other schools. The clause, therefore, does not cover schools requiring significant improvement.
We believe that the power in this clause is still needed as a preventive measure. It has never been used by the Secretary of State or the Assembly, but it may be needed as a last resort if a school is in severe difficulties and rapid improvement is unlikely. We must retain the Secretary of State's and Assembly's ability to direct closure in such circumstances, and we must retain their ability to give such direction when a school is failing children and other intervention powers have not achieved improvement in standards.
LEAs have powers under Section 29 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to close schools they maintain. Those apply whether or not a school is in special measures. LEAs may choose—that is probably the central point of the good question posed by the noble Baroness—to close failing schools, taking into account the number of school places available locally and local opinion. One hundred and seventy schools in special measures were closed by LEAs since 1998.
Our policy has been that schools in special measures should be turned round or closed in two years. However, this policy is not applied inflexibly where signs of a school's recovery are evident. Where failure exists, we shall not hesitate to intervene and encourage local authorities to consider closure.
Before making a direction under the clause the Secretary of State or the Assembly must consult the LEA. In the case of foundation or voluntary schools, they must consult with the diocese or other appropriate authority and any appropriate persons. These requirements ensure that any decision on closure takes account of the position in the local area. The greatest concern must be to ensure that children receive a good standard of education and that they are not let down by their schools or their LEAs. If that were to happen, the Secretary of State or the Assembly must be able to step in.
I was asked how many schools had been closed by the Secretary of State or the Assembly. The power has been used and 1,200 schools have been closed by LEAs.
I hope that as a consequence of what I have said the House will agree that Clause 44 stand part.
moved Amendment No. 96:
Page 30, line 3, at end insert—
"( ) In exercising their duties and functions under this section, the governing body and the foundation governors of a school that is a Church of England school or a Roman Catholic Church school shall have regard to any advice issued by the appropriate diocesan authority."
In moving Amendment No. 96, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 100, 101 and 102 because they all touch on denominational inspection of schools of a religious character, often known as Section 23 inspections. I shall be as brief as I can.
Amendment No. 96 is replicated in the case of Wales by Amendment No. 102. These amendments would require school governing bodies to have regard to any advice issued to them on such inspections by the appropriate diocesan authority. In the case of Church of England and Church in Wales schools, the appropriate authority is the diocesan board of education of the diocese in which the school is situated.
I am in the happy position of moving these amendments in a warm ecumenical spirit. They take into account the particular needs of the two largest groups of schools with a religious character, the Anglican and Roman Catholic schools in England and Wales, although they are not the only groups. I stress that this is not the first time that someone speaking from these Benches has had the privilege of consulting the Catholic Education Service before moving an amendment with its explicit support. However, I am conscious that these amendments do not take account of the needs of other Christian schools—for example, Methodist schools—nor do they take account of the needs of Jewish, Sikh, Muslim or Seventh-day Adventist schools. I know that the Government have had discussions with the trustees of those schools and that they might be inclined to consider giving them similar powers to those proposed for diocesan authorities in these amendments. I heartily welcome that development.
The additional powers over governing bodies that I am proposing for diocesan authorities require some explanation since they do not imply any lack of trust in the thousands of people who, to great effect, give large amounts of their free time for the benefit of schools and their pupils.
It should be noted that these powers are modest. Governing bodies would be required to have regard to any advice over denominational inspection that they received from diocesan authorities. This falls into line with a group of powers that Church of England diocesan boards of education have through the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991, as amended. Those noble Lords who laboured through the Education Act 2002 may remember that an amendment to the measure extended similar powers to diocesan boards of education to give advice over school admission policies to governing bodies to which they must have regard. I was not directly involved in those discussions, but I heartily welcomed them.
Secondly, these powers would be the first modest constraint over governing bodies or, in the case of voluntary controlled schools, the foundation governors, in the conduct of denominational inspection. At present, they can appoint who they will to conduct an inspection on any basis that they choose. In practice, as soon as they hear that they are to be inspected by Ofsted, the overwhelming number of church schools turn to their diocesan authorities and ask for advice on who to appoint as a denominational inspector.
In the case of the Church of England and the Church in Wales schools, the dioceses have a list of inspectors who have been trained and registered through a national process organised by the National Society which I chair as chairman of the Board of Education of the Church of England. They are slightly overlapping bodies. I will not go into the details. One day I will understand the full details myself. They conduct the inspection in accordance with a framework developed by the National Society through national consultation.
A new, lighter framework, influenced by the current Ofsted changes, is presently being piloted and taken very seriously by us. The system generally works well, but not every school seeks or heeds the advice of the diocesan authority. It is important that the quality of the process continues to be improved and is as may be assured, and these new powers are a step towards greater quality assurance. Even so, they would probably not be necessary, nor would I be seeking them, if it were not for a significant change in the proposals for Ofsted inspections, which I fully support but which make a radical difference to the way in which inspections are arranged.
Currently, with the support of the diocese, schools arrange inspections to take place at the same time or immediately after an Ofsted inspection. That is desirable in every way, but it would not be possible under the new arrangements without two changes. A school may hear on a Friday afternoon that it is to be inspected the following week. That would leave no time for a denominational inspection to be arranged to take place at the same time.
My officials have discussed this issue with Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, who has agreed in principle that diocesan authorities can be notified well ahead of the date of forthcoming inspections, provided that they maintain confidentiality and do not tell the school. They will then arrange an inspection and inform the school on the Friday afternoon who is to undertake it. No doubt they will act on a basis agreed with each of the diocesan schools; the governing bodies will still formally make the appointment, having had regard to the advice that they receive from the diocesan authority; and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has the power to inform the diocesan authority ahead of time. However, under the current arrangements they could do nothing with the information that they had received. Therefore, without these modest new powers, which also serve as a degree of quality assurance, the system would not work.
Finally, I turn briefly to my proposed new clauses after Clause 48, in Amendments Nos. 100 and 101. These relate to academies with a religious character and, where they are Church of England or Roman Catholic institutions, extend to them the requirement of denominational inspection. At present there is a small number of such academies, and in a number of dioceses there are some developed plans for more. I hope that Members of the Committee will not find these proposals controversial but may even see in them a reassurance about some concerns over RE in one or two of those institutions that might be regarded as lacking in breadth or depth. I shall say no more on that.
In summary, these probing amendments are about using and adapting existing structures and procedures in schools and academies with a denominational character, without frustrating, duplicating or ignoring them. I beg to move.
As one who has some involvement in the life of a Church of England school and has done previous work assisting in the development and thinking in Church of England schools, I intervene, having declared that interest, to say how very much I support these proposals. It is helpful to such schools to have the advice and guidance of the diocesan authority, although I note that it is to "have regard to" rather than to be told what to do, which I also welcome.
I was particularly interested to hear what the right reverend Prelate had to say about the possible extension of such arrangements to Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Seventh-day Adventist communities. In relation to academies and the powers of the proprietors, that could be a particularly helpful proposal.
I support the amendment. I was interested to hear the right reverend Prelate premise part of the practical proposals on an assumption that confidentiality would be kept by the diocesan board and offices. I shall go home to read more Trollope and reconsider whether I should send the right reverend Prelate a volume or two. That said, I support this amendment, particularly its ecumenical nature. Perhaps I may raise a wider point that the right reverend Prelate has raised by implication. The relation between religion and education, not least in the field of religious education per se, has been a notorious point of delicacy and, sometimes, of difficulty for Secretaries of State.
When the great Butler Act of 1944 was first shown to the then Prime Minister Churchill, he referred to the relevant clauses as advocating Zoroastrianism or the county councils' creed, such were the difficulties that was faced in formulating the arrangements for religious education. The arrangements of the 1992 Act, which are reflected in this Bill, were correct; but they were drawn up in considerable haste, I suspect, because that Act was moving through the Houses as a general election approached.
The broader denominational and multi-religious character of our country was, perhaps, not given the attention that it might have received if there had been more time. In the light of that and the introduction of city academies, which equally were not known about at the time, would the Government welcome, at a later stage in the Bill, an amendment which provided for regulations to be made, after consultation with the relevant bodies, to extend the amendment to a wider range of schools which might fall under the classification of "religious" or "denominational"? That would be one way of handling the matter, without having to rush to develop a clause which would require broad consultation in the community.
The amendment seeks to provide a greater statutory role for the diocesan authorities in the appointment of an inspector to inspect religious education and collective worship in the Church of England or Roman Catholic schools in England, or in Church in Wales or Roman Catholic schools in Wales. For the great majority of schools this is already custom and practice and works well. Schools already have existing close working relations with their diocese and are happy to take the recommendations of the diocese in appointing a suitably experienced and qualified inspector to undertake these inspections. Further, many dioceses actually relieve schools, at the schools' request, of the burden of arranging these inspections.
However, there are a few examples where the inspector appointed has not been of the right stuff—where their experience has been found wanting or their processes were not sufficiently rigorous to identify areas for improvement in the teaching of the faith. This does no one any good. Parents rely on these inspectors to assure them that the faith they hold is being taught well in their schools. Schools may not be provided with sufficient challenge to their teaching of the faith to help them understand how it can be improved. To that end, we agree with the principles behind the right reverend Prelate's amendments.
The aim is to ensure that the inspections to be carried out in schools with a denominational character are as congruous as possible with these additional inspections. We do not want to see schools subjected to multiple inspections where it can be helped. I know that there have been fruitful discussions with Ofsted and the representatives of the faith groups on this issue. I believe that it is intended that a protocol to allow the sharing of relevant information between Ofsted and appropriate individuals, on a confidential basis, is developed. Yet that would be of little effect if those inspections were not more robust.
The Government believe in opportunity for all and the amendment would not aid those pupils in schools from other faiths. Officials from the department have been working hard with representatives from all faiths to look at how this can be achieved. No firm conclusions have been reached, but I am hopeful that the Government can support an amendment that will achieve the ambitions that we share.
In Wales, the aim is also welcomed and the situation is similar. The aim is to ensure that the inspections to be carried out are of equal rigour to those undertaken by Estyn. Similarly, officials have been working with representatives from all faiths to consider how that can be achieved. Again, conclusions have not been finalised, but we are optimistic that they will be.
Perhaps I may turn to the other amendments tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. Amendment No. 100 concerns academies and city technology colleges which are designated as having a religious character. The amendment would create the same arrangements for the inspection of religious education and collective worship undertaken in those institutions as in maintained faith schools. The Government support the principles behind the amendment; namely, that the provision for the teaching of religious education and for a daily act of collective worship in academies should be inspected in a manner consistent with that for foundation and voluntary faith schools. We do not believe that it is necessary to place these requirements in the legislation as the same objective can be achieved by stipulating them in the funding agreement for each academy and CTC.
We are confident that all existing academies and CTCs which are designated as having a religious character and which are sponsored by the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church will willingly change their funding agreements to implement the proposed inspection arrangements. The model funding agreement will be altered so that all new designated academies will be required to follow the inspection arrangements that apply to maintained faith schools.
Therefore, while I am not in a position today to bring forward amendments, I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth will take some comfort from those assurances and wait in patience until Report.
We would have to do something different, but that does not appear to be a problem.
I am very grateful to Members of the Committee who have contributed to this brief debate, and I am pleased to have the support of the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Sutherland.
In response—I am afraid that I simply cannot resist this—as the son of a spy and a reader of Trollope, an episcopal colleague of mine was interviewed for a post at Lambeth Palace. On being asked a question, he replied, "Confidentiality in the Church of England means telling one person at a time", whereupon he got the job. But I have to say that my experience of other walks of life is that this place leaks as well. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, will accept that in the spirit in which it is offered.
I am very pleased to have the Minister's reassurances, and I conclude with one or two brief remarks about academies and RE. The Church of England can be very proud of pioneering by adapting what was in the past traditional and rather wooden RE in two directions—in an ecumenical direction and an inter-faith direction—and in the context of this kind of legislation, which will call into account academies and Church and faith schools. I also refer to the new initiatives relating to the RE framework, which personally I hope will move towards a syllabus. It will mean that in the schools of the other faith communities we shall be able to expect the same kind of breadth that I am proud to say is operated by the Church of England. On that basis, I am very happy to withdraw my amendment.
moved Amendment No. 97:
Page 30, line 25, leave out "prescribed period" and insert "period prescribed for the purposes of this subsection"
We now come to the part for which all noble Lords have been waiting—the government amendments. These are minor technical amendments, which clarify two distinct prescribed periods in relation to the delivery of inspections of denominational education and collective worship in faith schools in England and Wales.
The first prescribed period relates to the period within which the inspection must take place. The second period relates to the period within which the inspection report must be produced. I hope that that is clear and acceptable. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 98 and 99 not moved.]
Clause 48, as amended, agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 100 and 101 not moved.]
Clause 49 [Inspection of religious education: Wales]:
[Amendment No. 102 not moved.]
Clause 49 agreed to.
Schedule 6 [Inspections of denominational education in Wales]:
moved Amendment No. 103:
Page 80, line 10, leave out "prescribed period" and insert "period prescribed for the purpose of this sub-paragraph"
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 50 to 52 agreed to.
Schedule 7 expands the general duty of the chief inspector for England to keep the Secretary of State informed about child minding. In addition to the quality and standards of child minding, he must also keep the Secretary of State informed about how far child minding and day care meet the range of children cared for, about the quality of the leadership and management of day care and about the contribution made by such facilities to the well-being of each child.
In effect, it extends to childcare and day care the same judgment criteria now used by Ofsted in regard to the inspection of schools. Therefore, such an expansion raises a number of clear issues both from the inspectors' point of view and from that of the day care and child minding providers. There is, of course, the general concern that this is yet another growth of the inspection services in yet another area of education provision that is seemingly unwarranted and unhelpful.
However, in regard to the inspectors, the concern is not so much over the availability of inspectors, but whether the inspectors themselves will have adequate knowledge and be au fait with the particular circumstances involved in such provision.
I know that the Minister in answer to an earlier question said that inspectors would have specialist knowledge, which would be very important, but inspecting a sixth form is considerably different from inspecting a child minding centre. Yet under this system that is what inspectors will be asked to do; they will be asked to judge both. Does the Minister have any concerns that there is a risk that the inspectors are becoming too generalised without the specialist knowledge required for different circumstances? Furthermore, what sort of additional strains, both in financial terms and in manpower, will this new responsibility place on Ofsted and how will it cope without cutting back in other areas?
In relation to the day care providers, there is very genuine concern that they may be swamped by new burdens and targets that are simply impractical for them to achieve. We might be dealing here with tiny, independently operated facilities that may well cater for only two or three children and yet they will be expected to know how best to contribute to the well-being of each child. I am not saying that they do not, but I am talking about the targets that they have to achieve.
It may be possible for a 1,000-strong school, where there could well be the resources to accommodate such a requirement, but surely the Minister can anticipate some of the likely problems in regard to small day care centres. Indeed, how many owners of such facilities will know about the whole raft of legislation on well-being, let alone the official version as set out in Section 10(2) of the Children Act 2004? Therefore, what steps will the Minister take to ensure that childcare providers are made aware of those new categories on which they are to be judged? Will there be some sort of information exercise?
This seems to be very much a step too far in terms of excessive bureaucracy which is unlikely to improve the existing system. We have serious reservations about this paragraph and that is why Amendment No. 104 would remove it from the Bill.
The other amendments to this schedule are consistent with our concerns over the scrapping of the registered inspectors and would retain the status quo for registered inspectors in the inspections of early-years provision in England and would ensure a unified approach between England and Wales. I beg to move.
I start by saying that I fully share the concern that Ofsted's early years inspection workforce is of the highest quality and fit for the purpose. We attach great importance to the training and development of inspectors.
Early childhood is a time of vital importance in children's development and the quality of care that children receive in their early years makes a real difference to their development and achievements in later life. Recent powerful research studies have shown that the gain achieved from good early years' interventions into learning in primary school is sustained. So we have good reason for feeling that this thrust of policy is right.
Schedule 7 removes the requirement on the chief inspector for England to maintain registers of early years childcare inspectors and nursery education inspectors. The amendment seeks to reverse that, which, in logic and consistency with the stance of earlier debates this week, we would expect. But we do not believe that removing these registers would be detrimental to the quality of childcare inspectors.
At present, most Ofsted early years inspectors are Ofsted employees and, as such, are not separately registered. In the early years sector, Ofsted is already able to monitor the quality and ensure the accountability of its inspectors through its internal processes. Therefore, there is little need for a register.
However, should Ofsted decide in future to engage more external inspectors, as it currently does for its school inspections, it would be administratively cumbersome for Ofsted to have overlapping registration and contracting arrangements. We propose that Ofsted monitors and controls the performance and quality of any external inspector it may decide to engage in future through normal contract terms and contract management, which we believe is perfectly adequate and appropriate. That is currently the case for Ofsted-employed inspectors.
Contract negotiation and management will be just as effective as any registration system in securing the services of appropriately qualified and experienced inspectors, and a lot less bureaucratic for Ofsted to operate. All inspectors, whether external or directly employed by Ofsted, will still be required to meet stringent criteria. In addition, Ofsted already has in place robust quality assurance and performance management arrangements to ensure the quality of its early years inspectors.
Our proposal to remove the registers of early years childcare inspectors and nursery education inspectors represents an important simplification in the administration of the inspection arrangements in England, and should therefore stand.
The other change we seek to introduce through Schedule 7, and which would be affected by the proposed amendments, is the additional matters on which we propose Ofsted and Estyn should be required to report. Our proposals for change apply both to the general duty of the chief inspector to keep the Secretary of State informed about the state of childcare nationally, and the individual reports that are made following inspection of childcare settings. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 7, which the amendment would remove, covers the latter. They also apply to all reports by Estyn in relation to nursery education.
As the House knows, the Children Act 2004 provides that each children's services authority must promote co-operation in the delivery of children's services with a view to improving the well-being of children in their areas. Early years settings have their part to play and it is important that Ofsted assesses, as part of the inspection process, how the childcare contributes to children's well-being, not least so that these findings can be fed through to the joint area reviews to be led by Ofsted. Similarly, it is important that Estyn assesses how nursery education contributes to children's well-being. You could argue that in fact it is more important that there is an inspection of the well-being contribution, given the powerful evidence of the impact of early years influences on a child's future ability, not only to learn but also to socialise and to take a positive attitude to life. I shall not go into detail.
We believe it is important that Ofsted and Estyn report on how the childcare meets the needs of the range of children for whom it is provided, as children may have very different needs. Ofsted therefore plans to change the focus of its early years inspections so that judgments are made on the basis of what it is like for individual children within a childcare setting. The results of pilot inspections that have been carried out on this basis are encouraging. Both childcare providers and inspectors have been positive about the new approach and we believe that this will ultimately benefit the children.
It is important to make specific reference to leadership and management for day care. As for schools, good leadership and management are crucial in securing high-quality early-years services. The amendment would remove those key changes to the matters on which Ofsted and Estyn must report. We believe that extending those criteria will ultimately help us to secure better childcare services that meet children's needs and contribute to their well-being—all part of our determination to ensure that children are given the best start. Inspection is an important lever in improving quality, and the proposed changes to the legal frameworks will enable Ofsted and Estyn to carry out their inspection activity more effectively.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked whether inspectors were at risk of becoming too generalised, and whether they would be expected to cover both the sixth form and early years. My understanding is that they would not, because there would be specialisation. The most effective answer that I could give on manpower loads would be in a more detailed note from Ofsted that signals why we believe it is perfectly manageable. I will also respond in writing to the noble Baroness's question on how childcare providers would be made aware of the process. Although I have not given the noble Baroness full answers, I hope that she will await with eager anticipation the letters that will fill the gaps.
moved Amendment No. 107:
Page 82, line 10, at end insert—
"(5A) After subsection (5) insert—
"(5A) Regulations may make provision requiring a registered person, except in prescribed cases, to notify prescribed persons of the fact that any child minding or day care provided by the registered person is to be inspected under this section.""
This group of amendments applies to England and Wales. They enhance the level of parental involvement in the inspection of early-years provision. I have some confidence that the House is likely to welcome them.
One of the most important elements of our 10-year childcare strategy, published last month, is that parents should have the information they need to make informed choices about childcare. Not least, they need to know what aspects of quality are important for their children's development and how the childcare they have chosen matches up. As noble Lords have said previously, parental involvement is vital; we share that view. They can exercise influence in securing improvement where necessary.
That has been an established feature of the school inspection arrangements for some time, and the amendments, which apply to England only bring the early-years inspection arrangements into line with those considerations. School governing bodies are currently required to notify parents of forthcoming inspections and to ensure that each parent receives a copy of the subsequent inspection report. There is currently no such duty on early-years childcare or nursery education providers. The purpose of the amendments is therefore to ensure that parents' rights to information before and after an inspection are the same for both schools and early-years settings.
The amendments relate to Schedule 7, which deals with inspection of childminding, day care and nursery education. They propose that regulations may provide that registered childminders, day carers and "responsible persons" must notify prescribed persons of a forthcoming inspection. It is intended that those "prescribed persons" would be parents. They also provide that regulations may prescribe who is sent a copy of the report and to whom a copy of the report must be made available. It is intended that parents would be sent a copy of the report.
Another technical amendment, Amendment No. 112, is not intended to make any practical difference to the inspection of nursery education but is necessary due to the repeal of Section 120 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 by the Children Act 2004.
Although the regulation-making powers provided for in the amendments to Schedule 7 do not expressly make reference to parents, the regulations will make it clear that parents will be entitled to receive a copy of the inspection report. Draft regulations have already been provided to the House, but I will ensure that revised draft regulations, which take into account these amendments, are made available.
We have carefully considered the impact of the new requirements on early-years settings, the majority of which comprise private and voluntary-sector providers. We are confident that the impact of the amendments will be minimal.
I should also explain that Amendment No. 121 remains starred, as a small error in new sub-paragraph 2(c) was spotted late in the day; it has now been corrected. I hope that my remarks clarify the government amendments sufficiently for the Committee. I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 108 to 110:
Page 82, line 34, at end insert—
"(aa) shall ensure that a copy of the report is sent to the registered person providing the child minding or day care that was inspected;"
Page 82, line 36, leave out "any prescribed authorities or persons" and insert "such other authorities or persons as may be prescribed"
Page 82, line 41, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 83 and insert—
"(3A) Regulations may make provision—
(a) requiring a registered person to make a copy of any report sent to him under subsection (3)(aa) available for inspection by prescribed persons,
(b) requiring a registered person, except in prescribed cases, to provide a copy of the report to prescribed persons, and
(c) authorising a registered person in prescribed cases to charge a fee for providing a copy of the report."
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Although this clause re-enacts Clause 42 of the 1996 Act word for word, it is perhaps worth taking this valuable opportunity to raise with the Minister a number of the questions and concerns that seems to us to arise from a clause of this nature.
I believe that with any power to investigate and inspect an individual's personal possessions, or what in this case could be described as their intellectual property, we must be mindful that such a power does not unnecessarily intrude into private lives. It would therefore be useful if the Minister could explain where such a clause would be used—in what circumstances and to achieve what aims. The matter of who would be authorised to carry out such an investigation also is relatively vague. I would also welcome the Minister's clarification on that.
As the power has been around for just under 10 years, presumably the Minister can tell us how often it has been used and for what purposes and whether any difficulties in its use have arisen during that time. If it has not been used in that period, why does the Minister think that such a clause is still necessary?
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has asked for the rationale of the clause, who will implement the powers that the clause provides, and whether we have had any difficulties with the power. Perhaps I should say first what the clause does not do as that should take care of both parts of the argument. It is very important that both the paragraph in Schedule 7 which the amendment seeks to remove and Clause 57 remain part of the Bill.
Clause 57 essentially supplements Clauses 4 and 9, which provide inspectors with the right to determine what records and other documents they inspect. The clause ensures that inspectors can go to the source of the records where it appears to them that there may be related material which is relevant to the inspection. That notion of related material is particularly important.
As the noble Lord said, the power already exists. It is important because of the nature of the evidence inspectors collect when they come to cast judgment on the efficacy of the work being done. For example, where inspectors evaluate children's work done on computer, they may wish to look at preparatory work, previous drafts, source materials or test animations or to look at work using control technology—in a sense, the prehistory of the project. Increasingly, schools' and early-years providers' management systems, timetables and attendance records are also held electronically. We are looking at a departure from the use of paper because much of the evidence used to validate pupils' work and the schools' organisational structures and strategies are on computer.
Computer systems are inevitably secure systems. Inspectors will need to be given access to them or have material retrieved or demonstrated for them. This clause gives them the right to do so. It makes a specific distinction between computers and other records and provides for inspectors to have access to relevant computer records during an inspection. That is what it does.
The noble Lord raised issues of personal property and personal data. In looking at schools' records and documentation, inspectors will see personal data of the staff and pupils. However, they will not take copies of the data and Ofsted does not collect personal data on individuals when inspecting schools; that is outwith the inspection. Therefore, the Data Protection Act does not apply. We are looking at Ofsted's own records in that respect. The school has its own responsibilities for data protection. If it is concerned about material that it is presenting to the inspectors, including personal data, it would have to decide whether to anonymise that information. So I think that the noble Lord's first point is covered by that.
This clause is very much about the inspectors' access over the past 10 years to the sources of information, to give them a good fix on what they are looking at superficially. So in that sense the power is benign. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that such access is necessary. It minimises the burdens that would otherwise be placed on schools and early-years settings.
Schedule 7 includes a number of provisions which replace references to the School Inspections Act with the equivalent references in the Bill. Paragraph 6 of Schedule 7 would amend Section 79(u) of the Children Act 1989 by replacing a reference to the School Inspections Act 1996 with a reference to the provisions in Clause 57. Clause 57 re-enacts Section 42 of the 1996 Act, as the noble Lord said. Paragraph 6 of Schedule 7 is therefore required as a consequential amendment to the repeal of Section 42.
I hope that I have given noble Lords sufficient reassurance that this is a necessary clause; it has worked well. I have no record or information about any complaints about it in operation. The accountability is built in.
I thank the noble Baroness for that explanation. I accept what she says. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 112:
Page 83, line 28, at end insert—
"8A (1) Paragraph 1 is amended as follows.
(2) In sub-paragraph (1)—
(a) before paragraph (a) insert—
"(za) nursery education provided in a maintained school or a maintained nursery school;"
(b) in paragraph (a), after "nursery education" insert "not falling within paragraph (za)";
(c) for paragraph (b) substitute—
"(b) nursery education which is provided by any other person under arrangements made with that person by a local education authority in pursuance of the duty imposed on the authority by section 118 and in consideration of financial assistance provided by the authority under the arrangements."
(3) In sub-paragraph (2), for the words from "to whom" onwards substitute "with whom a local education authority are considering making arrangements in pursuance of the duty imposed on the authority by section 118 for the provision of nursery education in consideration of financial assistance provided by the authority under the arrangements".
(4) For sub-paragraph (3) substitute—
(a) any education is for the time being provided at any premises for children who have not attained the age prescribed for the purposes of section 118(1)(b) ("the prescribed age"), and
(b) that education is provided by a person—
(i) who proposes to provide nursery education at those premises for children who have attained the prescribed age, and
(ii) with whom a local education authority are considering making arrangements of the kind mentioned in sub-paragraph (2), the education is to be treated for the purposes of this Schedule as nursery education under consideration for funding even though it is provided for children who have not attained the prescribed age.""
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 113 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 114:
Page 85, line 6, at end insert—
"(4) Regulations may make provision requiring the responsible person to notify prescribed persons of the fact that relevant nursery education or nursery education under consideration for funding provided by the responsible person is to be inspected under this paragraph.
(5) In sub-paragraph (4) "the responsible person", in relation to any relevant nursery education or nursery education under consideration for funding, means such person as may be prescribed."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 115 to 120 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 121:
Page 87, line 10, leave out from "delay" to end of line 14 and insert—
"(i) to the responsible person, and
(ii) to such other authorities and persons as may be prescribed.
(2) Regulations may make provision—
(a) requiring the responsible person to make a copy of any report sent to him under sub-paragraph (1)(b)(i) available for inspection by prescribed persons,
(b) requiring the responsible person to provide a copy of the report to prescribed persons, and
(c) authorising the responsible person in prescribed cases to charge a fee for providing a copy of the report.
(2A) In sub-paragraph (2) "responsible person" has the meaning given by paragraph 6A(5)."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 122 to 124 not moved.]
Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.
On Question, Whether Clause 53 shall stand part of the Bill?
Clause 53 and Schedule 8 deal with changes to the inspection system of independent schools in England resulting from the removal of the category and responsibilities of registered inspectors. The status quo is therefore maintained in regard to Wales.
Therefore in regard to our earlier concerns about the removal of the category of registered inspectors—an issue that I am sure we will come back to later—these two amendments are designed to ensure consistency of approach by removing from this clause the abolition of registered inspectors in regard to the inspection of independent schools.
What, if any, work has been conducted as to the removal of registered inspectors in the independent school sector? Does the Minister envisage any particular concerns that might arise from such a move in regard to independent schools?
Furthermore, I would be interested to learn whether the Minister consulted in the independent sector either before or after the plan to abolish registered inspectors was announced and if so what was the considered response.
Clause 53 and Schedule 8 amend Part 10 Chapter 1 of the Education Act 2002, which relates, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, to the inspection of independent schools. The amendments are of a technical nature and are required—as the noble Lord signalled—as a result of the discontinuance of the use of registered inspectors to inspect schools in England. Registered inspectors will still carry out inspections in Wales.
To make the changes, it has been necessary to provide separate clauses for England and Wales. No other changes to the inspection arrangements for independent schools are being made and the powers to inspect independent schools as set out in the current Section 163 and the rights of entry and related supplementary responsibilities in Section 164 remain.
In practice, registered inspectors have not been used in the inspection of independent schools in England since the power was introduced in Section 163(1)(a) of the Education Act 2002. All inspections carried out under Section 163(1)(a) have continued to be undertaken by Ofsted, and the removal of the power for inspection by registered inspectors has no practical effect.
Schedule 8 inserts a new Section 162A into the Education Act 2002 that replicates the provisions of existing Section 163 but removes the references to registered inspectors in Section 163(1)(a). The amendment relates to the inspection of independent schools by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England only.
Schedule 8 also inserts new Section 162B, which replicates the provisions of the existing Section 164 in relation to inspections of independent schools in England, except that the reference in Section 164(1) to registered inspectors is removed and Sections 164(2)(3) and (4) are no longer relevant, as they refer to inspections conducted by registered inspectors.
Finally, Schedule 8 replaces existing Sections 163 and 164 of the Education Act 2002 to maintain the status quo for inspections of independent schools in Wales, where power to allow registered inspectors to conduct inspections will continue.
I hope that that explanation is clear, if fulsome. I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, on the point about consultation. I hope that my explanation has been helpful. For those reasons, we believe that the clause should stand part of the Bill.
As I said, we will return to the issue of registered inspectors and whether we should have a new list of registered inspectors, an issue that seemed to emerge in the debate earlier in the week.
I thank the Minister for his reply, which was very technical. He read it out very fast, and I did not assimilate all of it. He also promised to write to me. I shall read his reply with interest in Hansard.
moved Amendment No. 125:
Page 33, line 10, at end insert ", or
(c) make an annual report to the Assembly that shall additionally be laid before Parliament concerning his activities carried out under sections 54 and 55."
Amendment No. 125 would compel the chief inspector in Wales to lay before the Assembly and Parliament an annual report of his activities regarding the inspection of the careers service in Wales.
There is no mechanism in the Bill whereby a suitable avenue is available for the monitoring and scrutiny of the chief inspector's activities with regard to inspecting the careers service. It is a new remit for the chief inspector in Wales, so it would seem appropriate that both the Assembly and Parliament should have an opportunity to be aware of how he conducts his activities.
The Minister might ask why Parliament should be included as well as the Assembly. However, it would be appropriate, as we are discussing the provisions, that Parliament should also receive a copy of his report. I beg to move.
We oppose the amendment. The time has come for us to trust the Welsh Assembly. We have given Wales devolution, and we say that they need more powers. This is an opportunity for us to show that we mean what we say.
We should show confidence in the Assembly and let it have the last word on the issue. We should accept the wording of the Bill.
I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, to the Front Bench—what an eloquent start. If he supports the Government with that degree of conviction every time he stands up, we will be well pleased.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, wants to require the chief inspector to make an annual report to the Assembly on activities undertaken under Clauses 54 and 55, which relate to the inspection of careers services. As the noble Lord says, it is a new task for the inspection service. In addition, the amendment would require that the report be laid before Parliament.
Clauses 54 to 56 extend the remit of the Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales. We are pleased that the careers service in Wales will be brought under the same system of inspection as other education and training providers within the chief inspector's remit. It means that the same rigour is applied to the inspection of the careers service in Wales as has been applied to all other aspects of education and training. The provision will also give the power to inspect any provider of career services and to publish the findings. This is an important and welcome development. It will mean that there is more readily accessible information on the quality and standard of the services provided for young people in respect of Careers Wales. Inspection reports will provide a template for the Assembly working with Careers Wales to continue to improve the services provided and to take early action to address shortcomings.
Therefore, it is quite right that the chief inspector should be required to report every year and that the report be published. It will be an annual report to the Assembly. It is a kind of state of the nation report and that is why the Assembly is the right place to receive it. It will summarise the key findings.
As regards the laying of the report, Clause 20 requires that it is made and published by the Assembly, as is currently the case under the School Inspections Act read with the Government of Wales Act. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, education and training in Wales are devolved matters as a result of the provision in the Government of Wales Act which makes the National Assembly for Wales responsible for the funding of the inspectorate. As I have said, there is no doubt that a report on the state of the nation like this belongs with Wales.
I cannot avoid saying that to accept the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, to require a report to be laid before Parliament as well as the Assembly would alter the devolution settlement. We are not inclined to do that. It is the Assembly which is responsible for the direction of education policy in Wales and it is right that the chief inspector should report only to the Assembly on matters which fall within that function.
Parliament does have a wider remit and in particular as regards discharging duties related to the use of public money and the value for money obtained. There are already mechanisms: there is the Comptroller and the Auditor-General who can carry out examinations into and report on the finances of the chief inspector's office. The House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee can ask the Assembly's Audit Committee to take evidence. That is laid down in the Government of Wales Act.
I hope that both the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and I have persuaded the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment on those grounds.
I realised that I was doomed when the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, opposed the amendment. I thank the noble Baroness for that very extensive response. I shall read what has been said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
It is clear from some of our debates that we have a diverging education system on either side of the border. It is separate and distinct, which is only right with the creation of the Welsh Assembly. As we said several times at Second Reading, it would have been advantageous if we could have had a separate Bill to deal with the specific elements relating to Wales.
Although we have an assembly in Cardiff with its own education Minister handling the devolved responsibilities for education, it seems slightly odd that Members of your Lordships' House are being asked to take part in judgments on an area of devolved responsibility. However, I am of course aware that such powers are far more limited than is the case for the Scottish Parliament.
Make no mistake, I believe that this is the Parliament of the entire United Kingdom. However, when considering the lack of amendments tabled in respect of the Welsh elements of the Bill, it worries me that noble Lords may be under the impression that such areas are somehow off limits. We are concerned that we may be passing legislation while the expected level of scrutiny that this House demands is not being met, thus doing a gross disservice to the Welsh people.
Perhaps the Minister could take a moment to explain—if he is unable to provide an answer today, perhaps he would write to me—why we are discussing such matters of devolved responsibility. Which particular elements of the Welsh education policy are devolved and which are reserved? Which section of the Government of Wales Act 1998 is applicable to this concern, and what if any plans do the Government have to address this issue in the near future?
We do not agree with this suggestion because not only have we given Wales devolved responsibility but also, when the subject and this Bill were discussed with them, Assembly Members said that they were in favour of it. This is not something from out of the blue. As Campbell-Bannerman said many years ago—
I thank the noble Lord; that is exactly what we are saying. We agree with devolved responsibility, but we feel that there should be a little more discussion here. The Bill does not have enough detail to enable us to consider it.
We agree that these are matters devolved to the Assembly, but almost every speaker at Second Reading remarked that it is a pity that there is no separate Welsh education Bill, which could then have devolved powers to Wales.
I agree with the noble Lord. Our Question whether this clause should stand part provides the only opportunity for the Government to explain their reasoning before the provisions are devolved to the Welsh Assembly, and we agree with that.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again. The words I used were "separate", "distinct" and "only right with the creation of the Welsh Assembly". Devolution is right with regard to the Assembly. We seek to elicit from the Government their views on the provision before it devolves to the Assembly.
Shall we wait to see what the Minister has to say? Our concerns may be put to rest. However, I am so glad that the Conservative Party is now supporting devolution—and supporting it all the way, which it has not done in the past.
"Self-government is better than good government".
That is what we have given Wales and we want to act on it as far as we can in this Bill.
I am sorry that that lively debate has come to an end. To be called to arbitrate between the two Opposition parties is rather a luxurious position. Moreover, I am glad that the noble Lord has confirmed the welcome given by the Conservatives to devolution in Wales.
Education and training are wholly devolved matters. I understand that certain provisions set out in Clause 61 will allow for changes to be made by regulation, but those will be based on consultation. That said, part of the answer to the noble Lord's fundamental question is that when changes are made in Wales following enabling provisions set out in legislation in this place, that is done, as always, on the basis of consultation undertaken in Wales. There is a dichotomy here. There is always some difficulty for us in the London Parliament discussing in detail Welsh affairs which we are not fully informed about. It is for the Assembly to get that right and to put consultation processes in place.
Let me explain why Wales has the ability to make changes at a later stage. A new inspection system was introduced in Wales in September 2004. Bringing all inspection within one framework is a major change. That puts a major new responsibility on the providers and on the inspection process. It is based on the principle that the scale of inspection should be proportionate to performance with scaled-down inspections for schools with a strong emphasis on high standards continually being achieved. The inspection process remains vigorous and effective.
Along with those changes and with this Bill it was recognised that there is some point in making a number of changes in legislation to support the implementation of the common inspection framework in Wales. However, the emphasis is on taking powers to amend inspection arrangements by regulation as the common inspection framework beds in. Any changes will be subject to full consultation with schools.
I believe that we should leave this subject there. These are matters for the Welsh Inspectorate and Welsh schools, the Welsh education framework and interested parties. The noble Lord is right; at Second Reading there was discussion about whether consideration had been given to a separate Bill for Wales. My noble friend subsequently wrote to the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Livsey of Talgarth, confirming that we had considered this. However, we thought that the synergies between the changes for England and Wales were strong enough to warrant a single Bill; in view of the large number of clauses covering England and Wales, that makes sense.
The most important point is that the department, the Welsh Office and the Assembly work well together so we get both the process and the outcome right. Whether we have a single or joint Bill is less important than whether its implementation is properly done and effective.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, is not in his place. He spoke very eloquently about what it was important to achieve in Wales. He said that Wales could adopt the new inspectorate system for England in its entirety but, having taken the view that this novel common inspection framework was only recently introduced, it was too early to change the system yet. That sounds reasonable enough. It is important that Wales should keep its options open. The noble Lord preferred any impression of lack of joined-up thinking to regretting a missed legislative opportunity by closing off an option early. Those were wise words.
I hope the noble Lord is reassured by that. The central provision has to be that inspection develops in a manner that is distinctive to and serves the needs of the learners. The provisions in Clause 61 will provide the Assembly with the necessary powers to develop an inspection framework which is sensitive to need but which is also progressive and consistent with what young people will need in the coming years. So I hope on that basis he will withdraw his objection.
I thank the Minister for that. I was never going to vote to remove part of this clause. I opposed the Question, that Clause 61 stand part in order to get the sort of answer that we have just had. We felt—my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy was unable to stay for this debate—that there is a big chunk of the Bill about Wales but that there has not been that much discussion or amendments about it. Therefore it was not fair on Wales that we were not discussing this more. Yes, we have a Welsh Assembly; whether we agree with it or not it is here and has devolved powers. We felt that there should be more discussion in your Lordships' House.
However, I thank the Minister for her reply and will convey her points to my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy.
Before moving closure, I should like to correct a figure that was given earlier. We signalled that 1,200 schools had been closed by local authorities—which I thought at the time was going it somewhat. In fact, we believe the figure is 176.
I beg to move that the House do now resume.