Clause 7

Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 2nd February 2010.

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School inspections: pupils with disabilities or special educational needs

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I beg to move amendment 88, in clause 7, page 10, line 37, after ‘particular’, insert

‘, with the advice of suitably qualified inspectors,’.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 170, in clause 7, page 10, line 37, leave out ‘the needs of’.

Amendment 171, in clause 7, page 10, line 38, before ‘pupils’ insert ‘the needs of’.

Amendment 169, in clause 7, page 10, line 39, at end insert

‘this should include direct consultation with those pupils and their families, either through questionnaires or personal meetings.’.

Amendment 172, in clause 7, page 10, line 40, before ‘pupils’ insert ‘the needs of’.

Amendment 89, in clause 7, page 10, line 40, at end insert ‘, and

(c) the concerns of parents of pupils in (a) and (b) above regarding the provision of education to their children.’.

Amendment 147, in clause 7, page 10, line 40, at end insert—

‘(c) pupils from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.’.

Given the fairly narrow scope of the clause and the number of amendments tabled to it, I shall not allow a stand part debate at the end of the discussion on the amendments.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

May I welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Betts? This is the Committee’s ninth sitting, but it is the first opportunity that I have had to make a meaningful contribution, which is something of a record.

Having motored through clause 6, we now turn to a completely different subject—special educational needs. It is of great interest to members of the Committee, as many organisations have lobbied us hard on the matter. The amendments, which can be divided into three sections, deal with the quality and appropriateness of inspections.

At the outset, and before explaining the purpose of the amendments, may I say that we welcome this clause and clause 8, which deals with SEN appeals? This part of the Bill is certainly a welcome addition. Many feel that it could have gone further, given that it is partly a result of the Lamb review. Indeed, we thought that Lamb could have gone further; much uncovered ground needs to be taken into account in future legislation to get a better deal for parents and children with special  educational needs or physical disabilities within the educational system. However, I do not wish to be churlish, and we welcome these provisions.

These probing amendments have been tabled to get more detail out of the Minister and to see whether he is prepared to go further, either at a later stage or through regulation. The group also includes a Liberal Democrat amendment that adds a new angle relating to children with disadvantaged backgrounds, but I shall not speak to that amendment.

Amendments 88, 170 and 171 appear to create a bit of a hotch-potch, but that is because we had to reallocate the phrase “the needs of”. Their thrust is to ensure that we have suitably qualified inspectors. Amendments 169 and 172 would add the condition that there should be

“direct consultation with...pupils and their families”— we give some examples of how that could happen—to ensure that inspections cover the right ground and go into suitable detail, hence the appropriateness and quality considerations that I mentioned at the outset. Lastly, amendment 89 would add paragraph (c) to proposed new subsection (5A), which would provide that the concerns of parents of pupils mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) should be heard.

Several organisations have lobbied us on this subject. The Special Educational Consortium states that the new focus of inspections under clause 7 would provide

“a major incentive for schools to improve their performance in this area, and represents a significant step forward in ensuring that effective provision for children with SEN and disabilities is a mainstream issue for all schools.”

That might be wishful thinking, if only slightly, but it certainly goes in the right direction.

Of course, the outcome depends on the quality of the inspection which, to a large degree, depends on the quality of the inspectors and whether they are suitably trained. Some organisations are worried that many Ofsted inspectors are not suitably trained or qualified to inspect appropriately and thoroughly a school’s provisions for children with SEN and physical disabilities. Much greater knowledge and experience are required when trying to judge whether a school is doing its very best to provide for children with special educational needs and physical disabilities.

NDCS, the organisation for deaf children, has made the point that

“it is vital that parents are able to make informed choices about how their deaf child should be educated. However, many parents report that the information they receive from their local authority is either biased in advocating one communication approach over another or simply sets out what provision the local authority has available.”

It is important that a degree of impartiality is available to those parents, which they would glean from the inspection reports as well as from literature from the school itself. It is therefore vital that the inspector who carries out the inspection is able to provide such impartiality about the quality and suitability of the provision.

The NDCS goes on to say that

“many parents are not provided with support on learning how to communicate with their deaf child”, and many have to go outside schools and pay for it themselves. That should be covered in an Ofsted inspection. We should know whether a school is doing a good job of providing just about everything a child with special  needs requires for his or her education, or whether it is doing only part or half the job. We need qualified inspectors who know what to look for, what questions to ask, and of whom to ask them, and how to gauge the answers.

The NDCS has given examples of inspections of provision for deaf children being carried out by people who have no expertise or background in deafness. Deafness is just one example. Clearly there are complex requirements for dealing with conditions other than deafness, particularly around SEN. There can be an enormous spectrum of requirements, whether due to autism, Asperger’s or other communication difficulties, that are far more challenging to measure properly and appropriately than a straightforward physical disability, as one can talk about disabled access in terms of such things as height of equipment, which is easier to measure with a tick-box approach.

The National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers has welcomed the provisions to ensure that special educational needs and disability needs are met in mainstream schools, but it has raised concerns about allocating responsibility to Ofsted without also establishing clearly the way in which that should be discharged in practice. It asks who is scrutinising the scrutineers, and who is inspecting Ofsted. We could have that bigger argument, but we will not do so during our debate on this clause.

NASUWT makes the point that there is

“no effective means of directing the Chief Inspector to resolve issues regarding the delivery of the provisions of the Bill”.

Even if we have good-quality inspections carried out by well-qualified and appropriately trained inspectors who are well versed in inspecting special educational needs and disability provision, will it lead to a better deal overall for pupils with SEN?

TreeHouse is a fantastic organisation that deals with autism education. It points out that

“teachers do not feel confident teaching children with autism... 51 per cent. of Britain’s school teachers have never received specialist training to help them support children with autism”.

It continues:

“Only 10 per cent. have received such training in the past 12 months” and

“44 per cent. of teachers do not feel confident teaching children with autism.”

That sort of thing needs to come out in inspections. The inspector needs to know how to look for it and how to interact with teachers to get the right results so that shortcomings can be revealed and a course of remedial action recommended to ensure that children with SEN get a better deal in that school in future. That is why the first three amendments, although they are probing, place an emphasis on the fact that these welcome inspections should be carried out by “suitably qualified inspectors”.

Will the Minister assure us about what might be going on with the training of existing or additional Ofsted inspectors with expertise in this area? Of course, there is a difference between inspectors who are inspecting specialist schools and those who are inspecting SEN and disabled provision in mainstream schools, which have a different approach.

For that reason, amendments 169 and 172 stipulate that an inspector cannot just go in, sit in a classroom, talk to teachers, study some of the reports and get the data. It is essential that they engage physically with children and their parents, who are best placed to know whether pupils are being best looked after. There is no obligation, at the moment—unless again, the Minister can point me to some guidance—for Ofsted inspectors to engage with their overall purpose, which is the pupils and their families, particularly where communication is difficult for pupils, depending on their level of special educational needs.

Amendment 89 would add that when reporting on the suitability of SEN provision in mainstream schools, concerns expressed by parents and pupils must be a consideration. I hope that the Minister will take the amendments as helpful ones, intended to flesh out the intention and the ability to deliver what I am sure the Minister wants to deliver by including the clause in the Bill. I hope that he will be able to assure us, or, better still, say that he will be delighted to take the amendments at face value—lock, stock and barrel—and include them in the Bill. That would receive the enormous aplomb of not only this Committee, but many people involved and interested in special educational needs, who are interested in the clauses.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education) 12:15 pm, 2nd February 2010

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Betts. I think that we will have a change of tone in the Committee at this point, as there is broad agreement across most of the interested organisations and, I believe, among all parties, that the two clauses are important. We can argue that they do not go far enough or that there could be more clauses to give greater support for children with special educational needs, but what is here is important. I am disappointed that there is not more here, as the Lamb report called for radical reform. However, the clauses are two important pieces of the jigsaw—it is just a pity that the rest is not there.

I agree with the sentiments behind the amendments. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is absolutely right to say that the quality of inspectors is core. Much training is necessary. It is easy to add on more individual representations, but it is important that we are looking across the diverse needs of special educational needs. As well as deaf children, blind and partially sighted children are an interest of mine, as the Minister will know. The Royal National Institute of Blind People would like to hear what intentions the Government have to check that blind and partially sighted children’s needs are being met through specific inspection standards and that inspectors have appropriate training and expertise.

I am sure that we could go on and on about diversity of special educational needs, but it is so important. We have clearly moved on positively to an inclusive situation with blind and partially sighted children since the time when nearly all would have gone to special schools, but my problem with inclusion is the speed with which we have moved to inclusion without implementing the necessary background structure. For example, it is only just now that teacher training is addressing SEN training for all teachers. I believe that the first teachers with extra  training will not come through until 2011. That seems to be building the walls rather late in the day, but it is still very important.

Another representation on inclusivity that I have received is from Allfie, an organisation that is in favour of total inclusivity. Allfie makes the point that Ofsted should be required to work with disabled people to develop inclusive education and inspection guidance. To pick up on previous points, that will be all-important.

The Conservativesamendment 169, interestingly, discusses direct consultation with pupil and family questionnaires in a totally different context from the one that we discussed during debate on the previous clause. One thing is for sure: the parents of children with special educational needs do not have the opportunity to play their part in the democratic process. They may well vote at local elections, but their voice is so small in relation to the whole that they cannot express their views, and it is important to ensure that they can.

In our amendment, my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil and I suggest that we should add pupils from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. From our visits to schools, we are all aware of what challenges teachers face first thing in the morning, particularly in year 1 and year 2, with children who are not equipped to cope with the school day, even though they might have been to pre-school. A lot of time must be devoted to what we might see as basic provision, but it is vital that such children are given the extra support that they need. In this Committee’s earlier debates, we have discussed the importance of speaking and listening skills. They are so important for children—

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

I have some sympathy with the amendment, but I am not sure whether it is the right approach. For many children, including some in my constituency, the problem is not what happens in school; it is what happens at home. That is a fundamentally different discussion from inclusivity in the school curriculum for children with a disability. The hon. Lady mentioned blindness; other people have mentioned deafness, and we have discussed autism. Schools make every effort to ensure that children get the communication skills that they need, but the problem is that they are coming to school with a poor vocabulary due to issues at home. I am not sure whether the clause is the right place to address that.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention. Whether it is the right place is debatable, but we are discussing children who, for one reason or another, need extra support. We simply suggest that the inspectors could also take on board vulnerable children who need extra support. It is only a probing amendment at this stage—

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

Will not such matters be covered by other areas of the inspection? For example, the performance will be looked at, as will the tests that are done on children entering school and also literacy and numeracy as we have discussed. Reference is made later in the Bill to the primary school curriculum being changed. Surely matters are covered amply.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I guess that that depends on the weight we put on particular issues. Liberal Democrats put an awful lot on tackling the problems of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is why we have tabled a probing amendment at this stage. I hope that the Minister will comment on it.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I welcome the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham to a speaking part in our proceedings, along with the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. I want to read out a useful fact to put the matter into context. The latest statistics that I have to hand show that, in January 2009, 1,433,940 pupils had special educational needs without statements and that 221,670 pupils had statements. I thank the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for his welcome to clauses 7 and 8, and the way in which he explained his proposals. I hope that I can reassure him that the amendments are unnecessary. I agree with many of his points and indeed many of those made by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole.

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of inspectors who are suitably qualified for their role. That is why the matter is recognised under existing legislation on inspection. Paragraph 10 to schedule 12 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 requires the chief inspector to ensure that inspectors have the necessary qualifications, experience and skills to perform their functions in an effective manner. Effective delivery is, of course, linked to effective training, and the Lamb inquiry recommended a strengthening of the arrangements. I wish again to thank Brian Lamb for his work. He did not conclude that further legislation was necessary, and we agreed with that.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that Her Majesty’s chief inspector is committed to enhancing training arrangements for special educational needs and disabilities. He asked me for examples. Ofsted has recently updated its training materials for mainstream schools, and inspectors are currently undergoing training using those new materials. It is also developing further material—a point to which the hon. Gentleman referred—for its specialist inspectors. In addition, Ofsted is committed to providing updated training for inspectors on special educational needs on at least an annual basis. I hope that that goes some way to reassuring the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

It is interesting to have those pieces of information, but can the Minister back them up with figures in relation to how many specialist inspectors there are at the moment? Are they focusing just on SEN provision within mainstream schools? Are they dual tasking while inspecting special educational needs in specialist schools, too? Has there been an increase in the number of inspectors? Clearly there has been an increase in the number of SEN children who are now included in mainstream schools. We need some reassurance that the appropriate people are sufficient to be doing the job.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I hope that I will receive clarification of the figures. When I talked about training, I said that Ofsted was developing material for its specialist inspectors. If I receive further information on actual figures before this afternoon’s sitting, I will share it with the Committee.  The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. If I cannot obtain the figures by this afternoon, I shall ensure that we have them available for our proceedings in due course.

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Labour, Keighley 12:30 pm, 2nd February 2010

While my hon. Friend is finding the facts and figures, can he, at the same time, look at whether Ofsted can cope with mainstream schools such as those in my constituency? The biraderi and first cousin marriage system can lead to one school having some 30 per cent. of children with special needs and, in addition, children with disabilities due to genetically transmitted disorders. I know that that is unusual, but many such cases can arise in one school, and I would like to be assured that the inspectorate can cope with such a situation.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Of course, the inspectorate can cope. The issue is one of training. The clause says that Ofsted has a specific duty to report on how well a particular school is dealing with those pupils who have special educational needs, so it has a specific requirement to do that as part of its reporting process. Alongside that additional focus, which is important, there is a recognition that more specialist inspectors need to be trained so that they can deal with particular circumstances in schools such as the one that my hon. Friend has mentioned.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

Given the wide range of special needs and disabilities, it seems almost impossible that we can have the perfect inspector being an authority on every single area. Will my hon. Friend reassure me about the amount of information that an inspector might have before they go into a school? They must be able to use appropriately whatever tools are available to them to find the best practice, so they can make a comparison and establish how the school is doing when they do the on-site inspection.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

That is a very important point. Before any individual inspection, the inspector is required to gather information about the education provision of a particular school. They need to find out not just what the school itself thinks of the provision but what parents and others think of it. As part of that gathering of information, the inspectors themselves will reflect on how other schools across the country are doing to see whether the school they are going to inspect is dealing with a problem in a better way, or whether it faces more challenges than other schools. Therefore, they learn what happens in other schools to help them in their inspections.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Labour, Wolverhampton North East

To be honest, the organisation of Ofsted, which costs £500 million a year, is second only to the Electoral Commission in terms of an appalling waste of money. Notwithstanding that, has my hon. Friend estimated the cost of giving this job to Ofsted, as opposed to going down the more traditional route of social services, which may be called upon to consider the matter separately with their own expertise? We could do that, rather than trying to train hundreds more inspectors in the very important area of recognising disability and whether it is being met in an educational sense.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The point of Ofsted is to assess the quality of provision within a school for children of all abilities. This clause puts a particular focus on Ofsted’s needing to report on how well a school is doing regarding pupils with special needs or disabilities. That is an important part of the process. We would expect social services to be involved in the support of an individual child with a disability, alongside the work of the school. I slightly disagree with my hon. Friend because I think the functions of the two are slightly different. Ofsted is about inspecting a school to see how well it does in meeting the needs of pupils with special educational needs, and this clause contains a requirement to report on that. Social services are about supporting the individual needs of the child. Ofsted might say that for a school to perform better and do better for individual pupils who have special needs, its relationship with children’s services or social services should be improved, so that it accesses the support that the child needs in a better way within the school situation. As I said, our emphasis may be different—

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

Ofsted has a role in inspecting children’s services as well these days, I understand, so I hope that some correlation between what happens in the two Departments would be obvious. It is important to make it clear that for parents who want their children to avail themselves of a state education, we have a duty to provide that education, so it is absolutely right that Ofsted should ensure it is being provided in a way that makes for the best outcomes for the child, and that is to the satisfaction of the family.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I agree. My right hon. Friend is right that Ofsted is now responsible for children’s services, as well as schools.

Amendments 170, 171 and 172 remove the reference to “the needs of” from the main part of the clause and reattach the term in separate references to pupils with disabilities and special educational needs. However, the drafting of clause 7 provides for the needs of pupils with disabilities and special educational needs to be considered in the inspection reports. The amendments would have no material impact on the effect of the clause. I hope that is reassuring.

Amendments 169 and 89 concern the engagement of pupils and parents in school inspection. As drafted, amendment 169 extends only to pupils with a disability and not to those with special educational needs, which I am sure was not the intention of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. In any case, I reassure him that there is already a strong emphasis on parental and pupil views directly informing inspection under both the existing legislation and the new inspection arrangements. Section 7 of the Education Act 2005 requires inspectors conducting a school inspection to have regard to the views expressed by both parents and pupils. The Bill provides further assurance. The parent guarantee, which is given force by clauses 1 to 3, includes a guarantee for parents to have their views considered by Ofsted during school inspections.

On amendment 147, I appreciate the intention of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole in drawing particular attention to the need for inspection to focus on outcomes and provision for vulnerable pupils, including those entitled to free school meals, those from minority  ethnic groups, children in care and so on, but those—I assure her—are key aspects of the new inspection arrangements. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley made the point about the intent of the amendment being right, but that provision is already included in the more general inspection framework. Section 5 of the Education Act 2005 as drafted provides a clear statutory imperative for inspectors to focus on how well schools deliver for all groups of pupils. It does not single out particular groups. As a general principle, that is right. The inspectors are given the flexibility to adjust their focus to reflect the particular circumstances of individual schools and to avoid the risk of a particular group falling outside the legislation, as my right hon. Friend pointed out.

I thank the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for how he introduced his amendments—the support for clauses 7 and 8, and his reference to the probing nature of the amendments. I hope I have been able to make it clear that they are unnecessary, and given the reassurance he needs. We support the intention behind the amendments, but they are not necessary in the context of the overall framework of the legislation and I ask him to consider withdrawing them.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I am grateful for the positive and constructive way in which the Minister dealt with what were, as I said, probing amendments. It would be interesting to have some of the figures.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Just to confirm, if I cannot get the figures for this afternoon, I shall write to the Committee with them, because that was a fair comment.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

That is helpful. Without going down the line pursued by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East—the expensiveness and other aspects of Ofsted—I point out that some serious concerns have clearly been raised about Ofsted’s capability within children’s social care. He made a point about social services. Without wishing to make the regulatory framework even bigger, I have concerns about Ofsted’s ability to inspect children’s social care, and of course there are aspects of that within special educational needs provision, albeit within a school building and school framework. It is a fair point that we need greater assurances about whether Ofsted has grasped that, and about what practical measures it is taking to recruit the necessary number of people and to ensure they are properly trained.

I reiterate the Minister’s comments about the excellent work done by Brian Lamb and the contribution that he made to the SEN debate, but it is only a contribution. Many of us would like the Government to go much further. There are still a lot of gaps in the provision. There is a bit of a postcode lottery in many cases. It is essential that the inspectorate identify where those gaps are and where there is best practice and poor practice, to ensure that the weak learn from the strong.

As the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole mentioned, there has been a speeding toward inclusion, with which I have some problems. It has been at the expense of 9,000 places in specialist schools. We should judge the appropriateness in relation to each  individual child, rather than being caught up in the move to inclusion, which in some cases has left individual children lacking the degree of special education that they need.

I said at the beginning that these were probing amendments. We have had some more information from the Minister and he has undertaken to give us more factual information, which I think will be helpful. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.