New Clause 4 - Complaints procedures

Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee on 22nd March 2005.

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‘(1)The Secretary of State shall make regulations establishing procedures whereby persons who may be prescribed by such regulations under this Chapter as having an interest in an inspection shall have the right of complaint to an independent adjudicator appointed for the purpose that—

(a)the inspection has been conducted in a manner inconsistent with the requirements of this Act or with regulations made under this Act;

(b)a member of an inspection team has in carrying out an inspection behaved in a manner which may be considered unreasonably prejudicial to the interests of the complainant; or

(c)the inspection report of an inspection contains material prejudicial to the interests of the complainant which cannot be considered justifiable by reference to the evidence available in the course of conducting the inspection.

(2)Upon receipt of the findings of an independent adjudicator made in accordance with the regulations referred to in subsection (1), the Chief Inspector shall take such action consistent with such findings as appears to him to be necessary in order to satisfy any complaint found to be justifiable including without limitation the modification of any report published under section 11 and the re-publication of such report with such modifications.’. —[Angela Watkinson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 2:30 pm, 22nd March 2005

I remind the Committee that with this we are taking new clause 7—Complaints procedures (Wales)—

‘(1)The Assembly shall make regulations establishing procedures whereby persons who may be prescribed by such regulations under this Chapter as having an interest in an inspection shall have the right of complaint to an independent adjudicator appointed for the purpose that—

(a)the inspection has been conducted in a manner inconsistent with the requirements of this Act or with regulations made under this Act;

(b)a member of an inspection team has in carrying out an inspection behaved in a manner which may be considered unreasonably prejudicial to the interest of the complainant; or

(c)the inspection report of an inspection contains material prejudicial to the interests of the complainant which cannot be considered justifiable by reference to the evidence available in the course of conducting the inspection.

(2)Upon receipt of the findings of an independent adjudicator made in accordance with the regulations referred to in subsection (1), the Chief Inspector shall take such action consistent with such findings as appears to him to be necessary in order to satisfy any   complaint found to be justifiable including without limitation the modification of any report published under section 11 and the re-publication of such report with such modifications.’.

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Wales), Department for Constitutional Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (also in Wales Office)

When we adjourned, I had just said a few words about what I saw as the intention behind the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson), which seek to create a procedure for complaints to the independent adjudicator. There is already an independent complaints adjudicator for Ofsted, who was appointed by the Secretary of State. Before I speak about her role, it is worth saying a word about the context of complaints about school inspections in England. Because of the other changes that we seek to make in the Bill, the responsibility for school inspections will, in future, be firmly with Ofsted and complaints about inspections will have to be dealt with in that new context.

Ofsted has already developed, and is currently consulting on, a new complaints procedure for inspections, which will take particular account of the planned arrangements. The new procedure will set out clearly how schools will be able to discuss any concerns about an inspection with Ofsted, as well as to complain more formally. It will be explicit that a complaint may be about the inspection, the report, including judgments, or the conduct of the inspector.

The hon. Members for Southport (Dr. Pugh) and for Upminster expressed some concerns this morning about the reaction that teachers get when they have a problem with inspectors. The hon. Gentleman gave an example from his own experience. Ofsted will soon publish a code of conduct for inspectors. A similar code of conduct already exits and is published in Wales. In future, Ofsted will be able to address concerns directly at all stages of the process and amend reports when a complaint is upheld.

The independent complaints adjudicator is in place and is completely independent of Ofsted. The adjudicator can consider complaints about any of the issues covered in subsection (1)(a) to (c) of the proposed new clause tabled by the hon. Lady, provided that the person complaining has exhausted Ofsted’s own complaints procedure. It must be right that an organisation has proper opportunities to see whether it needs to take action in response to a complaint before that complaint is referred to a third party. Unlike Ofsted, the adjudicator is not able to overturn professional judgments, but she is able to make recommendations if she considers that there is no evidence for a judgment or if the report does not adequately explain the link between the evidence and the finding. The adjudicator can recommend that the chief inspector reconsider a complaint in the light of her comments. If he rejects her decisions, he must make a public statement giving his reasons.

The only thing proposed in the new clause that cannot happen now is that the chief inspector is not able, without limitation, to modify and republish inspection reports. Under section 10 of the School Inspections Act 1996, they are not his reports; they are those of the registered inspectors. However, we seek to   change that through the Bill, which will place the responsibility for the publication of all inspection reports in England with the chief inspector.

I believe that the remit of the complaints adjudicator is right. She is already appointed by the Secretary of State so there is no need for the appointment to be statutory. Robust procedures are in place for schools to be able to ensure that inaccuracies are corrected, to challenge judgments when they think that they are unfair and to seek independent adjudication when they remain dissatisfied with the outcome of the complaint. As the remarks made by the hon. Member for Southport demonstrate, there are difficulties. I am sure that we all know of cases where there have been tensions when inspectors have gone into schools and there have been disagreements, as the hon. Gentleman alluded to, about the way in which a subject has been taught. We recognise those tensions and the pressures put on all teachers as a consequence.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

Will the Minister clarify the relationship between the independent adjudicator and Ofsted? If the independent adjudicator decided that the original inspection report was incorrect or in need of amending, whose decision would have authority when it came to whether that amendment was made? Would it be the independent adjudicator or Ofsted?

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Wales), Department for Constitutional Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (also in Wales Office)

The independent adjudicator would not be able to overturn professional judgments in the report, but she can recommend that an inspector reconsider a complaint in the light of her comments. If he rejects her decision, he must then make a public statement to say why he has done so.

New clause 7 would put a duty on the National Assembly for Wales to make regulations setting out a procedure for complaining to an independent adjudicator. The adjudicator would be required to consider complaints lodged against the conduct of a school inspection and the conclusions set out in the inspection report. That could include complaints that an inspection had been conducted in a manner inconsistent with legal requirements.

As I understand the hon. Lady’s intention, the adjudicator could also consider a complaint that the evidence gathered during the inspection did not support the conclusions of an inspection report. In such circumstances, the chief inspector would be required to act in accordance with the findings of the adjudicator, and that would include revising and republishing the inspection report when required.

It is right that there should be clear and readily available avenues of redress for those who wish to lodge complaints about professional judgments and opinions expressed in an inspection report and about the extent to which the inspection was conducted in a manner consistent with the accepted processes and procedures. However, I can tell the hon. Lady that Estyn—Her Majesty’s inspectorate for education and training in Wales—already has detailed and transparent procedures for handling such complaints.

The position in Wales is that, under the common inspection framework, a school nominee will be attached to each inspection team and will be able to bring additional evidence to the team at any point during the process. That person will be aware of the emerging judgments and will therefore be well placed to challenge the findings and to present additional information or evidence to the inspectorate team.

On the production of reports, regulations already provide for reports to be completed within 35 working days. Estyn’s guidance requires that, within that period, the registered inspector give the school a late draft of the report to help with the checking of factual content. The school then has five working days in which to consider the draft, and the inspector has to take account of comments offered and to correct factual errors. The main purpose of that process is to enable the correction of factual inaccuracies, but it presents the school with an opportunity to raise issues about which it feels strongly. Beyond that, any complaint about the professional judgments that are made in the course of the school inspection will be considered initially by the lead inspector. If complainants are not satisfied with the response, they may ask for the complaint to be considered by a senior HMI or the chief inspector.

On the processes and procedures followed during an inspection, it is also right that schools should have access to further independent avenues of redress. Again, such provision is already made. Those who are dissatisfied with the conduct of an inspection or with the way in which Estyn has managed their complaint can approach the Welsh administration ombudsman, who is empowered to investigate complaints of injustice due to maladministration by Welsh public bodies, including Estyn. Maladministration includes poor administration resulting from the failure to follow correct procedures, as well as unfairness, bias or prejudice, and giving misleading or inadequate evidence. The ombudsman has powers to investigate complaints about the administrative actions taken by Estyn or those acting for the inspectorate. If a complaint were justified in the opinion of the ombudsman, the inspectorate would be required, within a set period, to take action to meet any recommendation set out by the ombudsman.

Therefore, there are already accepted and readily accessible procedures for challenging the professional judgment registered in an inspection report and the manner in which the inspection was conducted, and they include recourse to independent adjudication. With those remarks, I hope that the hon. Lady will better understand the intention behind what the Government seek to do and why we are resisting the new clauses that she has tabled.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

I am reassured in part by the Minister’s comments, but I foresee certain circumstances in which there is a dispute about the justification for the results of an inspection and a difference of opinion, because the independent adjudicator has upheld the views of the school but Ofsted has decided that it was right. Notwithstanding the fact that Ofsted will make a statement about its   reasons for not wanting to change its views on the report, that appears to be the end of the line, and the school will be saddled with an Ofsted report that it believes to be unjustified. If I understand the Minister correctly, there is no further recourse beyond that point.

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Wales), Department for Constitutional Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (also in Wales Office)

I take the hon. Lady’s point. She will recall that I went on to say that we are seeking to make changes to the School Inspections Act 1996 so that provisions in the Bill will place the responsibility for the publication of all inspectors’ reports on the chief inspector. The chief inspector will therefore be ultimately responsible for the publication of all reports.

I did say that the chief inspector would then be required to make a statement if he rejected the independent adjudicator’s comments in upholding a complaint. I have no doubt in those circumstances that hon. and right hon. Members will seek opportunities in this place to take the matter further in Adjournment debates and by other measures. We cannot, and should not, go further at this stage. This is an important way of making progress on the issue of complaints. The process is open and transparent, which is important. The requirement on the chief inspector to make a public statement of the reasons why he would reject an independent adjudicator’s complaints is very important.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

In view of those comments, which go some way to reassuring me, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.