Clause 4 - Powers of entry etc. for purposes of section 2

Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 22nd March 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 10:00 am, 22nd March 2005

It appears that Ofsted—or the chief inspector—has appreciable powers, rivalled in most countries only by the powers of the secret police. He has

“a right of entry ... a right to inspect” and a right to take documents away. It is also

“an offence intentionally to obstruct the Chief Inspector”.

A person guilty of an offence is liable to a summary conviction. I have no argument against that, but it moves away from the consensual model of school inspections. I am not saying that we have had a consensual model, but that is no doubt what we aim at.

I shall not argue against the clause, but it would be useful to me and to the Committee to understand how often the powers given in clause 4 are currently operated. How many times are people summarily convicted and fined? Is it one in 1,000 or one in 100, or does it not occur? Equally, one wants to know that the powers are not used too brazenly. Coming into a school is something that one would hope would be done in the normal hours of daylight. Schools would obviously object if they found an Ofsted inspector rifling through their filing cabinets at night. I am sure that inspectors do not do that, that they do not want to do it and that there is no occasion for such things, but there must be cases in which there is tension. For example, documents may be demanded in too peremptory a way or in a time scale that cannot be met by the school.

In addition to asking how many people are convicted under the provisions, may I ask how many complaints there are from schools about the powers of entry used by Ofsted inspectors and how they are employed in practice?

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Minister of State (Education and Skills) (School Standards)

The hon. Gentleman referred to a consensual model. The Bill seeks to learn lessons from the experience of Ofsted and other modes of   inspection to bring about a system that is robust and has the support of schools. On his specific point, I can reassure him that the provisions have never been used. The answer to each of his questions is “zero”. I hope that that reassures him.

All the clause seeks to do is re-enact the provisions for rights of entry to provide the chief inspector and any inspector authorised to act on his behalf with the right of entry. Clearly it is better that such matters are dealt with on a consensual basis. The evidence so far is that that is exactly what happens in schools. Long may that continue. We need the clause for the unlikely possibility of a breakdown in that consensus in the future.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

On that specific point, would not the register be another safeguard? Naming the people with the right of entry into a school on a register would give schools the confidence that the matter has been checked. As I said during discussion of previous clauses, the register is a failsafe mechanism that gives the status and reliability of the people who are named on it.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Minister of State (Education and Skills) (School Standards)

I do not think so. Notwithstanding the fact that the measure has not been operational, there are often legitimate concerns among schools about quality and consistency, even with the register in place. As I said in the previous discussion, the register is therefore not a sufficient basis on which to provide that reassurance. I am confident that the new arrangements that we put in place in the earlier part of the Bill will provide that assurance of quality.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.