Clause 2 - Functions of Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools in England

Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 22nd March 2005.

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Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education) 9:25 am, 22nd March 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in clause 2, page 2, line 25, after ‘State,’, insert

‘by a resolution of either House of Parliament, or by a resolution of a committee of either House of Parliament,’.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 7, in clause 2, page 2, line 26, after ‘State’, insert

‘or to the relevant House or committee’.

No. 8, in clause 2, page 2, line 27, leave out ‘Secretary of State’s’.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

The amendment is a sensible expansion of the scope of the clause. It clarifies the functions of Her Majesty’s chief inspector, in expanding the role taken between the two Houses.

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

Clause 2 places a general duty on the chief inspector to keep the Secretary of State informed about standards and quality of education and the well-being of pupils in our schools. That is key information for the Secretary of State in discharging her responsibility for ensuring that education policies and education provision in England are of the highest quality. She is accountable to Parliament for that. She needs the best independent information and advice to assess the impact of those policies, to inform the development of new policies and to be able to account for her decisions.

That is not to say that Parliament should not benefit from the independent advice of the chief inspector. Clause 3 specifically requires the chief inspector to produce an annual report, which must be laid before Parliament. The report is made to the Secretary of State, to allow that to happen. I emphasise “to the Secretary of State” because the Secretary of State has no power to intervene in the findings of the chief inspector.

What Parliament receives is the chief inspector’s independent assessment. The annual report distils all the inspection evidence that Ofsted collects into the now very familiar state of the nation in education report. The evidence makes an important contribution to the parliamentary debate and scrutiny. Indeed, one of the biannual meetings of the Education and Skills Committee with the chief inspector focuses specifically on the report.

The chief inspector publishes on his website every school, college and local authority inspection report. He also publishes a wide range of thematic reports and studies, most recently on further education colleges, special needs, out-of-school provision and outdoor education. The chief inspector also publishes more than 100 of those thematic and subject reports every year. All contribute to parliamentary debate and scrutiny of education policies, without the need for a resolution or request from any Committee.

The amendments cut across that clarity of accountability and independence. Amendment No. 6 would mean that the Secretary of State would require the agreement of Parliament before any request could go to the chief inspector. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 would mean that that request would no longer be in the Secretary of State’s name and the advice or information would be provided to Parliament.

As I have shown, a great deal of the advice and information is already publicly available; that which is not published is of a more sensitive nature.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Conservative, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton

Will the Minister just clarify precisely how the Bill changes the accountability of Her Majesty’s chief inspector to Parliament? What is the present position, and how will the Bill change it?

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

As I have just made clear, the Education and Skills Committee has the report and discusses it. Ministers are obviously accountable through questions and debates that take place in Parliament.

The information that is not published is of a more sensitive nature, as it often deals directly with individuals or specific institutions. It would not be right for that information, or even the request for such sensitive information, to be so much in the public domain. There are many occasions when Members of Parliament receive information from others sources that we do not disclose to ensure that no injustice is done, even inadvertently, to individuals or institutions.

It appears to me that the process resulting from the amendments would be unnecessarily bureaucratic. Is such additional bureaucracy what hon. Members intend? Perhaps they are concerned that the chief inspector holds back information at the Secretary of State’s request. I assure the Committee that that is not possible. The chief inspector has always published, and will continue to publish, reports that may be viewed as critical of the Government’s policies.

There is nothing in the Bill that enables the Secretary of State to prevent the publication of any report; nor would she do that. I know that she places great value on having such a respected, independent chief inspector as David Bell. As he recently stated in his evidence to the Education and Skills Committee on 16March, it is his job to report as he finds things, with a view to influencing the decisions that Ministers make. I ask that the amendments not be pressed to a vote.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

In view of the Minister’s reassurance on those matters, 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. 9, in clause 2, page 2, line 29, at end insert—

‘(2A)In addition, the Chief Inspector has the following specific duties—

(a)establishing and maintaining the register mentioned in section [Registration of inspectors in England];

(b)giving guidance to inspectors registered in that register, and such other persons as he considers appropriate, in connection with inspections of schools in England under section 5 and the making of reports of such inspections;

(c)keeping under review the system of inspecting schools under that section and, in particular, the standard of such inspections and of the reports made by registered inspectors;

(d)keeping under review the extent to which any requirements imposed by or under this Part, or any other enactment, on any registered inspector, local education authority, proprietor of a school or governing body in relation to inspections of schools in England is complied with;

(e)promoting efficiency in the conduct and reporting of inspections of schools in England by encouraging competition in the provision of services by registered inspectors.’.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment No. 10, in clause 2, page 2, line 40, at end insert—

‘(7)In addition, the Chief Inspector has the following specific duties—

(a)establishing and maintaining a register for registered inspectors in England;

(b)giving guidance to inspectors registered in that register, and such other persons as he considers appropriate, in connection with inspections of schools in England under section 5 or 8 and the making of reports of such inspections;

(c)keeping under review the system of inspecting schools under that section and, in particular, the standard of such inspectors and of the reports made by registered inspections;

(d)promoting efficiency in the conduct and reporting of inspections of schools in England by encouraging competition in the provision of services by registered inspectors.’.

Amendment No. 13, in clause 5, page 3, line 44, at end insert

‘and

(c)to appoint a registered inspector to undertake inspections under this section.’.

Amendment No. 17, in clause 5, page 5, line 3, at end insert—

‘(8)Schedule [Inspections in England under section 5] has effect in relation to inspections under this section.’.

Amendment No. 1, in schedule 7, page 84, line 28, leave out paragraph 2 and insert—

‘(1)Section 79P of the Children Act 1989 (early years child care inspectorate for England) is amended as follows—

(2)For subsection (1) substitute—

“The Chief Inspector has a duty to maintain a register of early years child care inspectors for England.”

(3)Omit subsections (2) to (5).’.

Amendment No. 26, in schedule 7, page 84, line 28, leave out paragraph 2 and insert—

‘(1)Section 79P of the Children Act 1989 (early years child care inspectorate for England) is amended as follows.

(2)For subsection (1) substitute—

“(1)The Chief Inspector has a duty to maintain a register of early years child care inspectors for England.”

(3)Omit subsections (2) to (4).’.

Amendment No. 27, in schedule 7, page 84, line 33, leave out sub-paragraphs (3) to (5).

Amendment No. 28, in schedule 7, page 85, line 15, leave out sub-paragraph (8).

Amendment No. 3, in schedule 7, page 86, line 16, leave out sub-paragraph (2).

Amendment No. 4, in schedule 7, page 86, line 18, leave out sub-paragraph (3).

New clause 1—Registration of inspectors in England—

‘(1)No person may conduct an inspection of any school in England under section 5 unless—

(a)he is a member of the Inspectorate, or

(b)he is registered as an inspector in a register kept by the Chief Inspector for the purposes of this Chapter.

(2)The Chief Inspector may not register a person under this section unless, having regard to any conditions that he proposes to impose under subsection (4)(c), it appears to him that that person—

(a)is a fit and proper person for discharging the functions of a registered inspector, and

(b)will be capable of conducting inspections under this Chapter competently and effectively, and no person may be so registered if he falls within a category of persons prescribed for the purposes of this subsection.

(3)An application for registration under this section—

(a)must be made in such a manner, and be accompanied by such particulars, as the Chief Inspector may direct, and

(b)must be accompanied by the prescribed fee.

(4)On an application duly made under this section the Chief Inspector may—

(a)register the applicant,

(b)refuse to register him, or

(c)register him subject to such conditions as the Chief Inspector considers it appropriate to impose.

(5)The matters to which the Chief Inspector may have regard in deciding whether to register the applicant include, in particular—

(a)the extent to which the Chief Inspector proposes to exercise his discretion under subsection (1) of section 28 to secure that inspections under that section are conducted by members of the Inspectorate rather than registered inspectors, and

(b)the extent to which there is a need for registered inspectors in England.

(6)Conditions under subsection (4)(c) may be conditions applying generally in relation to all cases, or particular classes of case, or such conditions together with specific conditions applying in the particular case.

(7)Where a person is registered subject to conditions imposed under subsection (4)(c), he is to be taken to be authorised to act as a registered inspector only so far as those conditions permit.

(8)The period for which any registration is to have effect is to be determined by the Chief Inspector and must be entered in the register kept by him.

(9)Nothing in subsection (8) is to be taken as preventing a registered inspector from applying for a fresh registration to take effect immediately on the expiry of his current registration.’.

New clause 3—Removal from register and imposition or variation of conditions—

‘(1)If the Chief Inspector is satisfied that any of the conditions mentioned in subsection (2) is satisfied with respect to an inspector registered in the register, he may remove the name of that inspector from the register.

(2)The conditions are that—

(a)he is no longer a fit and proper person for discharging the functions of a registered inspector under this Chapter;

(b)he is no longer capable of conducting inspections under this Chapter competently and effectively;

(c)there has been a significant failure on his part to comply with any condition imposed under section [Registration of inspectors in England] (4)(c) and subject to which his registration has effect;

(d)he has, without reasonable explanation, produced a report of an inspection which is, in whole or in part, seriously misleading.

(3)If the Chief Inspector is satisfied—

(a)that he is authorised by subsection (2) to remove the name of an inspector from the register, or

(b)that it would otherwise be in the public interest to act under this subsection, he may vary any condition subject to which the registration of that inspector has effect or vary that registration by imposing a condition subject to which it will have effect.’.

New clause 5—Training for inspections—

‘Schedule [Training for inspections] has effect.’.

New clause 6—Appeals in relation to registration—

‘(1)Any person who is aggrieved by—

(a)the refusal of the Chief Inspector to renew his registration under section [Registration of inspectors in England],

(b)the imposition or variation of any condition subject to which he is registered under that section, or

(c)the removal of his name from the register under section [Removal from register and imposition or variation of conditions], may appeal against the Chief Inspector’s decision to a tribunal constituted in accordance with Schedule [Tribunals hearing appeals in England].

(2)Where—

(a)a decision to refuse to renew a person’s registration under section [Registration of inspectors in England] is expressed to be based on the ground—

(i)that there is a reduced need for registered inspectors in England, or

(ii)that there is no longer any need for registered inspectors in England, and

(b)the tribunal is satisfied that the decision was based on one of those grounds, the tribunal must confirm the decision to refuse renewal.

(3)No decision of the Chief Inspector falling within subsection (1)(b) or (c) is to have effect until—

(a)the disposal of any appeal against the decision which is duly made under this section, or

(b)the period within which an appeal maybe made has expired without an appeal having been made.

(4)Subsection (3) does not apply where the Chief Inspector—

(a)is satisfied that the circumstances of the case justify the decision in question taking effect immediately, or earlier than would otherwise be the case, and

(b)notifies the person concerned to that effect.

(5)On determining any appeal under this section, the tribunal may—

(a)confirm, reverse or vary the decision appealed against, or

(b)remit the case to the Chief Inspector with directions as to the action to be taken by him.

(6)Schedule [Tribunals hearing appeals in England] makes further provision with respect to tribunals constituted to hear appeals under this section.’.

New schedule 1—Training for inspections—

1No person shall conduct an inspection of a school in England, or act as a member of an inspection team for such a school, unless he has, in the opinion of the Chief Inspector for England, satisfactorily completed a course of training provided by, or complying with arrangements approved by, that Chief Inspector.

2Where the Chief Inspector for England provides such training he may charge such fees as are reasonable for the purpose of recovering the whole, or part of the cost of providing it.

3Paragraph 1 shall not apply in such circumstances as may be specified, either generally or in relation to a particular case or class of case, by the Chief Inspector for England.

Meeting with parents 4Where an inspection is arranged, the appropriate authority for the school concerned shall— (a)take such steps as are reasonably practicable to notify— (i)the parents of registered pupils at the school, and

4Where an inspection is arranged, the appropriate authority for the school concerned shall—

(a)take such steps as are reasonably practicable to notify—

(ii)such other persons as may be prescribed, of the time when the inspection is to take place; and

(b)arrange a meeting, in accordance with such provisions as may be prescribed, between the inspector conducting the inspection and those parents of registered pupils at the school who wish to attend.

Rights of entry etc. 5A registered inspector conducting an inspection, and the members of his inspection team, shall have at all reasonable times— (a)a right of entry to the premises of the school concerned; and   (b)a right to inspect, and take copies of, any records kept by the school, and any other documents containing information relating to the school, which he requires for the purposes of the inspection.

5A registered inspector conducting an inspection, and the members of his inspection team, shall have at all reasonable times—

(a)a right of entry to the premises of the school concerned; and

Offence of obstructing inspector or inspection team 6(1)It shall be an offence wilfully to obstruct— (a)a registered inspector, or (b)a member of an inspection team,

6(1)It shall be an offence wilfully to obstruct—

(a)a registered inspector, or in the exercise of his functions in relation to an inspection of a school.

(2)Any person guilty of an offence under sub-paragraph (1) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.’.

New schedule 2—Inspections in England under section 5—

Interpretation 1In this Schedule—“appropriate authority” means— (a)in the case of a county, voluntary, maintained special or maintained nursery school whose governing body does not have a delegated budget, the local education authority; (b)in the case of a non-maintained school, the proprietor of the school;

1In this Schedule—“appropriate authority” means—

(a)in the case of a county, voluntary, maintained special or maintained nursery school whose governing body does not have a delegated budget, the local education authority;

(c)in any other case, the school’s governing body;

“inspection” means an inspection under section 5.

Selection of registered inspectors 2Before entering into any arrangement for an inspection, the Chief Inspector shall, after consulting the appropriate authority for the school concerned as to the tender specification, invite tenders from at least two registered inspectors who can reasonably be expected— (a)to wish to tender for the proposed inspection; and (b)to tender at arm’s length from each other.

2Before entering into any arrangement for an inspection, the Chief Inspector shall, after consulting the appropriate authority for the school concerned as to the tender specification, invite tenders from at least two registered inspectors who can reasonably be expected—

(a)to wish to tender for the proposed inspection; and

Inspection teams 3(1)Every inspection shall be conducted by a registered inspector with the assistance of a team (an “inspection team”) consisting of persons who are fit and proper persons for carrying out the inspection. (2)It shall be the duty of the registered inspector to ensure that— (a)at least one member of the inspection team is a person— (i)without personal experience in the management of any school or the provision of education in any school (otherwise than as a governor or in any other voluntary capacity); and

3(1)Every inspection shall be conducted by a registered inspector with the assistance of a team (an “inspection team”) consisting of persons who are fit and proper persons for carrying out the inspection.

(2)It shall be the duty of the registered inspector to ensure that—

(a)at least one member of the inspection team is a person—

(ii)whose primary function on the team is not that of providing financial or business expertise; and

(b)no member of the inspection team falls within a category of person prescribed for the purposes of this sub-paragraph.

(3)Otherwise, the composition of the inspection team shall be determined by the registered inspector.

(4)It shall be the duty of the registered inspector to ensure that no person takes any part in an inspection if he has, or has at any time had, any connection with—

(a)the school in question,

(b)any person who is employed at the school,

(c)any person who is a member of the school’s governing body, or

(d)the proprietor of the school, of a kind which might reasonably be taken to raise doubts about his ability to act impartially in relation to that school.’.

New schedule 3—Tribunals hearing appeals in England—

Constitution of tribunals 1(1)A tribunal constituted to hear an appeal under section [Appeals in relation to registration] of this Act (“a tribunal”) shall consist of— (a)a Chairman appointed by the Lord Chancellor; and (b)two other members appointed by the Secretary of State.

1(1)A tribunal constituted to hear an appeal under section [Appeals in relation to registration] of this Act (“a tribunal”) shall consist of—

(a)a Chairman appointed by the Lord Chancellor; and

(2)To be qualified for appointment as Chairman of a tribunal, a person must have a 7 year general qualification (within the meaning of section 71 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990).

(3)A person shall not be appointed after the day on which he attains the age of 70 to be the Chairman of a tribunal.

Procedure of tribunals 2(1)The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision with respect to the making of appeals to, and the procedure to be followed by, tribunals. (2)The regulations may, in particular, make provision— (a)as to the period within which, and manner in which, appeals must be brought; (b)for the holding of hearings in private in prescribed circumstances;

2(1)The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision with respect to the making of appeals to, and the procedure to be followed by, tribunals.

(2)The regulations may, in particular, make provision—

(a)as to the period within which, and manner in which, appeals must be brought;

(c)as to the persons who may appear on behalf of the parties;

(d)for enabling hearings to be conducted even though a member of the tribunal, other than the Chairman, is absent;

(e)as to the disclosure by the appellant, and others, of documents and the inspection of documents;

(f)requiring persons to attend the proceedings and give evidence;

(g)as to the payment of expenses incurred by persons compelled to attend proceedings by regulations made by virtue of sub-paragraph (1);

(h)authorising the administration of oaths to witnesses;

(i)as to the withdrawal of appeals;

(j)as to costs and expenses incurred by any party to the proceedings; and

(k)authorising preliminary or incidental matters in relation to an appeal to be dealt with by the Chairman of the tribunal hearing that appeal.

Staff 3The Secretary of State may, with the consent of the Treasury, make such provision as he thinks fit for— (a)the allocation of staff for any tribunal; (b)the remuneration of members of tribunals and the reimbursement of their expenses;

3The Secretary of State may, with the consent of the Treasury, make such provision as he thinks fit for—

(a)the allocation of staff for any tribunal;

(c)defraying any reasonable expenses incurred by any tribunal.’.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

This group of amendments relates to the maintenance of a register of inspectors in England. I am puzzled at the omission from the clause of a reference to the maintenance of a register, which has been included in the past. With the changes to the style of inspection that are now proposed for schools, inspections will be shorter, albeit more frequent, and will be less burdensome on schools, but there is a requirement to report and observe on a comprehensive list of activities in schools. The inspections will last only one or two days, and are quite an onerous task for inspectors. It is very challenging to examine all those aspects of school life, and the inspectors will need to be highly competent and experienced in order to carry out such a demanding task.

The chief inspector retains the final responsibility, but he is dependent on the information that he receives in the report from the inspector to inform his decision. So the quality and consistency of reporting between different inspections in different schools will be extremely important.

The amendments seek to ensure that the previous high standards of former registered inspectors are maintained by introducing a register of additional inspectors. It is difficult to see how that would hinder the speeding up or the streamlining of inspections in   schools, which is one of the Bill’s main objectives. How did this come about? What representations did the Minister receive, what consultation was there with former inspectors, with chief inspectors, with schools or with governors? Who believed that this would be an improvement to the whole system? What purpose is served by excluding a register, which has always been a reliable indication of competence and would continue to be for additional inspectors?

When an inspector’s service has proved to be unsatisfactory or has given rise to complaints, the ability to remove them from a register would provide quality assurance and would be another indication that quality and accountability were being maintained. We believe that such a facility would be an improvement to the whole system and a failsafe.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

May I apologise for being a little late, and say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Forth? I have particularly fond memories from my early days in Parliament when you were the shadow Leader of the House and your exchanges with the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) were much enjoyed by us all. Nothing since Morecambe and Wise has quite rivalled them. They were possibly even a little more subtle. May I also warn you that the Bill was considered so dull on Second Reading that we ended up talking about almost everything but the legislation?

I do, however, have a point to make about amendments Nos. 9 and 10, both of which contain an excellent paragraph (c), which refers to

“keeping under review the system of inspecting schools under that section ... the standard of such inspectors and of the reports made by registered inspections”.

The phrase “keeping under review” leaps off the page. Everyone accepts that there has been quite a variation in how schools are inspected since the days of Matthew Arnold. There have been times when certain procedures were believed to be less than ideal. Even the Government are having second thoughts about how these inspections can be conducted.

Given that background and the complexity of the numbers of subjects that will be inspected and the numbers of new teaching staff who may emerge, there is a need to keep constantly under review the way in which inspections are conducted; whether they are conducted well and whether they achieve the results that people intend them to have. There is therefore no merit in the inner core of the Conservative amendments. Will the Minister assure us that, when we have finally done with this template for inspectors in a few days’ time and it is finished, that will still not be the end of it and that the Government and the chief inspector will monitor and evaluate the process constantly, because it is sure going to need it?

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

I, too, remember your time as shadow Leader of the House, Mr. Forth; I was serving as deputy to my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston at the time, and we all enjoyed the exchanges—particularly the Thursday morning exchanges on the business statement.

The hon. Lady reasonably asked how the measures to which the amendments are addressed came about. They came about in the same way as the rest of the Bill’s measures—through a sustained programme of engagement between the Department and the Government and those involved in education, including those involved in inspection, and representatives of schools, Ofsted and local education authorities.

I believe that the measures will strengthen inspection and remove some of the inconsistencies in inspection reports that rightly concern people. It should ensure a much stronger guarantee of the quality of inspection. Indeed, that question was debated not only outside the House when preparing the Bill but in the other place. A number of powerful contributions were made during the debate in the other place, including by former chief inspectors of schools.

The proposals are not about bringing the inspectors back into the Department or undermining their independence; indeed, I would say the opposite. If the proposals gain Royal Assent, we will continue to have—the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) challenged us on the subject—a completely independent inspectorate that makes the best-value use of contractual arrangements, with a high-quality core of Her Majesty’s inspectorate at its heart. We want to strengthen accountability in the vast majority of inspections conducted by registered inspectors. The chief inspector is not able at the moment to ensure that final reports are robust and rigorous, or that their judgments match the evidence.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Conservative, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton

I am slightly baffled by the Minister’s statement that the Bill will mean a more independent inspectorate. Given that the intention is to bring inspections in-house—I was interested to hear that the Government want to maintain contracted-out inspections—I wonder what proportion of inspectors are contracted out now, and what proportion he envisages being contracted out once the Bill is enacted.

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

I am not in a position to answer now, but I might magically be able to do so before I finish speaking were a note to appear by my side.

I was seeking to make the point that there is a lack of consistency in the current practice. We want the chief inspector to be able to ensure that judgments are rigorous, and it is important that schools and early-years settings should have the opportunity to comment on those judgments before they are published. Schools and early-year settings should also have confidence that the system of inspection will help them to improve outcomes for their children and their communities.

We all know from our experience—whether as Members of Parliament, as governors or as parents—how hard it can be for a school that is, for example, put on special measures. It is hard for all involved—the staff, the head, but particularly the pupils. We must not shy away from that most critical judgment, but we must ensure that it is defensible, that it is based on evidence and that it has been assured by the chief   inspector. The critical point that I seek to make about the quality of inspections is that they have the assurance of the chief inspector himself.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Conservative, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton

This is an important point. It seems that the inspector will be less directly accountable to Parliament and more accountable to the Secretary of State. Given that, does not giving the Her Majesty’s chief inspector more power over the drafting of the reports effectively mean that he is less independent, particularly because of his closer relationship with the Secretary of State? Does not that take us back to the days before the establishment of Ofsted and to an HMI that many people said was the dog that did not bark in the night?

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

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, which he made also on Second Reading. I do not accept that strengthening the relationship between the Department, the Secretary of State and Ofsted need undermine the independence of Ofsted—nor its accountability to Parliament, which is crucial. That accountability was reflected in the fact that the chief inspector, David Bell, appeared before the Select Committee last week. It is in no way compromised, undermined or changed by the proposals set out in the Bill.

I am now able to answer the hon. Gentleman’s earlier question. The present position is that there are 250 HMI. That will not change under the proposals. The move from registration to the new arrangements will involve a reduction in the number of contracted inspectors from about 5,000 to about 3,000. That will enable us to manage the quality of inspections far more effectively. I will return to that point in a moment.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education) 9:45 am, 22nd March 2005

If there are going to be fewer inspectors but more inspections, will it not be difficult for that smaller body of inspectors? For example, if somebody is ill or otherwise unable to conduct an inspection that he is contracted to do, then, given the number and frequency of inspections, will it not be difficult to keep up with the schedule? Does it not forecast a slippage?

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

I understand the hon. Lady’s point. Of course, while we have the number of registered inspectors that I referred to, many of those are simply on the register, but not taking part in inspections. One of the concerns about consistency and quality is that there are people on the register who are not part of inspection arrangements in any schools, whereas, under the new arrangements, which I will say more about in a moment, we can ensure much closer monitoring and management of the contracts to ensure that the best people are among the 3,000. Therefore, I do not believe that the danger that she drew to the Committee’s attention is likely to arise. I will return to that point.

I want to distinguish between the position for early years education and the position for schools. We want to ensure that Ofsted’s early years inspection work force is of the highest quality. We attach great   importance to the training and development of inspectors. Clearly, early childhood is a time of great importance in children’s development and the quality of care that children receive in their early years makes a difference to their development and achievements in later life.

Paragraph 2 of schedule 7 removes the requirement on the chief inspector for England to maintain a register of early years child care inspectors in England. At present, almost all Ofsted’s early years inspectors are Ofsted employees and, as such, they are not separately registered. Removal of the registration requirement for early years inspection will, therefore, have almost no impact. Should Ofsted decide in future to engage more external inspectors, as it does for its school inspections, it will monitor and control the performance and quality of the inspectors through normal contract management arrangements. We believe that those will be as effective as any registration system in securing the services of appropriately qualified and experienced inspectors, which is the purpose of the hon. Lady’s amendments.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

I take the Minister back to the quality of inspectors and the specific requirements for inspecting early years provision. As there will be no register, how will it be determined that individual inspectors have the specific and appropriate qualifications for sectors of education provision, particularly for the early years sector, in which child development and associated issues in addition to teaching come into play?

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

The hon. Lady is right to remind us of the importance of having the highest quality, not least in early years settings. Under the new regime, the onus will be on Ofsted to ensure that it employs people of the highest quality, as it is now. One of our concerns about the register, which in practice applies more to schools, but theoretically applies in early years settings, is that it provides a bare minimum accountability for those being employed by Ofsted, but is not sufficient and rigorous enough. She is absolutely right that we need to get things right. We do that by effective contract management, and performance management of both the contract and the individuals who are employed.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

Let me press the Minister a little further on the clarity and accountability of the qualifications required. Will it be possible for schools and others to know what qualifications are required of inspectors? Were they on a register, it would be an indication that they had the required level of appropriate qualification. If there is no register, we are totally reliant on the chief inspector. Is there no further information that can be accessed by people who need to know that the people who conduct inspections are properly qualified and offering the right quality of service?

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

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to remind the Committee of the importance of not just parents but those who work in early years settings in schools having that assurance. Schedule 1 sets out the standards as appropriate, and I invite her to review it. If we can correspond further or take an opportunity later in the proceedings of the Bill to clarify the matter, I will be happy to do so. She and I share a commitment to achieving the highest possible quality. The Government believe that the mechanisms in the Bill will achieve what her amendments seek to achieve, which is that quality.

Under our proposals, the chief inspector will be the single accountable figure under whose name all school inspection reports will be published. On that basis, Parliament will be able to hold him to account. Subject to the fate of the Bill, the chief inspector will use a combination of HMI inspectors and, through a number of regional contractors, additional inspectors to deliver a shorter, sharper inspection system. That means less notice, less stress for teaching staff and schools, less time for schools to undertake unnecessary preparation for inspection and fewer but better qualified members of an inspection team who will produce reports that should be more in line with school improvement and written in a language more accessible to parents.

The critical point, which we have touched on already in our exchanges, is that, through the contracts that the chief inspector will make, he will ensure that all additional inspectors meet the standards that he sets. The standards will be published under schedule 1. The chief inspector will be responsible for ensuring that all inspectors have the necessary qualifications, experience and skills to assist in the discharge of what is an important duty. He will be allowed to operate a much more rigorous contract management arrangement and to ensure that no one inspector can undertake an inspection without first having demonstrated to one of the HMI that they have undertaken an inspection to the satisfaction of that member of HMI. In addition, they must continue to meet the standards. That is the critical difference from how things have been.

Performance management will be a strong part of the new system, with each contractor having rigorous key performance indicators in their contract. At least once a year—although it is more likely to be every term—the chief inspector will publish a list of those people who are engaged by inspection service providers to carry out inspections on behalf of the chief inspector, and every school will have access to details of those who are engaged as additional inspectors. The measures will serve as a powerful incentive for the chief inspector, the service providers and the inspectors themselves to ensure that they deliver a high-quality inspection service.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

May I press the Minister a little further on procedures if an inspector has proved to be unsatisfactory, is providing a service that does not meet the standards required, or has given rise to complaints from several schools? The remedy is simple if a register is in place, as the unsatisfactory inspector   can be removed from the register. However, if there is no register, there will have to be some other procedure to deal with the problem.

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

In fact, the hon. Lady’s point is part of our case for making these changes. As I said, a register provides only a kind of fitness-to-practise badge. It does not ensure ongoing satisfaction with performance, which we all want. It places an onus on Ofsted to prove that an inspector is unable to remain on the register. That means that, until the process begins, an inspector who is known to be poor at inspection can continue to inspect. That is the situation under the present system, and I do not believe that any hon. Member wants it to continue.

Under our proposals, the chief inspector can ensure, through strong contract management and increased HMI involvement, that there is ongoing meeting of the standards and that an individual who is no longer able to fulfil what is expected of them is removed from the register. We believe that we have the mechanisms in place to ensure that that will work.

The comprehensive measures that we are putting in place have been improved by discussion not only outside the House but in the other place. They will ensure that only those inspectors who are appropriately trained and who demonstrate not just at the outset but on an ongoing basis that they meet the required standards will inspect our schools. I believe that the hon. Lady’s amendments were in fact designed to probe the Government and to seek reassurance. I hope that I have been able to give her that reassurance.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

This is a very wide-ranging set of amendments, which, as the Minister right says, seek to ensure that the standard of inspections is maintained. As we all know, school inspections make not only head teachers and teachers but parents and governors—indeed, the entire school—enormously anxious. It is only right that they are reassured that systems are in place that ensure that they can be confident that the people who are coming into their school to conduct the inspections are properly qualified, are of the right standard and will have the time to consider the wide-ranging duties that the Bill requires them to perform. Those people will need to be highly experienced and competent to be able to evaluate that wide range of aspects of school life in one or two days.

As we all know, an inspection hangs over a school like a great black cloud. Shorter notice is probably an advantage, so that that black cloud hangs over the school for a shorter time. An enormous amount of time and energy used to be devoted to preparation for the inspection rather than to the everyday life of the school. The Minister has given reassurance on those points, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.