The clause relates to the power of the chief inspector to take enforcement action. Subsection (4) says that:
“the Chief Inspector has, during the period of three years before the enforcement action is taken, required the...institution to submit” an action plan. The comment of the Independent Schools Inspectorate is that, for such a school, that seems like a long period in which to require an action plan and to allow the school to languish in that condition. Will the Minister say why the figure of three years was put into the clause?
The clause sets out the circumstances in which the chief inspector may take enforcement action—under clause 101, which we are about to come on to—against the proprietor of a failing independent educational institution. In order to take enforcement action, the chief inspector must be satisfied that the institution is failing to meet one or more of the regulatory standards. However, to take enforcement action, one of two conditions must first be met.
First, the proprietor must, as we heard, in the previous three years have been required to submit at least one action plan, setting out how the regulatory failings would be dealt with. Where that action plan was not submitted by the required date, was rejected by the chief inspector, or was approved but later not complied with, the first condition is met. Alternatively, where the proprietor was required to submit an action plan at least two years previously, and at least one inspection has taken place since then and the chief inspector is satisfied that at no time in the two-year period has the institution met all the standards, the second condition is met.
The problems identified would not necessarily be allowed to go on for three years, but it is important that schools be given time to put an action plan in place. Three years is the period in current practice, but it would be extremely unusual for Ofsted to allow a situation to carry on for that long. I will reflect on whether three years bears my scrutiny. If I do not raise the matter on Report and the hon. Gentleman wishes to do so, I will come back with the answer as to why three years is right. Indeed, I might even write to him and to the Committee if I believe we need to set things out in more detail. As I understand it, however, the clause simply reflects the present situation.
The clause carries forward provisions in existing legislation, but amends them to allow enforcement action to be taken where institutions do not sustain previous improvements or fail to meet all the regulatory standards. It is essential that action be taken, and I hope we can agree that the clause stand part of the Bill.