Clause 6 - Duty to notify parents of section 5 inspection

Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 22nd March 2005.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 15, page 5, line 15, at end insert—

‘(2A)The headteacher may, if he considers it appropriate, arrange a meeting between parents and the Chief Inspector during an inspection of his school.

(2B)If the headteacher has notified the appropriate authority of a meeting under subsection (2A), the appropriate authority shall take whatever action may be required to facilitate such a meeting.’.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 18, page 5, line 16, leave out ‘subsection (1)’ and insert ‘this section’.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

The amendment would provide that the head teacher may,

“if he considers it appropriate, arrange a meeting between parents and the Chief Inspector during an inspection of his school.”

It has always been the case under the current regime to have a meeting with the chief inspector just at the conclusion of an inspection. In the interests of parental involvement, it is essential that those parents who wish to should have an opportunity to meet the inspector, the governing body and the head teacher to put such questions as arise out of the report, particularly if failings that give cause for concern have been highlighted. Parents will be anxious to discuss how such failings might be remedied and what systems will be put in place to try to put things right and to help the school to improve.

Even if the inspection has been a great success, parents will wish to have an opportunity to speak to the inspector. We are trying to encourage parents to take a close interest in the education of their children, to come into schools more frequently, to take part in the life of the school and to attend the annual meeting of parents and governors. Therefore, it is essential that they should have an opportunity on such a momentous occasion to meet the inspector. The inspection period has been one of great anxiety for the school: will it pass or not, will it be found failing in some way? Very often, the whole school celebrates at the end of an inspection if its fears or anxieties have not been realised.

In the interests of parental involvement, whether the inspection is a cause for concern or for celebration, it is the right of parents to have an opportunity to meet the inspector in person rather than just to have access to the report and the findings.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Inspired by your example as a legislator, Mr. Forth, I shall speak against amendment No. 15, which states:

“The head teacher may, if he considers it appropriate, arrange a meeting between parents and the Chief Inspector during an inspection of his school.”

I believe that that can happen anyway, as things stand. Therefore, we would be legislating for things to happen that already can happen. It seems a redundant legislative move, as what would take place at the discretion of the head teacher can already be done by the head teacher. I stand to be corrected, but I do not believe that anyone is given additional rights by the amendment. It simply recommends what is, indeed, a desirable practice, but it is not necessarily something that needs enshrining in legislation, unless we want to multiply legislation.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

Incorporated in the amendment is a requirement for the chief inspector to make himself available. It certainly is open to the head teacher to arrange a meeting with parents, but the chief inspector may or may not be available to take part in such a meeting, whereas the amendment would make it a requirement on him to be available to parents either during or after the inspection so that they can speak to him personally.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I am enlightened a little more, but the amendment is a little inelegant, if that is its intention. It says something about the headmaster’s discretion, but nothing about the chief inspector’s duties. If the intention is to ensure that the inspector is always available for such meetings, the amendment needs a certain amount of rephrasing.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools) 10:30 am, 22nd March 2005

The amendment would place discretion in the hands of the head teacher in deciding whether it is appropriate to arrange a meeting between the inspector and parents. What about parents who have real concerns that they wish to raise with the inspector, but do not want to go through the head teacher? We need better safeguards to ensure that parents have access to inspection teams, as well as the opportunity to express their views about the schools to the inspectors and, if necessary, to discuss with them areas of concern. Parents’ views form a crucial part of the inspection evidence, so we must ensure that effective mechanisms are in place.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

Is the Minister saying that there will be a mechanism through which individual parents or groups of parents can have access to the inspector independently of the school?

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

Yes, there can be a meeting if the parents so desire. Obviously, with the shorter, sharper inspection there is less time for one to be arranged, but there is a mechanism for that to happen.

We need to balance the wider issue of the need to establish shorter, sharper, short-notice inspection arrangements with ensuring that key stakeholders have the opportunity to contribute directly to the inspection process that I have just outlined. The provisions are strengthened by clause 6(2), which ensures that when parents are notified of an inspection, they are also informed about the arrangements that Ofsted has made for them to make their views known to inspectors. If parents express views, they will be considered when the report of the inspection is formulated.

Clause 7 guarantees an opportunity for parental engagement by inviting parents’ views, but it does not describe the method by which they are to be sought. That is intentional. We want to ensure that the arrangements are flexible and responsive to evidence from parents about what works for them.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

I am still slightly unclear as to whether a meeting between the parents and the inspector that excluded school representatives could be instigated by the parents—or will they have to wait to be invited to such a meeting?

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the Minister for that clarification and, in view of his reassurance that it is open to parents to have access to the chief inspector in person—

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

They would have access to the inspection team that came to the school.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

That was a slip of the tongue; it would obviously be more appropriate for parents to have access to the team that has visited the school. Given that reassurance, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 7 to 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.