Clause 5 - Duty to inspect certain schools at prescribed levels

Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 22nd March 2005.

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Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education) 10:00 am, 22nd March 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in clause 5, page 3, line 44, at end insert

‘and to make it available—

(i)to the headteacher, staff, parents and pupils of that school;

(ii)in relation to a community, foundation or voluntary school, a community or foundation special school or a maintained nursery school, to the school’s governing body or, if the school does not have a delegated budget, to the local education authority; and

(iii)in relation to a school falling within paragraphs (d) to (g) of subsection (2), to the proprietor of the school.’.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 2, in schedule 7, page 85, line 29, after ‘to’, insert

‘the parents of the children for whom the childminding or day care is provided and to’.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

Clause 5 relates to the duty to inspect certain schools at prescribed intervals. The amendment relates to the availability of the report that arises from the inspection. Subsection (1)(b) states that

“when the inspection has been completed”,

the chief inspector is required

“to make a report of the inspection in writing.”

The list of people to whom that report should be made available is not specified in the clause. The amendment specifies the individuals and groups of people to whom the report should be made available: the head teacher, staff, parents and pupils of the school. In the case of a community, foundation or voluntary school, a community or foundation special school or a maintained nursery school, it should be sent to the school’s governing body, and if the school does not have a delegated budget, to the local education authority. In relation to paragraphs (d) and (g) of subsection (2), it should be sent to proprietors of the school.

The amendment would clarify and specify to whom the report should be made available. It appears that that may be achieved in later clauses, but specifying it in this clause would provide a belt and braces. There is no specific mention of making the report available to staff, students or parents at a school that has undergone an inspection. We feel that that is an essential addition. The Government say that they are moving towards more parental involvement with schools, but making the inspection report available to parents would be an essential part of that process.

Clauses 14 and 16 refer to making a copy available to any interested members of the public. We would like that provision to be more specific to ensure that parents of any child at the school in question or parents of children applying for a place there who have a proper interest in the inspection results would be able to see the report. The amendments would add to and clarify the range of availability and circulation of an inspection report.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

We all agree that those with an interest in an inspection should have access to the inspection report. Clauses 14 and 16 require the chief inspector to send copies of the report to specified persons, including the appropriate authority or the proprietor of the school. He must then send copies of the full inspection report to parents and any other person who asks to see a copy.

Under the new system, parents will receive a copy of the full report, rather than just a summary, as they do under the current system. Staff will have access to the report through the school’s routine communications mechanisms. The legislative safeguard that underpins the process is their right, which is like that of any other member of the public, to request a copy of the report from the school. In addition, Ofsted publishes all section 5 in-school inspection reports on its website, making them accessible to anyone with an interest.

Amendment No. 2 would place a duty on the chief inspector in England to ensure that parents with children attending child minding or day care provision are sent a copy of the inspection report. We recognise the importance of parental involvement in the early years inspection process. Parents can exercise influence in securing improvement in provision where necessary, in addition to having the information that they need to make informed choices about the provision they use.

It is our intention that inspection reports are sent to parents and that they are notified of forthcoming inspections. The new duty will, however, be on registered child care providers rather than Ofsted. Schedule 7 already includes a regulation-making power that enabling regulations to require a registered child care provider to send a copy of the report to parents. That is in line with distribution requirements on school governing bodies.

We consider it more appropriate to specify who should be notified and receive copies of early years inspection reports in the regulations, because it would not be appropriate to provide all parents of children attending child care with a copy of the report. We need to provide for exemptions in the case of open access schemes and certain types of crèche provision where there is limited parental contact or a very temporary relationship between the child care provider and the parents.

It would not be appropriate for parents to receive copies of reports in such cases. For example, where a parent leaves a child at a shopping centre crèche for a couple of hours and there is no ongoing relationship between the parent and the crèche provider, it would clearly not be appropriate for the provider to be under a duty to send a copy of the latest inspection report to all parents who have used the facility. The regulation-making power enables such exemptions to be specified. It would be impractical for the duty to send reports to parents to rest with Ofsted. Ofsted does not keep records of the children who receive child care or their parents, but it will continue to publish inspection reports on its website, which will include from April 2005 childminding reports with personal details.

I hope that the hon. Lady is reassured by the Government’s commitment, which I set out today, to the degree to which parents play a role, especially in early years inspections, and that she will seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

Will the Minister clarify who is responsible for ensuring that all parents know that they are entitled to apply for a copy of the report, including parents applying for places at a school at which they do not happen to have children at the time?

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

In view of that reassurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in clause 5, page 4, line 46, at end insert

‘and

(g)the availability to the school of persons known as school improvement partners and the contribution made by such persons to the effectiveness of the school.’.

The amendment would widen even further the inspection reports. Secondary schools in particular are widening their involvement in the community. The London borough of Havering, for example, has a business and education partnership that is actively involved with local primary and secondary schools, as   well as other partners who are becoming involved in certain aspects of school life, and not always on the school premises. School activities and the range of those involved in them are becoming wider and much more community-oriented, so we believe that it is legitimate that that aspect of school life and the effect that it is having on the achievement and welfare of students should be included in the report and should be available to such partners.

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

I thank the hon. Lady for drawing the Committee’s attention to the school improvement partner, which is a very important part of the new relationship with schools. The Bill enables us to make progress on that new relationship. She is quite right that the school improvement partner is one of several external bodies or individuals who are helping schools by working with them to ensure the improvement that we want to see.

The amendment would require the chief inspector to report on the availability to a school of a school improvement partner and the contribution made by them to the effectiveness of the school. It is right that the effectiveness of the school improvement partner role should be evaluated, but the routine school inspection is not the best way of doing that. The school improvement partner will be allocated to the school by its maintaining authority, and they will work under contract to that authority. In Havering, for example, the relevant authority would be the local education authority. Quite rightly, the partner will be part of the accountability arrangements of that authority. The LEA will be responsible for managing the performance of the school improvement partner. That will involve assessing how well the partner offers strategic challenges and support to each school.

The school improvement partner will not be expected to be available to the school at all times. Most partners will be serving head teachers, and we want the very best head teachers to agree to take on the role. Their main function is obviously to lead their own schools, however, so they will not be available to schools at all times. We would not expect the school improvement partner to act on behalf of the authority in the event of a crisis at a school that demands immediate and unscheduled local authority supporting action, as that would not be a realistic use of their time and experience.

The purpose of a school inspection is to evaluate the quality and standards of education in the school and its leadership and management. In future, school inspection reports will be written with parents very much as the key target audience. Judging by what the hon. Lady said, I believe that she will agree that that makes sense. The issue for parents is less about the individual who is helping the school to improve—in this case the school improvement partner—than about ensuring that the school is well managed and effectively led, and that it provides the best education and care for the children. That must be the primary purpose of the school inspection report, and I would not be keen to add a further requirement.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education) 10:15 am, 22nd March 2005

Is the Minister saying that ensuring that school improvement partnerships are working successfully is the responsibility of the council and the local education authority rather than the inspectorate?

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

Yes, for those schools for which the LEA is the maintaining authority. It is slightly different in the case of voluntary aided schools, but that is so for the majority of community schools.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

With those reassurances from the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 2—Reducing burden of inspection on schools—

‘The Chief Inspector when conducting an inspection under section 5 shall in exercising his functions have regard to the desirability of avoiding excessive administrative burdens being placed on governing bodies and headteachers of maintained schools.’.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

Everyone will recognise the changing administrative burdens being placed on governing bodies. Gone are the days when being a school governor meant going to sports days, the Christmas concert and three meetings. That was the end of a governor’s responsibilities. Now, as soon as someone agrees to be a member of a governing body, he is asked on which sub-committees he would like to serve and for which section of the school activities he would like to be responsible. It has become an onerous job.

Those of us who are school governors will know of the volume of printed matter that comes our way. Indeed, there is no head teacher who would not complain about the amount of regulation and paperwork that crosses his desk every day of the school year. It should therefore be implicit in the inspection regime, which is designed to improve and streamline school inspections and take away much of the associated anxiety, that there is a determination to reduce the administrative burden attached to it. I hope that the Minister will describe how that is to be achieved.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

New clause 2 is an aspirational clause that most people would warmly support. Anyone who knows about inspections will know that an awful lot of non-functional documentation is produced simply for the inspection. There have even been disputes between schools and inspectors as to which documents were needed and which were purely functional. It may also be difficult to define “excessive administrative burdens”, so although I warmly support the spirit of the new clause, I have some problem with its wording.

The new clause speaks of the desirability of avoiding excessive administrative burdens, but that is slightly tautological because no one would argue that excessive administrative burdens were desirable. We might agree to the provision, but it might not have much practical meaning. Perhaps we are looking for some sort of regulatory assessment on how much of what Ofsted requires is strictly necessary.

The new system will presumably will need a certain amount of testing so that we can see how much is required and whether anything further will be required, but it would be nice to put in something—a signpost to Ofsted inspectors and the inspection regime as a whole—indicating that documents should not be produced unnecessarily. It would be a new version of Occam’s razor. That seems to be the line that we should go down, but I am not sure how we can get it into the legislation without being tautological.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We are debating the chief inspector’s duty to be responsible for inspection and reports. Although the present chief inspector is clearly irreproachable, that was not always the case, and it might not be in future. What assurance is there in the Bill, and in the Acts from which it has taken parts, that no maverick future chief inspector will be able to make substantial and arbitrary changes to reports made by his inspectorate? In the past, changes have been made to suit a personal agenda, and in some cases, the schools—one of them was a teacher training institution—that were the subjects of the reports were severely damaged. I imply no criticism or shadow of blame to the present chief inspector, but he will not always be there.

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

Let me respond to that, because my hon. Friend raises an important point that I know concerns hon. Members of all parties. It demonstrates the vital importance of the process for appointing the chief inspector, and of the chief inspector’s accountability to Parliament for his or her decisions. The chief inspector should have the ultimate responsibility for inspection reports, but any decision that the chief inspector makes in respect of those reports is a decision for which he or she should be responsible to the House. The arrangement under which Ofsted is accountable to the House via the Select Committee is important. That is the best reassurance that I can offer in respect of the danger to which my hon. Friend draws the Committee’s attention.

Ofsted has conducted more than 100 pilot inspections using a new inspection framework that is designed to support the new extended focus, with the sharper, shorter model of inspection. That extensive testing has shown that the model can deliver a rigorous and reliable inspection while reducing the burden that it places on schools.

The hon. Lady’s new clause draws our attention to important matters of administration and bureaucracy. One of the main purposes of the revised inspection arrangements is to streamline procedures and jettison tasks that are not needed. The regulatory impact assessment that was published to support the Bill, and   which has been made available to the House, highlights the benefits to schools that will be brought about by the changes.

The self-evaluation form—the only form that will now need to be available prior to the inspection— will not be used only for the inspection but will form part of the school’s own review. It will be used by the school continuously, in order to inform its school development plan. That is very different from the current position, of which the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) reminded the Committee: schools are required to complete four pre-inspection forms solely for the purpose of the inspection, and then a separate post-inspection plan. The feedback from the trials confirms that schools find the new procedure more useful and less burdensome.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

A further spin-off, which is desirable and should be pointed out, is that with the long lead-in time for the inspections that we have at the moment, a lot of schools spend money that they should be using to provide educational benefits for their pupils on preparing for inspections—for instance, by getting consultants in for many weeks beforehand. The Bill is extraordinarily bad news for consultants who perform that role.

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

The hon. Gentleman is right. We calculate that schools will save some £40 million a year, simply because of the more streamlined arrangements. That money can be spent where it ought to be spent: on the education of children.

Let me make one final point. We have established the implementation review unit, a panel of 12 head teachers and other senior school practitioners who now work in the Department for Education and Skills with a remit to cut bureaucracy across the schools sector. They have been closely involved in the development of the new arrangements, and will continue to monitor them, by visits to schools and meetings with Ofsted and our officials, to ensure that the full benefits are realised.

In the light of what I have been able to say, I hope that the hon. Lady will not press her new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.