Clause 87

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 28th February 2008.

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Inspection and report where applications made for approval

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

I beg to move amendment No. 127, in clause 87, page 51, line 24, at end insert

‘if he regards the change to be of such significance as to warrant an inspection,

‘(1A) In determining whether the change is of such significance, the Chief Inspector shall have regard to precedents.’.

The purpose of the amendment is to probe the issue of material change and what would constitute a change that was significant enough to warrant an inspection. The size of Ofsted necessitates that it is a somewhat bureaucratic organisation, so the fear is whether any change reported to Ofsted as the new registration body for independent schools would trigger an inspection, and that relates to the debate that we had about Ofsted-isation.

The purpose of the amendment is to try to get on the record the Minister’s opinion on the degree of change that would need to take place for something to be material, because there is a fear that, once responsibility is transferred to Ofsted, simply reporting a change could trigger an inspection—at the moment such a change would be reported to one of the 18.2 officials in his Department who would record it and the school would just carry on. That is not to say that those schools are frightened of inspection, as they welcome it. They are concerned, however, about the bureaucratic driver of that. If the Minster could give them some reassurance, that would be welcome.

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)

Clause 87 allows the chief inspector to conduct inspections when considering applications from independent educational institutions for prior approval of material changes. In most institutions, a material change will be the introduction of boarding or a change to become specially organised to make provision for students with special educational needs. Where institutions are specially organised to make provision for students with special educational needs, a material change will be any significant change in their provision, as recorded in the institution’s registered details.

It is particularly important that safeguards are in place to ensure that new boarding provision and any changes to provision for students with special educational needs will not endanger the welfare, health and safety of students. The thrust of the amendment would remove the chief inspector’s discretion to decide whether an institution proposing a significant change should be inspected. It would restrict the chief inspector by requiring her to refer to past cases that may or may not be relevant when considering the merits of a specific proposal.

I get the thrust of what the hon. Gentleman seeks reassurance on, which is that the clause might allow the chief inspector too much latitude to inspect schools for all sorts of minor changes. I can reassure him that approval of a change is required only where the change is material—in other words, in significant cases. Not all changes will require approval, and a large number of changes will not require prior approval. Indeed, for those institutions that are not specially organised to make provision for students with special educational needs, the Bill reduces the number of changes that count as material and so require approval by the chief inspector. They will no longer have to get approval from the chief inspector for a change in proprietor, address, the age range of pupils, the maximum number of pupils or whether the school is for male or female pupils or both. That is further deregulation for us to celebrate.

The only changes that will require approval are the introduction of boarding provision and the change to become specially organised for students with special educational needs. Where a material change is proposed, the chief inspector should have a free hand to inspect when she considers it appropriate to do so, and she should not be restricted in the way that the amendment sets out. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is sensible, will withdraw the amendment.

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

I am grateful for that helpful response, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 87 ordered to stand part of the Bill.