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Education Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 24th January 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:45 pm, 24th January 2005

The volume of correspondence that the noble Baroness and I will have in the next week will, I think, reach mega proportions. If she has detailed questions, we will be delighted to answer them.

Perhaps I may reiterate my thanks to the two noble Lords who have welcomed this clause. It is a very exciting development to offer courses at a level higher than A-level as an enrichment activity alongside the main course of study. That shows what we are beginning to achieve in terms of stretching not just the most able students, because these courses could come from different directions. The courses would meet the needs of individual students as well as raising their aspirations.

As regards take-up, at present there are a small number of innovative maintained schools working to stretch their most able students with vocational and professional qualifications and modules of Open University courses, which lend themselves very well. This clause would ensure that all schools which consider such high-level provision would be of benefit are able to develop similar enrichment programmes. It is hard to tell what the take-up will be. My feeling is that it presents a wonderful opportunity for many good schools. I hope that we will be surprised by the take-up.

However, this clause will not enable schools to offer full degrees or full first years of degrees. It will not and must not displace the statutory learning of 14 to 19 year-olds, but it will offer an opportunity to develop independent learning skills for those students going on to higher education, which will be very useful.

Amendment No. 147 focuses on quality assurance. I was glad to hear the noble Lord say that he did not think that an independent inspection was appropriate. We are clear that the Ofsted inspection framework will be quite adequate. Perhaps I may explain why. I would hazard that it is not in the Bill because it does not need to be in order to be included.

Under the current school framework and the proposed new inspection arrangements such provision can be assessed by Ofsted as part of its assessment of enrichment activities provided for pupils. That will be appropriate and consistent with the small proportion of students likely to be involved. Estyn in Wales can also assess such provision.

The QAA has a role as part of its broader responsibilities to ensure that higher education institutions have systems in place to assure quality and standards wherever it is delivered. Ofsted and Estyn will need to consult and agree with the QAA the most appropriate way of inspecting such provision.

Our view is that those arrangements are best left flexible, reflecting the varying nature and style of delivery of such provision locally in schools. Clearly, we are in a moving situation, which we will keep under review. We will work together to address any changes necessary to take account of future developments. That may not be quite the answer that the noble Lord wanted, but I hope he will be content to let us keep watching the situation for a while.