Clause 78

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:15 pm on 28th February 2008.

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Independent educational institution standards

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment No. 123, in clause 78, page 48, leave out lines 18 and 19.

Clause 78 introduces an additional standard to those already legislated for in section 157 of the Education Act 2002, which apply to independent schools. The additional standard set out in subsection (1)(h) relates to the quality of the leadership and management of independent educational institutions. Paragraph 2.38 of the Government’s consultation paper states that the proposal is to

“introduce a new management standard to ensure that independent schools have good quality leadership that enables the school to meet the standards required for registration, and continued registration.”

It is extraordinary that the Department should want to legislate over that. The independent sector in this country is not just excellent but world class. It represents the benchmark against which we should be assessing all schools in the country.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I would not argue that many or even the majority of independent schools are excellent. Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that every single independent school, however large or small, however traditional or modern, is of the excellence he described?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Of course not, but I will argue, if the Minister holds his horses for a moment, that there are no problems in the independent sector with management and leadership so far as the Independent Schools Inspectorate is concerned.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Absolutely. It represents 80 per cent. of children who are educated in the independent sector. The independent sector has very good management. Despite educating only 7 per cent. of children in this country, rising to about 12 per cent. at sixth form, it achieves 62.8 per cent. of all A grades in A-level physics. There are similar figures for biology and chemistry. As Christine Ryan, the Chief Inspector of the Independent Schools Inspectorate, said in her evidence to this Committee on 24 January 2008,

“None of the schools that we inspected were found to have unsatisfactory leadership and management.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 24 January 2008; c. 92, Q215.]

The Independent Schools Inspectorate is a very demanding and high quality inspectorate. It is itself inspected by Ofsted, which found all its inspections to be of high quality.

The maintained sector, by contrast, has been heavily criticised by Ofsted, which complains that 49 per cent. of secondary schools are not good enough, to use the words of the Government. Why the Government, therefore, feel it necessary to legislate on standards of management and leadership in the independent sector is baffling, unless it is in some way intended to homogenise their leadership or to extend state control into the way they manage their schools.

As the Independent Schools Council says in its detailed written response to the consultation document:

“Of a sample of 412”- independent

“schools inspected since January 2006, leadership was judged to be excellent in 19%. of schools, good in 64%. and satisfactory in 17%. In no school was leadership considered unsatisfactory.”

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I wonder whether my hon. Friend is doing full justice to the Government’s intentions. Perhaps what they are after is to lower the quality of the independent sector to their standards so that there is no proper literacy and numeracy and the thing becomes a shambles.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

That is a suspicion that the most cynical would have. When there are statistics available that show that, while educating only about 10 per cent. of the population, independent schools achieve 65 per cent. of the A-level A grades in the sciences, there could be a view that the way to remove those benchmark comparisons is to lower the standards in the independent sector. That is if the people who oppose private education cannot abolish it altogether, which is the view of a minority.

The ISC document goes on to say at paragraph 79,

“we do question why it is necessary for there to be a standard to this effect and the way in which this proposal has been presented has particularly caused concern amongst member schools.”

To quote from paragraph 81, the ISC’s particular concern is that if the standard

“is being introduced to cope with poor management in a minority of non-ISC schools, it might be argued that any standard aimed at this problem would be far lower than the standard already being applied in ISC schools.”

It adds:

“it would be disappointing if, because of the reason for its introduction, the Government was to set a standard far lower than that.”

The other main concern expressed by the ISC about the new management standard is that of homogenisation—the point my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire was alluding to. It says:

“ISC would have a fundamental objection to any standard which sought to impose particular styles of leadership or a framework or criteria which required schools to conform to one organisation’s view of how schools should be managed. The RIA, for example, refers to schools being required under the new standard to appoint particular teachers.”

The Independent Schools Inspectorate itself therefore opposes this new management standard. Page 9 of its written response says:

“We do not agree with the proposal as drafted.

The ISI framework for inspection already includes a requirement to make judgements and report on the quality of a school’s leadership and management. Evidence from inspections shows that the management of most ISC schools is of good quality, much of it excellent...Clear mechanisms are already in place under the ISI/ISC system for ensuring that any required improvements are made by the school following an inspection.”

As the ISI goes on to say:

“If no other mechanism can be found for dealing with the small number of schools needing improvement then the management standard would need to be written in such a way that it did not weaken the expectation of high standards already required in ISC schools.”

Finally, it makes the important point that

“The standard should not require schools to operate a particular style of management, and care should be taken to reflect the very diverse nature of schools within the sector.”

The concern of the independent sector about this new management standard is best summed up by Jonathan Shephard, the chief executive of the ISC, who, in response to a question from the hon. Member for Yeovil, said:

“There is a concern about creeping regulation and Ofsted-isation... if you have Ofsted imposing a management standard on all independent schools, then the way in which the schools are run will tend to conform with that standard. You may or may not like independent schools... but they do educate children at all levels of ability in a very good, effective and workmanlike way. They do that because they are able to be flexible and responsive and they have to answer to... parents, children and universities. If you get a one-size-fits-all, increasingly prescriptive manner from Ofsted...you may lose that flexibility and independence and that is a very serious worry.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 86, Q195.]

I am astonished by the hostile reaction to this proposal from the very respectable and statutory body, the ISI. It is very surprising that the Minister and the Department are proceeding with this measure, given the opposition to it from the ISI, the very body that will be charged with implementing and enforcing it. I wonder whether this reflects the hostility to the independent sector from the Minister or the Department or whether old Labour is simply exerting its influence in the dying months of this Government. Amendment No. 123 seeks to delete the new standard from the Bill. I hope that, on reflection, the Minister will give it his support.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 1:30 pm, 28th February 2008

At earlier sittings, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton introduced amendments on behalf of the National Union of Teachers. He has now returned to a more natural bedfellow in advocating so strongly for the Independent Schools Council. He has been a passionate and consistent advocate of independent schools in this House. I have no criticism of the standards of members of the ISC. I have no wish to be vindictive, or any of the other adjectives that he may have used, towards him. My Department has considerable experience of the operation of the current regulatory regime for all independent schools, not just those inspected by the ISI or members of the ISC.

The regulatory regime was put in place through the 2002 Education Act. Standards have contributed to raising standards across the board in the independent sector and that is carried forward in the Bill. Inspections against the standards have found that in poor schools sustained failure to meet the minimum requirements is generally a result of weak and ineffective leadership. To address that, clause 78 introduces an additional standard, relating to the quality of leadership and management in an institution. The Thomas Francis Academy, which is not a member of the ISC, I hasten to add, had a case that went to the Care Standards Tribunal recently. It was ordered that that institution should be removed from the register and closed. There was discussion at the tribunal in that case about weak management and leadership having caused the problems.

Putting a new standard on the face of primary legislation will send a clear message across the whole sector that effective leadership and management are crucial to an institution’s successful operation. Inspection evidence shows that there is a need for transparent standards that secure effective strategic management and leadership, enabling institutions to meet the other required standards. The new standard should also ensure that institutions introduce management systems and other mechanisms to make and sustain improvements where standards are not met.

The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton referred to the ISC’s argument in oral evidence that it is a low minimum standard and that it will encourage schools with high standards to lower the bar, effectively coming down to a lowest common denominator—to the minimum required by regulation. I simply do not accept that argument. Many independent schools are rightly proud of their high standards of education, welfare and premises, which are well above the minimum specified in regulation and in other standards.

As Mr. Shephard intimated when giving evidence, the best independent schools are not driven by the basic standards currently regulated for, and set out in legislation. Rather, he said, they

“have to respond to three demanding constituencies: parents, children and universities.”

I am absolutely confident that the high standards of management and leadership currently enjoyed by those schools will continue, irrespective of any change in legislation.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Labour, Blackpool South

I entirely agree with the position that my hon. Friend takes. As it happens, I also agree with the overall  consensus of comments on independent schools. Does he agree that, in the current economic climate, a proportion of independent schools, albeit a small proportion, whether or not they are members of the ISC, face considerable economic pressure? In those circumstances, it is important for the reputation of the sector as a whole as well as for the protection of parents that minimum standards should apply across the piece.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to have minimum standards, so that parents can be sure of that minimum. However, it is not a standard that everyone has to fall to. In responding effectively to the market, which is what they generally want to do, independent schools will seek to out-compete each other on the basis of their standards.

We also heard, in the words of the witness and of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, that the new standards are a further sign of “Ofstedisation”—a slightly ugly word—and the “creeping regulation” of independent schools; the word “homogenised” was used. For ISC-affiliated schools, it will usually be the Independent Schools Inspectorate and not Ofsted that considers the ongoing quality of leadership and management standards in an institution. If necessary, it will be for Ofsted to act on the basis of the evidence provided in these reports. That is extremely unlikely for the 50 per cent. or so ISI-inspected independent schools because, as we have heard, they all do an extremely good job.

The new standard is designed to address the failings of smaller, poor-quality institutions, which are inspected by Ofsted. Unless we introduce the new standard, Ofsted will be prevented from reporting on leadership and management failings in those institutions, leading to the prolonged regulatory action that we see now.

I am not optimistic, but I hope that my reassurances will have persuaded the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am sure that the Minister could have drafted the Bill to confine the provisions to schools inspected by Ofsted. That would have alleviated all the concerns of the ISC, which represents those independent schools that educate 80 per cent. of Britain’s independently educated children.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that some independent schools are inspected by other inspectorates—the School Improvement Service, the Bridge Schools Inspectorate and other independent inspectorates. We are making provision in the Bill to allow others to be approved and regulated to allow quality assurance. Does he not see the merit in having a minimum standard that will have no impact on Independent School Council members but which will give reassurance across the whole sector?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The purpose of having an independent inspectorate is that it can apply its own standards. We therefore have Ofsted inspecting the inspectorate to ensure that inspections are carried out in accordance  with those standards. Provided we are happy with the standards of the independent inspectorates, it should be left alone.

The real concern is the phrasing in the regulatory impact assessment that schools should be “required” to appoint particular teachers. For example, a school may not employ many qualified teachers, but instead employ very well-educated people with first-class degrees from Britain’s top universities who are trained to teach in the way that the school prefers. They would not have a PGCE or qualified teacher status, but Ofsted may come along and say, “I’m sorry, you have to have that.” The whole ethos of the school, which is designed to attract academically gifted people to teach, could be destroyed by a specified requirement that they conform.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Would it help if I said that there is no suggestion that we should require qualified teacher status in the independent schools?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The response to that is “Yet”. Our concern is what comes down the line, once the legislation is in place. The Minister accused me—I do not regard what he framed as an accusation in that way—of being an advocate of independent education. Yes, I am an advocate of independent education—of high-quality education wherever it is. I am an advocate of knowledge-based education, wherever it is in the country. I am afraid that in this country we have too little of that high-quality education, which is part of the problem my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire alluded to and part of the problem affecting so many aspects of life in this country. I spend a lot of my time advocating high-quality state education, such as that at the Mossbourne academy, which educates children from a very deprived part of London but achieves results that are better than 95 per cent. of comprehensive schools.

The issue has been aired widely. I am not happy with the response, but I am sure that in weeks ahead the Independent Schools Council will continue to lobby the Minister about how the measure—if it gets through the other place—will be implemented. However, on the basis of the issues that have been aired, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 78 ordered to stand part of the Bill.