Committee (8th Day)
Relevant documents: 15th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 13th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
107A: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—
“Local schools commissioner
(1) A local authority shall appoint a fit person with the approval of the Secretary of State to be the schools commissioner.
(2) The schools commissioner shall promote—
(a) collaboration between schools with the aim of ensuring all publicly financed schools in the local authority area achieve a standard of education set by the Secretary of State,(b) parental confidence in all schools, and(c) fair access to all schools.(3) The Secretary of State shall delegate to the schools commissioner his or her functions in agreement with the local authority which are considered necessary for the schools commissioner to fulfil his or her duty under subsection (2).
(4) The local authority shall delegate to the schools commissioner functions considered necessary for the schools commissioner to fulfil his or her duty under subsection (2).
(5) Notwithstanding any function delegated to the schools commissioner by subsections (3) and (4), the commissioner shall advise admission authorities for schools on—
(a) such matters connected with the determination of admission arrangements, and(b) such other matters connected with the admission of pupils,as may be prescribed.(6) Notwithstanding any function delegated to the schools commissioner by subsections (3) and (4), the schools commissioner shall advise the local authority, head teachers and school governing bodies on—
(a) promoting good behaviour and discipline on the part of pupils,(b) reducing persistent absence by pupils,(c) identifying children missing education and those who are not on a school admission register,(d) the strategy for all children of compulsory school age to receive full-time education appropriate to their age, aptitude and ability and any special educational need,(e) directing a school to admit a child who is not on a school admissions register,(f) promoting parents’ views on admissions arrangements in their area.(7) The schools commissioner will be advised by an advisory board constituted according to regulations which must provide for half the membership to be made up of parent governors but also include representatives of head teachers, teachers, governors, proprietors of Academies and the local authority.
(8) Regulations shall make provision for the meetings and proceedings of the advisory board and the manner in which advice is to be given to the schools commissioner.
(9) For the purposes of this section, a school includes all schools maintained by the local authority and all Academies and City Technology Colleges located within the area of the local authority.”
My Lords, I hope that the Committee will indulge me and perhaps give me a little more time than I have taken so far, because this amendment is very important. It is designed to try to get to the heart of the Government’s vision for education. While we have been diligently scrutinising the detailed proposals in the Bill, several noble Lords have reminded us along the way that we also need to lift our eyes from the page, look ahead to the future and ask, “What will the education system look like if all these changes go through?”, and, more importantly, “Will it work better for children and families?”.
We have to understand from the Government what their vision is. Where are they trying to get to and what is the big picture? While Amendment 107A relates particularly to Clauses 34 and 35, on admissions, it is in fact a broad probing amendment that tries to bring together the collective impact of all the measures in the Bill that, taken together, will dramatically change the landscape of the schools system in England. In effect, this amendment asks whether the Government have a broader vision, whether the measures to free up individual schools will add up to a coherent education system and how that will work.
Let us briefly remind ourselves of the broad themes of the Bill. First, the Government want to repeal many of the current requirements on schools and give individual schools the power to decide many issues for themselves—to choose the children they want to admit and whether to collaborate with other schools on children's services—without having to account to any external body except, directly and in theory, to the Secretary of State. Secondly, the Government are dismantling the structures and procedures that currently enable parents, local authorities or other schools to challenge on admissions, exclusions or school improvements while centralising those powers in the Secretary of State.
Thirdly, the Government are dissolving the local networks between individual schools, schools and local authorities, other children’s services, schools collectively and parents’ representatives, weakening the ability of local authorities to act on their behalf to resolve problems and to tackle schools that are behaving badly or failing their pupils.
Finally—and this is the issue—all this is in the context of moving towards a completely different scale of free schools and academies. There will be tens of thousands of them, not hundreds. There will be 2,000 by the end of 2011. They are all to be supported and monitored directly by the Secretary of State in the Department for Education. We have noted the significant extension of centralising power in the Bill, but I question how the Secretary of State can exercise those powers effectively for so many schools from his office in the Department for Education. At the same time, it is not clear in the Bill or in previous legislation which measures will apply to academies, and which will not, or what can be applied via the funding agreements at the discretion of the Secretary of State, a point I will return to shortly.
In a discussion with the Minister before the Bill came here, which I hope he will not mind me referring to, I asked what the Government’s vision of the future is, and he replied with the oft-misquoted Maoist view that it is to let a thousand flowers bloom. So I ask the Minister whether the vision for the future is of free-floating individual schools all doing their own thing, not connected to local networks and with no one locally holding the ring on behalf of parents and children; no one locally driving school improvement or ensuring fair access; no one looking across an area at reducing rates of teenage pregnancy, for example, or of persistent absence; no one identifying children missing from education, identifying where permanently excluded children are and finding them a place; and no one responsible for looking out for the children who may fall through the cracks between all these separate schools making their own decisions?
I wonder whether there is a gaping void at the heart of government policy, a void where there should be a clear understanding of how the education system would address those important issues and for ensuring, as the White Paper promised, whole-system reform in which every child matters and,
“giving every child access to the best possible teaching”.
The Minister has to try to explain to us how the system that will emerge from the Government’s changes will achieve those objectives, which I am sure we can all support.
This is the challenge that Amendment 107A is designed to address. As we have already heard, the Bill represents large risks to fairness in admissions and exclusions. When we debated Clause 4, we heard how certain groups of children—those with special educational needs and those from minority ethnic groups—are already more at risk of exclusion than others, and we heard how the Bill is relaxing safeguards against unfair exclusions. In our debate on Clause 6 we heard about the risks arising due to the abolition by the Bill of the duty on schools to participate in behaviour and attendance partnerships and the duty to co-operate with other services. In the debate so far on this clause on admissions, we have heard that with a weakened admissions code, increased numbers of now independent-in-law admissions authorities—potentially up to 20,000 such authorities—no need for admissions forums and a weakened schools adjudicator, there is a real risk that fairness in admissions, which we have all long striven for and have achieved some progress in, will be undermined.
Let us also consider the new EBacc, which was introduced retrospectively and picks an arbitrarily narrow curriculum to judge schools’ performance. That is already changing schools’ behaviour, with heads talking about EBacc streams, as my noble friend Lady Morris pointed out recently in an article. How can the Government ensure that this new narrow performance measure, added to the removal of safeguards, will not introduce selection by the back door? Given that after this Bill is enacted grammar schools will be able to keep their selective admissions if they become academies and will be able to expand by setting up satellite schools in neighbouring areas, is this not another means by which selection can be extended, as noted with approval recently by the Daily Telegraph?
While the Bill, maybe commendably, wants to give power to schools, it is simultaneously weakening the essential counterpart of that freedom: a strong system of co-ordination and accountability. Hitherto it has been the local authority’s duty to tackle failing schools and to drive school improvement. I would be the first to agree that not every local authority has done a good job. They have not been tough enough sometimes on schools. However, that does not mean that a good job does not need to be done at this level.
This amendment proposes that there should be a new tier of accountability between schools and the Secretary of State, with the engagement of key local stakeholders: parents, parent-governors, head teachers, teachers and the proprietors of academies, as well as local authority representatives. I stress again that this is a probing amendment designed to draw out the level of the Government’s recognition of the need for, and support for, increased local accountability of schools to parents and the community. There are parallels in other countries. In Canada, district superintendents support continuous improvement in schools, influenced by local needs and priorities and parents’ concerns.
In the model set out in the amendment, which is only one possible model, a schools commissioner, appointed by the local authority, would promote collaboration between schools, parental confidence in schools and fair access. They would advise schools’ admissions authorities on admission arrangements and other matters. They would advise the local authority, head and governing bodies on promoting good behaviour, on reducing persistent absence and identifying children who are missing completely from education and on parents’ views on admissions. They would also be able to direct a school to admit a child who is not on any school roll. That is happening now before we even get to an increase in the number of academies. The role would cover all schools maintained by the local authority and all academies and city technology colleges in the local authority’s area. Importantly, the schools commissioner would not act alone. They would represent the views of parents, pupils and the community by being required to be advised by a board made up of parent-governors—50 per cent of the membership—as well as representatives of head teachers, teachers, governors, proprietors and the local authority.
The Government say in other places that they are committed to localism. This amendment would go some way towards a localised element in the system where parents, pupils and communities play an influential role, and it would ensure a local system—not atomised schools—that can work for pupils. When the Minister replies, and in conclusion, I would be grateful if he could address three specific issues. First, as the Government move towards thousands or tens of thousands of academies, are they clear about what legislation—in this and previous Bills—actually applies to academies? We asked him for such a list some time ago. It is not yet forthcoming and yet we are being asked to comment on legislation and schools are being asked to consider becoming academies without any clarity—including within his department, apparently—as to what laws will apply to academies and what will not. Secondly, can the Minister explain exactly how a system of thousands of in effect independent schools will deliver the aspiration of giving every child access to the best possible teaching, as stated in the White Paper? Finally, if the Government are not minded to accept the proposal for something such as a local schools commissioner, which person or body will undertake the responsibilities listed in this amendment for missing children, for finding places for children excluded and so on? I beg to move.
My Lords, I have two problems with this amendment, although I recognise the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness. When I read through the amendment, I asked myself how I would feel if I were the director of children’s services in a local authority. The director of children’s services in many authorities was the former director of education—the person responsible for all schools that were not academies or free schools. The director of children’s services still has the same responsibilities for all community schools and all schools that remain in the local authority’s purview.
If I were the director of children’s services, I would find it difficult to have someone coming in as a schools commissioner and suddenly having a role with the schools that I would regard as my responsibility. The noble Baroness is concerned about the academies and free schools that are not within the local authority’s purview, but she has overlooked the fact that schools can do intelligent and sensible things about collaboration and co-operation without someone from outside telling them what to do.
I recently visited the London Borough of Hackney, which now has more academies than community schools. The principals of the academies have come together informally to deal with special educational needs and with admissions. People who run schools are intelligent and powerful people. They do not need someone from outside coming and telling them to do these clever things. Most arrangements for collaborations between schools that we have applauded and encouraged in our discussions in Committee are not necessarily confined to one authority. Many schools have developed collaborations with schools that are independent and with schools outside their own authority, particularly in the big cities where boundaries are permeable and children go to school across them.
For all these reasons, I would find this very difficult. Once again, we are assuming that we have to be cleverer than the senior people who run our schools and who are making intelligent decisions.
My Lords, on a point of order I wonder whether we could have the timing clocks switched on. I am tempted to add wickedly that I am constructing a league table of length of contributions and I have yet to decide whether it will be published anonymously or not.
My Lords, there is a technical problem. Unfortunately, the clocks were not switched on at the beginning of this amendment and there is no way of winding them back, even though we all know that we started at 11.57 am. If the noble Lord could do some mental arithmetic, it would satisfy his curiosity.
My Lords, I shall not trouble the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, with having to time me because I shall be very brief. I always listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, with great respect, but my noble friend Lady Hughes has a point in talking about the “gaping void” and in going back to the Every Child Matters agenda.
I am interested in the later amendment, Amendment 114, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Lexden. This amendment talks about what she calls a “visitor”. I do not want to go into that right now, but this has echoes of what used to be called “school improvement partners”, who were in schools when I was a governor. The school improvement partners were incredibly useful people to have around because they helped with the business plan, the school ethos and the curriculum. I think that if I were a director of children’s services—and I am glad that I am not—I would welcome a local commissioner who would have a responsibility for schools, because a director of children’s services has enough to be getting on with anyway, with the safeguarding role in particular. How would the “visitor” envisaged by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, have some kind of influence on what is going on at that local level without some co-ordination? Perhaps visitors are not like the school improvement partners, but I suspect they might be. As I understand it, they would have responsibility over a number of schools. I think she is saying that they would then report to Ofsted or the skills and children’s services board. Is that right? They have to report to someone.
That seems to be rather a large jump. Would it not be better to have someone at a local level—a local commissioner, or whatever they might be called—to try to co-ordinate the concerns of visitors and do something about them?
My Lords, I have not the faintest idea—I never do—as to how long I am going to speak; I just go on speaking until I get bored with the sound of my own voice. I congratulate my noble friend both on her amendment and on her speech introducing it to us. She supplies what I think the Americans call “the vision thing”, and we are sorely in need of that.
My noble friend Lady Massey said that we have to bear in mind, as central to our vision in education, that all pupils matter and that all pupils matter equally. I take that to be central to what my noble friend is emphasising to us.
We fail too many of our young people, who are convinced that no one in education cares about them and is on their side. Their experience of education precisely gives that to them. There should be someone around locally who cares about them demonstrably and, more to the point, who is absolutely on their side. Therefore, as my noble friend pointed out, how we implement the amendment is not the point at issue; the issue is the vision contained within it.
I hark back to the Education Act 1944, which was based on selection at 11-plus and categorised most pupils on day one of their secondary education. The overwhelming majority were told to regard themselves as failures. The words “failed the 11-plus” were actually used. What a way to go—to have an Act of Parliament that categorises so many people as failures. I regret to say that this Government have not committed themselves to ending that. As my noble friend reminded us, they are, according to the Daily Telegraph, trying to create a set of circumstances in which selection will increase. Certainly, one needs to be told categorically that selection will in no circumstances increase under this Government. No one should be able to increase how many people they select.
I might add, since we are not discussing religion today, that Catholic schools were very much at the forefront of introducing comprehensive education, precisely because they did not want to discriminate between fellow members of their religion. I should have pointed out when we were discussing religious matters the other day that, often, those with religion are at the forefront of doing the right thing. However, we did the right thing and we moved to comprehensive education. I hate to say it, but my interpretation of what this Government are doing is that they are trying to abandon comprehensive education, which is why I strongly support my noble friend in bringing this matter to our attention today. It is the vision of education that matters. We can discuss the details when we report back to their Lordships at another stage.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak to the amendment, but I should like to express sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said. There appears to be some duplication in the amendment, not only of the role of directors of children’s services but possibly of the role and responsibilities of lead members—here, I have to declare an interest as a lead member and my involvement with the Local Government Association. Another layer of bureaucracy could be introduced, so I would not support the amendment.
My Lords, we have already discussed in Committee the principles that underline the Government’s education reforms: increasing school autonomy, improving the quality—
My Lords, with great respect to the Minister, another Division has been called. The Grand Committee stands adjourned until 12.30 pm.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, it is now 12.30 pm—at least, I think it is. It is very difficult to see the time against the red background. It might still be 29 minutes past, but if all Members of the Grand Committee are ready, we can recommence.
My Lords, we have already discussed the principles underlying the Government’s education reforms: increasing school autonomy, improving the quality of teaching, and strengthening accountability. Back in 2005, in their schools White Paper, the previous Government set out their vision for all schools becoming autonomous and for the local authority to become more of a commissioner than a provider of education. We are building on that approach.
The Bill makes few changes to the role of local authorities. It is also the case that our approach to the spread of schools converting to academies in last year’s Academies Act was permissive, because we wanted the extent of change and reform to be driven by governing bodies and head teachers of individual schools. The speed of conversion to academy status tells us something about the attitude of schools towards the previous arrangements and their appetite for taking greater responsibility. What has also been particularly striking, as the programme has moved on, is not only the desire for schools to have more autonomy but increasingly the desire to combine that autonomy with greater collaboration.
We are seeing groups of schools forming clusters and chains, building on the collaboration that they have already established and which the previous Government took forward. That is one of the most encouraging developments of the academies programme. We are also seeing early converters themselves becoming sponsors of underperforming schools, with the development of the kind of collaborative work that I think all of us would want to see. While I recognise that the landscape is changing—more rapidly in some parts of the country than in others, it is fair to say—I do not accept the basic premise of the argument that, left to themselves, schools cannot be trusted to act collaboratively and therefore need to be brought under a new set of statutory arrangements.
At the heart of this debate about a local schools commissioner is a difference of view between us and the party opposite about the new schools system. I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, moved a probing amendment to get the debate going. However, she seems to want to reconstruct a system that many schools have been choosing to leave. She seems to prefer a more structured approach, applied equally across all areas of the country and prescribed in legislation. The Government, by contrast, believe in a system with autonomous schools led by professionals who want to collaborate and drive improvement locally.
I agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of collaboration. So far, over 160 schools have created 58 new or expanding chain partnerships across the country. We are increasing the numbers of national and local leaders of education to 3,000 by 2014, building on the previous Government’s initiative to provide support to other schools. The national college has now designated 100 teaching schools to start in September, so that the very best leaders and teachers can drive improvements in the quality of teaching in their area and for the next generation of teachers.
Academies also have to be part of their community. Funding agreements require an academy to,
“be at the heart of its community, promoting community cohesion and sharing facilities with other schools and the wider community”.
A recent study from the London School of Economics found that not only had standards in academies improved faster than in other schools but that other schools in their locality had seen results improve—further evidence of the way in which schools, working together and helping to raise standards, spread those benefits more widely.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, rightly asked about accountability. Our approach to that is to increase the amount of data available about schools and to make sure that in future inspections concentrate on the most important issues: what pupils achieve; the quality of teaching and leadership; and that pupils behave well and are safe. These changes apply to academies as they do to all maintained schools.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, mentioned fair admissions. We have already discussed that at some length. Academies must comply with the admissions code and are part of the co-ordinated admissions process run by the local authority. As we have discussed, this Bill extends the adjudicator’s remit to academies, and local authorities can refer any school to the adjudicator if they feel that admission arrangements breach the code.
I accept the noble Baroness’s reproach about my failure to have circulated before now the list of measures in the Bill and how they affect academies rather than maintained schools. I signed it off this morning. I am sorry that I did not get it across before this debate, but we will circulate it later on. From it, noble Lords will see the way in which the measures of the Bill are applied equally to academies and maintained schools in many regards.
I recognise that it is a time of considerable change, but that change is being driven locally by parents, professionals, schools and others with an interest in education. The noble Baroness talked about localism. I recognise that there is an important debate to have on where localism resides, but I would argue that there is nothing more local than a group of local parents and teachers wanting to set up a school for local children and making that provision fit what those children require, whether it is for children with special needs, an alternative provision or for more of a mainstream school. We are driving change from the department to address entrenched school underperformance, which disproportionately affects the most disadvantaged pupils, and I believe that is the right thing to do.
The noble Baroness specifically mentioned children missing education. Local authorities, maintained schools and FE and sixth-form colleges have safeguarding duties under the Education Act 2002. Academies are required to make provisions for safeguarding under the independent school standards and their funding agreements. Under education regulations from 2006, all schools are required to inform the local authority when a pupil fails to attend school regularly. Noble Lords may also know that the Government have committed in the other place to review the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 and to tighten up and extend the circumstances in which all schools must inform the local authority when a child is missing school or removed from the register. We are also planning to revise the statutory guidance to clarify how local authorities can best carry out their duties to identify children missing education. So there are clear, statutory duties to support that important and vulnerable group of children.
Overall, many local authorities have welcomed the changes that the Government are taking forward. They deliver the stated aim of the previous Government, which I share, for local authorities to be commissioners. There is growing evidence that the best school leaders and professionals welcome the opportunity to collaborate and drive improvement across schools in their area. We hope that these changes will free local authorities, led by directors of children’s services, to focus on championing the interests of parents and children who most need support. We are working with representatives from all sectors through a ministerial advisory group on the role of the local authority, of which my noble friend Lady Ritchie is a member, to help shape our thinking in this area.
Our aim overall is a freer system in which the best schools and professionals are in the lead and collaborating to improve the education for all children in their area. I do not think that the specific proposal for local school commissioners made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, is the right approach. It would add, as my noble friends Lady Perry and Lady Ritchie said, another layer into the system, which would blur accountability.
The noble Baroness made specific points about admissions, children missing education and accountability. There are mechanisms in place. I recognise that it is a time of change, and I acknowledge her questions, but as the process of change is taken forward and driven by schools, professionals, parents and teachers, we will get to a system that will raise quality and provide more choice for parents, which we all want. Therefore, I hope that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his reply and other noble Lords for their contributions. I make one or two points in response. I was trying to get Members to think about what the future will look like. Therefore, I have to say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Perry, that in future if the Government achieve their objectives and when most schools are academies—if that occurs—directors of education will have no powers or responsibilities vis-à-vis most of the schools, because they will be outwith the maintained system. There will therefore be no extra layer of anything—indeed, there will be no layers at all—between the schools and the Secretary of State. That was the picture in the future that I was trying to get Members of the Committee to engage with, and the picture from which my concerns arise about what happens particularly but not exclusively to some of the most vulnerable children in communities, who will fall through the cracks of a system in which schools operate completely freely and make decisions on their own. We have had no satisfactory clear view of how that will work in the future.
The Minister said that this Government are building on what the previous Government were planning. We were certainly planning to move into another phase, having established academies in some of the most disadvantaged areas and some of the most problematic schools. However, there is a clear distinction between our vision and this Government’s vision. Ours was a clear role for local representatives and local parents in that system. We can see from this Bill that at the same time as giving schools greater freedoms the Government are dismantling structures and relationships at the local level.
The Minister said that schools are choosing to leave a system with local accountability. Schools may choose that, but that does not mean that it is right. There are key questions to be answered. If schools are choosing to leave that system, is that in the interests of children and parents? Will that achieve the objective of every child accessing the best possible teaching? Will it close the educational gaps between the most disadvantaged children and the rest? It is clear, despite the Minister trying to be helpful, that the Government cannot answer those questions with any clarity. Rather, they are dismantling the current system on the basis of blind faith, not on the basis of evidence through which they can show that the system they are moving to will be likely to achieve those three objectives and be in the interests of children and parents. They are aligning the interests of schools and assuming that that will automatically be to the benefit of children and parents. That assumption is not testable or proven; there is no evidence to support it.
That is not to say that some schools will not choose to leave the system or that all schools will behave badly; many schools will behave with integrity and try to do the best for children. However, not all will. It is likely that the most disadvantaged children will lose out as a result of decisions that schools will take that are not in the interests of children, and parents’ only recourse in that situation will be to the Secretary of State for Education. There will be no one locally to hold the ring and say, “Come on, let’s do better here”. That was the point of the amendment.
The Minister said that he was strengthening accountability, but I cannot for the life of me see how it increases accountability to centralise powers to the Secretary of State and leave nowhere for parents to go at the local level. He also said that he wants local authorities to develop a role as champions of parents and is talking to them about that, but they will be completely toothless champions. They might well champion the interests of parents but they will have no responsibilities or powers when those schools are academies, so I am afraid that after this interesting debate we are still no clearer as to how the system will work locally, particularly when there are problems, when children fall through the gaps, and when schools do not behave well. Okay, most will behave well, but some will not, and families will have nowhere to go when they have problems.
I am happy to withdraw my amendment in Committee, and will return to this matter on Report.
Amendment 107A withdrawn.
Before moving on, for the assistance of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, I calculate that the debate on Amendment 107A lasted for 38 minutes.
Amendments 107B to 170C not moved.
Clause 36 : Establishment of new schools
Debate on whether Clause 36 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I rise to oppose the Motion that Clause 36 stand part of the Bill and to speak to the Motion on whether Schedule 11 should be agreed. These amendments go to the heart of the difficulties that we have with this Bill. In seeking to restructure education provision in this country, far from decentralising power to parents and local authorities, as we have just debated, the Secretary of State is taking decision-making away from them. Flexibility and parental choice are being restricted rather than embraced and welcomed.
Clause 36 and Schedule 11 illustrate this point perfectly. In future, there will be a presumption that any new school will be an academy. The power of local authorities to consult widely, to plan for a spread of school choices and to take account of parental demand is massively curtailed. Under this clause, when a new school is needed, local authorities will have a duty to seek proposals to set up an academy and identify a possible site. They must obtain the Secretary of State’s consent—
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, yet another Division has been called. If she could curtail her remarks, the Grand Committee will be adjourned until 12.56 pm.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, it is now 12.57 pm. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, was interrupted in full flow.
I could bore everyone by starting again, but I am not going to do that. I was talking about how under this legislation the power of local authorities to consult and to plan for a spread of school choices is massively curtailed.
Under this clause, when a new school is needed local authorities will have a duty to seek proposals to set up an academy and to identify a possible site. They must obtain the Secretary of State’s consent before publishing proposals for a competition to set up a new school, and the Secretary of State can intervene at any point to stop a competition early. Meanwhile, competitive academy proposals will no longer need to be submitted to local authorities for approval and can instead go directly to the Secretary of State. I do not think local authorities are left in any doubt about what will happen to their proposals if they put forward anything other than an academy to the Secretary of State. They might well wonder what happened to their strong strategic role supposedly defending the interests of parents and children, as envisaged in the schools White Paper.
I am intrigued to know how the Minister can explain how this central directive that new schools can be only one type squares with the concept of parental choice. Moreover, how would the Secretary of State know what represents the best type of school for a particular locality? If, as it appears, the Government think that academies are always the right solution, does that also mean that maintained schools, even the best performing ones, are in some sense second-class schools? It might be thought that as these provisions apply to new schools only, they will have relatively little impact on the overall architecture of school provision, but the proposals cannot be seen in isolation from other clauses in the Bill that allow the Secretary of State to close down schools more readily and to hasten the conversion of maintained schools into academies. From all these measures, it appears that the Government’s grand plan is that all schools should be academies. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that.
I am sure that the Minister will remind us at this point that the academies programme was brought in under the previous Government, and indeed it was, but it had a different purpose. Academies were seen as a way of targeting resources and focusing on struggling schools when other interventions had failed. As more and more schools convert to academies, they will lose the kudos, focus and additional resources that helped them succeed.
We do not oppose the expansion of the academies programme, although we recognise that the Government’s aims are different from the past, but we place the decision firmly back in the hands of local people. What matters is that parents and pupils have access to a choice of good-quality schools. However, the presumption that all new schools are academies takes away that choice.
On this issue the Government are guilty of their rhetoric not matching the reality of what is actually in the Bill. For example, in Committee in the Commons, the Minister said,
“the intention behind the schedule and the general thrust of the Government’s education policy is to increase parental choice by diversifying provisions and ensuring that parents have a genuine choice of school to which they send their children”.—[Official Report, Commons, Education Bill Committee, 29/3/11; col. 790.]
It is hard to reconcile that position with what is in the Bill. The Minister is trying to suggest that there is a level playing field of choice, whereas the reality is that there is none.
Therefore, we do not support the clause and the schedule but we support the rights of parents and local people to choose the range of schools they would like to have for their children in the community. I very much hope that noble Lords will support our amendments.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 108, 109, 110, 111 and 112 in this group. I also support the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes. The noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, have pulled out an important thread in this debate about assumptions that individualism in schools will automatically be a good thing. Of course, I am all for excellence in schools, whatever their names, and excellence not just in academic subjects but throughout the school delivery.
However, the Education Bill, as we have heard, amends the Education and Inspections Act 2006 to require local authorities that think that a new school needs to be established to seek proposals for the establishment of an academy. In effect, this introduces a presumption that when local authorities set up new schools they will be academies or free schools. I am not going to go into all that again—I will express a particular concern. This new requirement to prefer academies and free schools is likely to aid the proliferation of state-funded religious academies and free schools, among others. Academies and free schools are particularly attractive, not only to mainstream religious groups but to minority groups. This is because they are largely unregulated and there is nothing to stop groups with extreme agendas from applying to run these state-funded schools. Are we really not concerned about this?
Academies and free schools with a religious character can discriminate against students and parents in their missions and against staff on the grounds of religion or belief. We shall come on to that later. They can also opt out of the national curriculum and choose not to provide even the most basic sex education biology or to teach creationism. I am not trying to dismantle the whole faith-school system—I hope no one is going to accuse me of that. I am simply trying to promote a balance of provision at a local level. I am concerned that this new requirement on local authorities to prefer academies and free schools when creating new schools will lead to a proliferation in largely unregulated and unaccountable state-funded religious schools. These amendments remove the assumption that new schools will be academies and allow greater consideration of local opinion about what types of schools are created. It is all very well to champion parents, but what about championing children and their right to a full education?
My Lords, I shall speak to my amendment in this group, Amendment 108A. As has been said, the passage of the Academies Act last year allowed us considerable debate on the merits of the academy system introduced by the previous Government and accelerated by the current one. Academies have become an established part of the education system and I do not want to revisit that debate. Through this probing amendment I wish to raise local government concerns over the ability of the education system to react to local circumstances. Here, I must yet again declare an interest as the chair of the LGA children and young people’s board.
Amendment 108A would alter Schedule 11 to allow it to continue to recognise the Government’s ambition of seeing schools transferred to academy status, but would retain the necessary local flexibility in the school system to allow for local needs to be taken into account and avoid the creation of a potentially burdensome process for establishing new schools.
Schedule 11 creates a requirement for a local authority seeking to establish a new school first to look at setting up an academy. Councils do not object to that first part of the schedule. However, its subsequent provisions establish a process by which the local authority must report to the DfE on the process of establishing that new academy. Further provisions place restrictions on the establishment of new schools, requiring a council to seek permission from the DfE before considering alternative models of provision and giving powers to the department to order a council to withdraw a notice issued to invite proposals for establishing a new school.
The DfE has projected that while overall pupil numbers in state-funded schools have been in decline, they will increase from this year onwards. Indeed, by 2014, pupil numbers in maintained primary schools will be more than 8 per cent higher than in 2010. Despite the current contraction in demand for secondary school places, the increase in demand for primary school places over the next three to four years is likely to create a sudden boom in the demand for pupil places such that the education system has not had to react to since demand began to decline in 2004.
The primary concern of a council and its community when managing this demand and seeking to establish a new school should be the needs of local parents, and of course of children. Furthermore, councils must be able to balance place provision to ensure that the needs of the entire local area are met. We need to ensure that the Bill does not reduce the ability of local parents, education providers and councils to respond quickly and effectively to new demand and that local choice and diversity of provision are maintained.
Unfortunately, the later provisions in Schedule 11 could restrict the ability of local communities to decide what type of school is established, not only by the creation of burdensome and bureaucratic reporting requirements but ultimately by placing decision-making in the hands of departmental officials in Whitehall rather than locally elected representatives in town halls. Councils understand their residents and local areas well. If local parents do not want schools to be established as academies, there needs to be an option to reflect local parental demand and to establish other types of schools. Councils should not be required to get permission from Whitehall before responding to and implementing the wishes of local residents.
My Lords, I hope to speak to briefly on this question in view of my earlier remarks. This is a crucial clause, which has to do with the direction of government policy and a struggle that might develop between national policy and local authorities. The Academies Bill has gone through. I supported that, and I support the direction of travel in this Bill, not least because it clarifies very considerably what the Academies Bill amounted to. There are two or three points of difficulty that I want to mention, to which I hope the Minister might respond.
First, if every school becomes an academy, which is a possibility, then, as we have consistently pointed out, there may be cracks in the system. There has to be some oversight should these cracks appear. This is not regulating schools; it is trying to find a coherent policy that serves the needs of the whole community, should every school become independent of local authority control. As I said, the direction of travel is right, not least because we have had many decades of local authority supervision of schools and we do not have a system that any of us is content with. That is the reality, and it is one good reason why we should support the Bill, another being the excellence of the academy policy of the previous Government and the way in which many schools want to sign up to it. We have to give this a fair wind.
I have read the Explanatory Notes very carefully, and paragraph 180 contains a series of bullet points on which it is possible for local authorities to take a view on founding a further school. The most significant of these is a loophole. It is the last bullet point in paragraph 180, and it reads:
“Local authority proposals for a new community or foundation school”,
“where following publication of a section 7 notice no proposals are approved by the local authority, no Academy arrangements are entered into, or no proposals are received”.
There is therefore, as I read this, room for the local authority to take steps to make provision for what otherwise might be absent.
I have two further points. First, the proposals for a series of schools becoming in effect independent over the years lack a proper sense of scrutiny of what might happen over the next five, 10 or 15 years in some of these schools. I shall speak to this point when we come on to exemptions from inspection and I shall not expand on it now. Secondly, 20 years ago a Secretary of State came up with a great new whizz and said to me, “Stewart, I plan to make all schools directly answerable to the Secretary of State. What do you think?”. I gulped and pointed out to him that this might mean that in Parliament he would be answering questions about the state of the lavatories at Walford primary school because there would be no other place to go to raise the questions. I hope any sensible Government would want to avoid that kind of situation.
My Lords, my Amendment 111A is different in content from the other amendments in the group, but like them it concerns the vigilance that we need to exercise over academies. Small-scale, local and innovative new schools and academies are good ideas in education. However, when groups of people get together to innovate in education, we will not want them to act in ignorance of good practice and the immense importance of the built environment. My amendment would give them exactly that access to good practice.
I have been in academies—which, as we all know, were formerly instigated to turn around fading schools—and the influence of the building and its design have been paramount. The latest RIBA report, Good Design: It All Adds Up, gives several examples of the educational effectiveness and economy of good school buildings. One of the most anti-educational elements in a school is insecurity—the lack of physical safety, the prevalence of bullying, petty theft, a culture of skiving off, persuading other members of a peer group to do the same, and vandalism.
I have seen buildings that have completely reversed this trend. It sounds like common sense but in fact the proponents of skilled design to improve security had to argue their case, such as everywhere being easy to see, personal lockers and toilets with only the cubicles private. The effects showed in the figures: much higher attendance, truancy dropping well below the London average, much higher attainment and even, at some schools, a reduction of crime in the immediate area. The only correlative was the new school building.
Of course it is not only security that makes a difference, although in failing schools it has been a huge factor. Ease and enjoyment of learning and pride in school are strongly influenced by the layout of classrooms, libraries, larger meeting places such as assembly halls, smaller informal ones, and other physical factors such as ventilation and light, which allow good teachers to give of their best. It all looks obvious when you see it in a school building, but far too few people realise what expertise goes into the right design and how much well-being is created by it.
I am sure that the Minister understands this point, as do his colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and I hope that he will grasp the opportunity for our children in the amendment.
My Lords, I support the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Brompton. Governments, who are made up of democratically elected MPs, and most Ministers—although not those in your Lordships' House, of course—sometimes forget that local authorities are democratically elected as well. I wonder what the point is of having a consultation on the opening of an academy if the local authority is fettered in any way in responding to that consultation—if local parents say that they would prefer to have a local authority school, thank you very much. Anything that fetters the opportunity of the local authority to respond to its own local people is not a good idea, and I support what the noble Baroness has just said.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, which provides that a local authority may set up a school. I also read the Explanatory Notes and thought that my concern might be covered. However, I have listened to the debate and I think that, unless there is some forward planning, there may be a discussion about a variety of schools but none of them may meet the needs of a particular group of pupils who are coming up for education at that time. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that there is some co-ordinated planning and that, if the proposal does not come forward, the local authority already has some plans to meet the requirements. Can the Minister tell me whether that is within the programme?
My Lords, I would like to speak in support of Amendment 111A. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Whitaker on tabling it and congratulate the Committee on reaching it. I understand that it has been a long and winding road, and I hope that the weary travellers will not mind me joining them for this short step along their great trek.
My noble friend’s amendment changes the requirements to be met when a new school is proposed, so that the criteria are set out,
“which the design of the school must meet, following best practice as prescribed by the Secretary of State”.
I understand the Government’s desire to minimise the barriers to the creation of new schools, the introduction of greater variety in the school system and the liberation of new energies—and, of course, to minimise bureaucracy—but it would be a mistake to cut corners on planning and design. They go together, and it has been one of the achievements of your Lordships' House in recent years to amend the town and country planning system to require planners to take account of and have regard to the importance of good design. The Secretary of State’s outbursts against the architects associated with Building Schools for the Future programme were unwarranted and inappropriate. I declare my interest as an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and chair of the Associate Parliamentary Group on Architecture and Planning.
I am very happy that it appears that a truce has now broken out between the Secretary of State and the RIBA. I was pleased to read in the 8 July edition of Building Design, in the report by the president of the RIBA, Ruth Reed, that she said that the Secretary of State had acknowledged that the James review was simplistic. Noble Lords will recall that the James review said that school design should be standardised to save money. She reported that the Secretary of State is,
“keen to get good value for money for school buildings. He is aware design matters and he did recognise that you have to invest in design … He certainly didn’t come across as someone who doesn’t like good design”.
It is encouraging to have that confirmation.
I entirely believe that Ministers want good design in school buildings. The question is how that good design can be assured or how we can do as much as possible to assure good design, particularly under the provisions of this legislation. If I may also quote from the circular that was sent out to members of the RIBA immediately after the meeting with the Secretary of State, we were told that one of the key outcomes of the meeting was an agreement to work with the Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to consider how to achieve the best value from good school design, particularly in mapping out scenarios for the future delivery of schools. Ruth Reed said this was a productive meeting. She said:
“We have agreed to assist in identifying the constraints to achieving well designed schools including those in procurement and planning. Well designed schools”—
“will always be value for money because they deliver optimum conditions for learning which last for decades to come.”
It would be helpful if the Minister would comment on the meeting between the president of the RIBA and the Secretary of State for Education, as well as with Mr Penrose, the Minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport with responsibility for architecture, if he would explain how his department intends to develop this work with the RIBA, whether he sees implications for this legislation and whether he thinks there may be a case for introducing an amendment to strengthen the commitments that the Government make in this legislation to the good design of school buildings.
Hitherto, I have lacked confidence that that would be the case. I understand that the department is consulting about making change of use easier, so that, for example, offices might be converted into new schools under permitted development rights. I seek reassurance from the Minister on that point. At face value it would appear that new schools might be opened in any old building. Perhaps he would tell us what guarantees that basic standards of health and safety, and of accessibility, can be assured by the Government.
More importantly, if “anything goes” in school design, there is a risk that the quality of education will suffer. Good design, as my noble friend said, and as the president of the RIBA also said, helps to create an environment that supports learning; is stimulating in the best sense; helps to restrain and minimise bad behaviour, ill discipline and vandalism; and creates the flexibility needed to accommodate different sorts of teaching groups and changes in the curriculum.
My noble friend’s Amendment 116A is to be debated in a later group, but she is right to stress the desirability of Ofsted reporting, among other matters, on the effectiveness of buildings and their design on the education provided in them. Design is only one of the factors that make for good education. Outstanding teachers teaching bright and motivated children will create good education in almost any circumstances. An extreme case that I am aware of was in Albania, after the fall of the Hoxha regime, when the schools were derelict shacks. There was no glass in the windows and there were no pencils for the children to write with. Yet when Albanian children visited my then constituency of Stratford-upon-Avon, I strongly suspect they had a better knowledge of Shakespeare than the children being educated in schools in Stratford-upon-Avon. They definitely had a better knowledge of Byron.
We have seen in the English public schools that good teachers teaching well-motivated pupils are able to provide first-class education in conditions of Hogarthian squalor. Good design is not more important than good teaching. Good design supports good teaching. Policy and the legislative framework should be such that the whole system and the standards set by the Government support the generality of teachers and pupils, in particular those who work in disadvantaged communities. Of course we should share experience. The system should support school leaders to benefit from the experience of design that has often been hard won in other places.
The report in the Times today of the Government’s announcement yesterday does little to encourage me to have confidence that we are going to see an insistence on good design in the new generation of schools that are to be built. One must, of course, welcome the announcement of funding for the rebuilding of schools and the building of new schools, but we are advised that this programme will be funded through public/private partnerships. We have seen in public/private partnership and PFI-funded school developments some environment and architectural atrocities, so I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us.
It is very difficult working through all the complexities of the contractual process of PFI to build in a requirement for good design. Because of this complexity, I understand that a handful of large contractors will bid for contracts and that contracts will be negotiated with the department or with the new funding agency for schools. I am worried about that because it seems to me that kind of system will not sufficiently provide for local factors to be taken into account. It is the sensitive and expert observation of local needs that is so often the key to good design, so I hope the Minister will be able to explain that the system that the Government are introducing will indeed provide assurances that design factors will have the prominence and the emphasis that they ought to have.
More broadly, I think the Government should think very carefully about the signal that they send about the importance and standing of education and schools if the policy is really that anything goes in school design. If grottily designed schools are to be permitted, the Government seem to be saying that grotty education is okay. That is absurd because that is not what the Government mean at all.
I apologise for intervening on the noble Lord. He is making a fascinating speech, but it is trespassing on being a Second Reading speech rather than concentrating on the amendments in front of us. I think the Committee would be grateful if the noble Lord would draw his remarks to a conclusion on the amendment.
I understand the noble Baroness is very delicately hinting to me that I am going on too long. I think that my remarks have been very closely focused on the amendment, but I will rather quickly wind them up. I think the noble Baroness will agree that it is closely relevant to the amendment for me to note that the Bill would increase the power of the Secretary of State to make land available for free schools. Will she say whether that means that the Secretary of State can by fiat bypass the role of the local planning authority? Planning expresses the claims of the whole local community, not just of a particular group, however enthusiastic it might be. The system should not be rigged to support the group proposing free schools: the sponsors and the particular parents of children of school age who are keen to see the school. A school is a very important presence in an area. Its presence affects everyone; it affects the movement of traffic and makes demands on infrastructure. Sites for new schools should be appropriate, and that appropriateness should be determined by local communities. There are complex judgments to be made, and they ought to be informed by local knowledge and concern for all the legitimate issues within the community.
I support the thrust of my noble friend’s amendment. My only reservation is that it seems to be a charter for prescriptiveness by the Secretary of State, and I would rather that she had couched her amendment in the terms that we have built into existing planning law and that the Bill should simply require that all those concerned with the promotion of the development of a new school should have regard for the importance of good design. Perhaps we can come back to it on Report in something like those terms.
My Lords, we have discussed more than once in this Committee the strong international evidence that greater school autonomy helps to raise standards. We know that the work of the academies programme, set up by the previous Government, is adding to that evidence almost day by day. Traditional academies, of the sort championed by the party opposite, are securing improvements in standards well above the national average. In academies, the attainment of pupils receiving free school meals is improving faster than in other schools—all the more impressive given that academies have tended to start from a low base and operate in challenging circumstances. That is at the heart of why the Government seek to take forward the idea set out in the 2005 White Paper: to make sure that there are more autonomous schools providing greater opportunities for the children who need them most.
We set up the free schools programme to respond to parental demand for new and different school places. That has seen many more parent-led proposals for new schools than there ever were under the previous model—and, if I may say so, significant numbers of teacher-led proposals, which is a welcome development. By requiring local authorities under Clause 36 to consider academies first, we simply want to ensure that all local areas enjoy the proven benefits associated with greater school autonomy.
My noble friend Lady Ritchie is concerned that these changes will make it harder for local authority commissioners to ensure diversity of school provision and that parents should be able to choose between schools that are different from each other, whether in their ethos, their curriculum, their pedagogy or other such characteristics. However, we have already seen great breadth in the variety of schools emerging from both the academies programme and from free-school proposals. As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, rightly pointed out, our provisions acknowledge the fact that there may well not always be an appropriate academy proposal to meet the need for a new school. In those cases a local authority, with the consent of the Secretary of State, can obviously run a competition that can include all kinds of schools. If that competition does not produce an appropriate school, local authorities may publish proposals for a community school. It will also remain possible for groups to bring forward proposals for voluntary-aided schools outside the competitions process.
My noble friend Lady Ritchie was also concerned that the new process would be cumbersome for local authorities, but thanks to some of the changes made in Clause 36, such as reducing the circumstances in which a competition must be held, the time taken under our proposals to decide on the provider of a new school will be less than the 12 months it currently takes. We are keen to work in partnership with local authorities to help identify potential school providers who can respond swiftly and effectively to the need for school places that local authorities have identified.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, expressed concerns that the Government’s attempts to increase school autonomy may lead to an increase in extremism. I think that was her particular concern, which I understand. All groups submitting a free school application have to be thoroughly checked for their suitability to run a school as part of the approval process. Applications need to demonstrate that they support UK democratic values, including respect for democracy, support for individual liberties and mutual tolerance.
As with all other schools, each free school will be inspected by Ofsted. The department is working with Ofsted to ensure that inspectors have the necessary knowledge and expertise to determine whether extremist and intolerant beliefs are being promoted in a school. New arrangements for inspecting maintained schools, academies and free schools are being developed, and relevant training on aspects of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development will be provided to inspectors. All state-funded schools, including academies and free schools, must also comply with the admissions code and will be accountable to their communities for their admissions arrangements.
We had an interesting debate last night on the Statement on Building Schools for the Future, but sadly neither the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, nor the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, were able to be in the House for it. They have very properly raised today some of the issues that we touched on last night, which were also raised in proceedings on the Localism Bill. I agree with what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord said about the environment in which learning takes place. It must be conducive to and support education as far as possible. Good-quality buildings, classrooms and equipment are necessary for children to learn and to ensure that their school is a place where they can feel happy and secure. I recognise their points about the importance of design.
The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, in particular, asked a number of detailed questions. Rather than delay the Committee, perhaps I may write to him and to the noble Baroness and answer those questions as best I can. On the building regulations point, we said yesterday that we will consult on this in the autumn. After this Session, I shall try to pick up on the questions that I have been asked and come back on them.
As to the amendments, we are keen to ensure that unnecessarily high building and design requirements are not a barrier to new entrants to the market, including parent promoters of the new free schools. We are not keen to introduce new statutory requirements in this area, but I shall try to give the noble Lord such reassurance as I can.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, asked about the role of local authorities in planning. They retain the responsibility to meet the particular needs of groups of children under Section 315 of the Education Act 1996, and we are retaining the duty on local authorities to keep under review arrangements for special educational provision in particular.
I recognise the points that have been made. At heart, what lies behind Clause 36 is the wish to bring academy solutions to parts of the country where they are not being pursued because of the benefits that they bring to children—particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds.—and to ensure that they are able to have those advantages. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to withdraw her objection and that Clause 36 stand part of the Bill.
I thank the noble Lord for his interesting contribution. Is it the Government’s intention that in future all schools should become academies? I think the answer—although the Minister did not put it in these blunt terms—is yes. It was interesting that in his response to the very wide debate that we have had and the comments from around the Room he did not seem to mention parents and communities.
The Government have decided centrally that in future all schools should be academies and that local democracy does not figure in this brave new world that we are creating. That is sad because it means that all the local choice that the Government have been talking about will not exist in practice in the future. The Government are sending out a signal that high-performing maintained schools, of which there are many around the country, are being classified as second class: that they are not the current or future game in town. That is sad, because if you ask most parents around the country they would really like choice. Of course they all want high-quality, high-performing schools, but they want choice— and I do not see where choice figures in Schedule 11.
Under the current arrangements, without Schedule 11 we already have the opportunity for schools to transfer to academies and for new schools to become academies. The figures have already been quoted about how many existing and new schools are becoming academies—the process is already happening out there—and Schedule 11 adds nothing except to give the Secretary of State undue powers to instruct that this will always be the case.
I would have liked to have heard more from the Minister on the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, about the expansion of the school role and communities being able to respond rapidly to and having some control over what happens in the locality.
I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and I was slightly disappointed with what he said. He seemed to be suggesting that we should not worry because there is a loophole. I would have thought that local communities want more than a loophole; they want the right to determine what should happen in their area.
May I just clarify? That is the way in which the note is written. It seems to me that there is a power there that local authorities can use. There is an extra step—I concede that—but there is a power that they can use to create a school that meets the needs of the community if there is no alternative proposal that would meet them.
If that is what we have to rely on, it is to be regretted. It should be much more of a forceful and enforceable right. I do not think I have anything more to say. In some sense this is an ideological difference between us. However, it is not about academies or no academies but about central and local control. We are very much on the side of parents, local communities and local democratically elected representatives. I do not think that the Government have fully acknowledged that. I am sure we will return to this subject, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Clause 36 agreed.
Schedule 11 : Establishment of new schools
Amendments 108 to 112 not moved.
Schedule 11 agreed.
Clause 37 : Constitution of governing bodies: maintained schools in England
113: Clause 37, page 34, line 22, at end insert—
“( ) in the case of a primary school, a person nominated by the parishes (if any) from which the school draws significant numbers of pupils,”
My Lords, in the Localism Bill we have been setting out to create neighbourhoods that are involved, vibrant and powerful. If you do that you will create a band of people whose first care is the education and well-being of their children. They deserve to be connected with primary schools, particularly ones that serve their children, and that is what this amendment does. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 113ZA in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, who mentioned to the Committee on Monday that she is not able to be in her place today. I assume, therefore, that she will not be speaking to Amendments 113A and 113B, but I do not have my name to either of those.
First, I thank the Minister for his amendments in this group and pay tribute to my honourable friend Dan Rogerson MP, the Member for North Cornwall, whose powers of persuasion in another place were so great that he managed to convince the Minister for Schools, Mr Nick Gibb MP, that we need the government amendments that we find in this group. The amendments ensure that school governing bodies are more representative of school communities. However, students play a central role in these communities but at present cannot become school governors. We have put down this amendment to try to ensure that students can serve as full members of school governing bodies.
Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ensures that children are involved in all decisions that affect them and that their views are given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity. I very much welcomed the statement by the Minister for Children, my honourable friend Sarah Teather, in December 2010, that the convention would be given due consideration when making new law and policy. I now urge the Committee to consider how students’ rights to participate in decision-making can be strengthening through their involvement in school governing bodies. In 2009 the Committee on the Rights of the Child said:
“Respect for the right of the child to be heard within education is fundamental to the realization of the right to education … Steady participation of children in decision-making processes should be achieved through, inter alia, class councils, student councils and student representation on school boards and committees, where they can freely express their views on the development and implementation of school policies and codes of behaviour. These rights need to be enshrined in legislation, rather than relying on the goodwill of authorities, schools and head teachers to implement them”.
We are not asking for something new, because young people’s participation in governance has worked successfully in education and beyond. Students were able to participate as full members of school governing bodies until a change in the law in 1986. Experience shows that young people can play a valuable role in governance arrangements. For example, young people under the age of 18 have for many years been members of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England’s council of management and have been actively involved in its human rights advocacy. They have taken difficult and complex decisions about budgets, staffing and strategy, and I believe that with the right information young people provide a uniquely insightful contribution to the deliberations of many organisations. They can be just as capable as adults of making governance-related decisions. I hope that the Committee will see fit to support this amendment.
My Lords, I rise at the request of my noble friend Lady Howe to speak to the amendments that she has tabled. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, explained, she cannot be here today. I am delighted to be able to follow the noble Baroness. It is more than 20 years since we had our first student governors when I was chairman of a school board. They made an important contribution right at the beginning because they started with a list of complaints about what they thought was wrong with the school, particularly the quality of the food. The school governing body decided that the first task of our student governors would be to do market research among the rest of the school and to talk to the dieticians and so on to decide what we should have on offer at the school. They came forward with a very good and healthy eating programme, and what the school sold at lunchtime reflected that. They continued to make an important contribution to the life of the school and the role started to grow.
Even now, I know that a number of schools unofficially invite students along to sit on school boards. I talked to a teacher last year who told me that the hardest part of the process of getting the job in his school was being interviewed by the students because they interviewed the teachers and then presented a report to the appointments committee of the governing body. I believe it is correct that we should put the rights of students in statute and allow students to become school governors. This will improve inclusion and will give students a voice. I remember that when I got expelled from college, having accused the principal of acting like Adolf Hitler, I would certainly have liked to have had some student support, but it did not exist.
Amendments 113A and 113B are probing amendments to examine the way the Education Bill is changing the relationship between the head teacher’s responsibilities and those of the governing body and whether, as a result, there should be changes in their statutory relationship. Amendment 113A proposes removing the opportunity for the head teacher to be a full member of the governing body of a school. I must admit that over the years I have thought that they should be and that they should not be, and at the moment I conclude that they should not be. Currently, the vast majority of head teachers are members of their governing body, but with the added responsibilities the Bill proposes for head teachers, they will have a degree of conflict in reporting to the governing body and holding themselves to account as members of the governing body. The National Governors’ Association thinks there is a conflict of interest and believes that it is worth resolving.
The suggestion is that it should be solved simply by the head teacher not being a full member of the governing body but reporting to the governing body on the school’s policies and so on. Noble Lords will know that the key role of the governing body is to examine the head teacher’s proposals for the school and to agree or disagree with them. Head teachers propose the majority of strategies, policies and initiatives to their governing body and therefore will attend the governing body in any event, even though they would not be governors. However, under this amendment, they would not take part in the decisions that the governing body would reach on their policies. By way of a parallel, it is extremely unusual for the chief executive of, say, a charity to be a trustee and a member of the board, and permission has to be sought from the Charity Commission. The suggestion is therefore that this practice should be adopted by the schools sector and that these lines be removed from the Bill.
In the House of Commons, a number of Members were concerned about the undue influence that head teachers have over governing bodies. I became a school governor at the age of 18. I do not know whether that was legal. It was 1966, and I got co-opted on to a school governing body. I had experience of teaching appointments, which is a very important role of a governing body. I became chairman of the board. We had four schools in our group: two secondary schools, and two grammars schools—a boys’ grammar school and a girls’ grammar school. The headmaster of the boys’ grammar wooed the governors. He persuaded them, he influenced them, he drew them along the lines that he wanted and he inevitably got the person he wanted appointed to the job when there was a vacancy, but the head of the girls’ school had no such subtle approach. She simply told the governing body, “I want you to appoint that one”, and inevitably it ignored her. I have seen those two extremes whereby heads can have a great deal of influence, perhaps in the wrong way, particularly on teaching appointments.
This small change proposed for the composition of governing bodies will not in itself rectify the probable dysfunctional relationship. Removing the right of head teachers to sit on governing bodies would send a signal about the respective leadership roles of the governing body and the head. Understanding each other’s role is important for the effective working of the governing body. As your Lordships will know, the National Governors’ Association was pleased to see in last November’s White Paper that the Government said:
“School governors are the unsung heroes of our education system … To date, governors have not received the recognition, support or attention that they deserve. We will put that right”.
This amendment provides some much needed recognition that the role of the governing body is to monitor, to challenge and to support the head teacher in the best interests of the children in the school. The amendment would bring clarity and the good practice that exists in the charitable sector, and would greatly benefit schools. It is important that we see a very close working relationship between the head and the governing body, but it is distinct, and it is important that we recognise that.
I am sure that many of us who have served on governing bodies have had all sorts of experiences over the years where there have been dangers of conflict. I served on a governing body where we used to meet until 11.15 pm because of conflict between the governors and the headmaster, and the only way we resolved it was by all the governors eventually being removed by the bodies that nominated them and a new team being put in so that we could have better co-operation. The amendment before your Lordships will benefit and greatly enhance the way in which governing bodies and head teachers can work positively in support of their schools.
My Lords, I support the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and my noble friend Lord Touhig about having students on governing bodies for two reasons. First, it would be good for the school and, secondly, it would be good for the students to have experience of being on a governing body. We have got better at listening to children over the past six or eight years or so. I sit on a couple of boards on which young people are now represented, and they collaborate fully. We have a Youth Parliament that is incredibly powerful, sensitive and sensible. We have talked before about the importance of school councils. Having pupils as governors is an extension of that. School councils are elected. They are not just there to talk about the toilets. They talk about all kinds of important issues, such as school meals, discipline and bullying, and they talk about the ethos and curriculum of the school. This is all to the good. Schools benefit and young people benefit, so I support the amendment.
My Lords, I, too, support my noble friend in her amendment. I have been briefed by a number of organisations, including Save the Children, of which I was a trustee for many years. It is fully in support of the amendment, which would ensure that students were able to become school governors. I gather that they cannot be at the moment; they may play a very full role in the community, but they cannot become school governors unless there is a change in legislation to make it possible. Save the Children has reminded me about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the right for children and students to be involved in decisions that affect them. What can affect them more than the kind of education they have? It seems entirely reasonable that students should be allowed to become governors, which I am sure will add to the general weight and value of governors and ensure that students begin to feel a much greater sense of responsibility than if they are simply governed by other people. Therefore, I strongly support the amendment and I hope that the Government will be prepared to accept it as well.
My Lords, your Lordships would not but expect me to support the idea that young people should be fully involved in boards. I serve on a number of boards that are fully integrated and that work. However, I am anxious about the rights and responsibilities aspect. If this amendment is incorporated into the legislation, what will the difference be between the responsibilities of adult governors and those of minors? That difference is made absolutely clear in voluntary organisations and non-departmental governing bodies on which young people sit with equal rights to speak. There is clarity about their accountability because they do not hold property or estate, which can be called on in a voluntary organisation. I know all the benefits of young people being fully involved—I do not want to repeat the speeches of my colleagues on that—but I want clarity on their protection as minors. We often forget that we as adults have that responsibility for them.
I support the separation of powers between heads and governing bodies. I know that there has been a great deal of debate, certainly in the voluntary sector, as to whether chief executives should be full members of trustee boards. However, that again brings a number of conflicts of interest below the line. If there is a difference of opinion between the majority of the trustees and a group of trustees with the head, and there are issues that take the group into disrepute, there are real dangers in that. One needs a head teacher who is a chief executive and gives advice independently, and the decision-making power within the governors. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that these powers should be separated, although I understand why the Government are trying to give teachers the status of being on the board.
There is a Division in the House. The Committee will adjourn.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I wanted to speak to this group of amendments but not because I oppose any of them. In many ways, I can see the benefits in appropriate circumstances of parish councils being represented. Indeed, when I was the mayor of Frome, which was technically a parish council, we had nominations as a minor local authority on to governing bodies locally, so there is some precedent for it. I am certainly a strong advocate of the student voice in schools and see the benefit of students on governing bodies and similarly of staff local authority representation.
I wanted to take a couple of minutes to put it to the Committee, and particularly to the Minister for him to think about it, that we need to have a wider deeper debate about school governance. It is currently confused. I started a review of school governance that never quite concluded. Indeed, it was more difficult to get some agreement about the future of school governance than it was to get all the faith groups to agree about statutory sex and relationship education in our schools, so I do not underestimate the difficulty.
I certainly do not think that anyone in this Committee or elsewhere would want to give the message that the wonderful job that school governors do is being undervalued, when they are the largest group of volunteers working in our society. However, when people are essentially there as representatives rather than for the skills that they bring to challenge the school leadership, as you would when looking at the governance of organisations in other sectors, you have confusion between what an advisory body is, which is made up of representatives and stakeholders such as staff, students, parents and perhaps local authorities, and what a board of governance is, which is there to recruit and to really challenge the leadership of the school. I am afraid I do not believe that with 23,000-odd schools in this country, we have 23,000 excellent governing bodies that are properly challenging head teachers.
Indeed, most head teachers who I talk to tell me that their governing body is frankly a bit of an irritation. It is something that they have to work out how to manage, rather than something that properly supports and challenges them as leaders. That tells me that we clearly have a problem. The discussion, particularly by my noble friends Lord Touhig and Lady Howarth, on whether heads should serve on governing bodies is in turn a demonstration of that confusion, because points were rightly made about a conflict of interest and it probably being inappropriate for a chief executive to be a full member of the board if we were to use the suggested model from the third sector. The Government would be well served by looking at whether we can move to shared, more professionalised governing bodies, particularly as we see the emergence of clusters of schools, and proper councils or advisory bodies for each school.
That would be a significant and brave reform. However, academy sponsors tell me—I spoke to a leading one yesterday—that they strongly believe that the most important thing we did when introducing academies was to strengthen governance. It was not about autonomy as such, or about the freedom to pay teachers what they liked or about freedom in the curriculum being really important; it was about strong governance, and about getting sponsors in who appointed really good people for their skills in challenging heads and school leaders. It was about leaner, or smaller, numbers of governors, who could then gel as a group, much as the trustees of a charity or board of a private company might do. It is something that we urgently need to look at if we are to make the progress that the Minister and his colleagues in the ministerial team want to make in making every school a good school—and, in particular, in making sure that we attend to the biggest problem that we have with schools in this country. That is not how we fix failing schools and make them successful again—we have worked out how to do that. Our problem is how we stop average schools becoming failing schools. In the end, we do that by strengthening our governance arrangements.
My Lords, I very much welcome the contribution of my noble friend Lord Knight, as he attempted to widen the debate. I was going to widen it but not quite as widely as he did, but I wanted to make the case for diversity on governing bodies. Although I support the amendments tabled in all noble Lords’ names, including those tabled by the Government, they go only so far. We very much welcome the fact that the Government have listened to the case made by colleagues of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, as she said, for there to be staff and local authority representatives on governing bodies. We made that case as well, and I am glad that it has been taken on board in part. However, the effect will be that a single local authority representative could be on each maintained school governing body, while at the moment there could be up to five local authority representatives on a typical community secondary school governing body.
In my experience, when I was chair of the governors of a secondary school for many years, the local authorities in my area used the opportunity to have a spread of places in order to bring diversity of community representation and people with different skills to the governing body. Governing bodies work best—and here I half-meet my noble friend—when there are strong, diverse voices from the community. What worries me about the legislation now is that it almost seems to want to curtail the spread of knowledge and skills. That might be something that the Minister can respond to, although I may have got that wrong. Diversity is very important.
The governors whom we have make up one of the largest volunteer forces in the country. We should be upskilling them, valuing them and making sure that they can make a greater contribution. Of course, if my noble friend Lord Griffiths was here he would say that we also need to take account of the fact that the ongoing work of being a governor is increasingly arduous and time-consuming, so we need to make sure that we have the support networks and the training to support it. It is a particular challenge for parent-governors who, with all their other responsibilities, as I know from my own experience, find being a governor particularly time-consuming and challenging.
I am anxious about what is to happen when the current governors, who are providing that spread of expertise, are told that they are going to be stood down. There seems to be a lack of a transitional plan. That might mean that it will be more difficult to recruit governors in future if the signal that is going out is that current local authority governors, or their range of skills, are not seen as the future. I hope the Minister can address the whole issue of diversity on governing bodies and how we are going to maintain that strong community voice so that it is not just the parents, teachers or head teachers who help to make the governing body strong but outside challenges and expertise.
I would like just to say a few words on these amendments. Like others in the Room, I have been a governor in one form or another for the past 20 or 30 years. I have hesitations about some of the proposals, particularly those from the noble Lord, Lord Knight. While I support entirely the notion of student governors, will those who propose the notion—particularly my noble friend Lady Walmsley—say whether this is to apply to primary schools as well as secondary schools? What about infant schools? Is it to apply to small village primary schools, which are in effect just infant schools?
All secondary schools should have student governors. There is a role for younger children perhaps to be associate governors on the governing bodies of their primary school. These various categories of governors can be viewed in different ways. The staff governor and the student governor need to be there because they have a very particular perspective, whereas the local authority governor, who appears in the Minister’s amendment, is modified by the Minister’s other amendment, Amendment 113C, which allows schools to choose a local authority governor with the skills that they require. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that schools should have a governing body with a set of skills that are appropriate to them, and these government amendments allow that.
To return to my noble friend’s question, in the case of children and staff it is not so much the skills as the perspective that they bring which matters. That is why there is a role for children even younger than 11 on the governing body, although perhaps not as a full governor.
Thank you. That clarifies the position as far as I am concerned.
In my part of the world we found that the primary school council was a very good conduit into the school governing body.
Certainly student councils are an important thing to encourage, but some younger students in particular would find it rather intimidating to come on to the full governing body.
I find the question of the separation of powers very interesting. The head has been a full member on all the governing bodies that I have sat on, and I have not sat on one with this separation of power. The proposals by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, worry me a little. I played a seminal role in getting parent-governors agreed back in the 1970s in London, where the ILEA was the first authority to have parent-governors and I led the London campaign for the advancement of state education. There was a need for governors to be seen as links to the local community.
Many London governing boards had managing boards for a whole cluster of schools. We found this appalling. You had the same group of governors attending governing boards for every school and basically rubber-stamping the heads’ notions. The notion of a separate governing board for each school became an important part of what we as parents wanted. The notion that the governors were critical friends of the head and helped both to support and criticise the head was very important. Because the local authority was more important than it is now, the separation of powers was perhaps less so than now seems to be the case.
I would be sad to see two things disappear. One is the notion of the board of governors providing in some sense a link between the local community and the school. Second would be the loss of the notion of the critical friend, so that you become just a scrutineer. I would also be sad to see large managing boards for groups of schools.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to how the word “representative” has crept into the discussion. As far as I can see—I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm this—there is no intention that anyone elected, appointed or nominated to a governing body should be a representative of a particular group. They are nominated by a group but their main function is as a member of the governing body, and that should remain the priority.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I shall start by thanking the 300,000 governors who work so hard for schools. Without them, schools could not operate properly. The quality of school governors is vital to the success of our schools, which is why the principle at the heart of the changes we are proposing, which are permissive by nature, is to give governing bodies more freedom to recruit governors based on their skills, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, said. Having heard that the noble Lord looked into this area a couple of years ago, if he has the time I would be keen to look at his scars to see whether there is anything I can learn, because we have grappled with some of the same issues.
In fact, the issues around governance are a subset of some of the broader debates that we have had on a range of issues in Committee. We all start with the instinct to try not to be too prescriptive and to trust people, and then find ourselves drawn by stages into saying that we want to be completely permissive apart from this area, this area and this area—areas about which we feel strongly individually. The same thing has happened in our approach to governance and, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said, we have ended up with a complex system.
A number of noble Lords have raised fundamental questions about the purpose of a governing body such as what we look to it to do and the kind of people who could best provide the challenge we are keen to see provided. These are very good first principle questions that ought to be asked. However, as even the noble Lord, Lord Knight, was defeated in his attempt to grapple with this issue, I shall be more modest and bring the Committee back to the Bill and the amendments.
The current complex regulations can sometimes get in the way of some governing bodies, and the main purpose of Clause 37 is to free up the constitution of maintained school governing bodies. We also want to amend the relevant regulations to minimise prescription around the proportions of governors required from each category. We believe that the governing body is best placed to determine what will work best for them locally and that—this is an important point—the current governing body should decide on any change to its constitution. As I said, the changes that we are proposing are permissive. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked me about that, and that is the answer—no governing body will be required to change if it does not think it is in the best interests of the school.
As I have said, our wish is to minimise prescription, but having listened to the concerns expressed in another place—which I know my noble friend Lady Walmsley shares—we are bringing forward two government amendments. I accept that there are strong views that maintained school governing bodies should be required to include an elected staff governor, other than the head teacher, and one local authority governor whose skills will assist the governing body. We propose that when a local authority governor post becomes vacant, the governing body should liaise with the local authority to identify a suitable candidate for appointment. The governing body should be able to ask a local authority to make a different nomination if its original one does not have the skills required by the governing body.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas that it is important for a primary school to have close links to its local community. It is, of course, already possible for the local authority or the governing body to appoint governors who represent the local community, and it is right that we should leave the decision to do so to be made locally—it may well appoint a representative from the parish—rather than to prescribe a completely new category.
We had a long debate about student governors. As has been pointed out, many schools already have well established and highly effective school councils. Pupils can already be invited to attend and speak at governing body meetings and can serve as associate members of governing bodies. Like the previous Government, we think that these arrangements allow for governing bodies to take proper account of pupils’ views.
I would be cautious about prescribing a new category of pupil governor and forcing governing bodies to appoint them, because we are keen to try to move away from that. There are some practical issues relating to student governors of the sort that the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, referred to which one would need to think through. Another set of issues was then flushed out by my noble friend Lady Sharp. We would need to think very carefully, for instance, about giving pupils responsibility for decisions relating to pupil or staff disciplinary matters, or issues around pay. However, I would be interested to discuss some of these points further with my noble friend.
It is common practice, whenever there are issues such as the Minister has just mentioned, for staff and student governors to withdraw. It is perfectly practicable to do it that way.
I accept that, my Lords. There are ways of dealing with that, but there are a range of other practical issues that one would need to think through. I would be very happy to explore some of them with my noble friend and others who have an interest and see where we end up.
On head-teacher governors, I again understand the arguments that have been put by both sides. That is probably why the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, having had both these opposing views, concentrated on other issues. I understand the argument both for their inclusion on boards, in the same way as a chief executive of a company might serve on a board, and against in the case of the voluntary sector and other charities, where the chief executive is often not on the board.
We know that there are issues, but overall the system is operating. We are working with the National College to develop training for chairs of governing bodies to assist them in the role of holding head teachers to account. Head teachers can choose to remove themselves from governing bodies. If individual governing bodies wish to move to the position suggested, they can do so and the head teacher can resign from the governing body. The thought of removing head teachers from every governing body in the land, from 25,000-odd schools, seems quite courageous, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said, these are issues on which we need to continue to reflect.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked me a specific question about governors. Governors are not there to represent a particular group and should act in the best interests of the school, having formed their own opinion.
I therefore commend my amendments and ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment, which he moved some time ago before we had many Divisions in the House.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comprehensive reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 113 withdrawn.
Amendments 113ZA to 113A not moved.
113AA: Clause 37, page 34, line 23, at end insert—
“(ba) a person elected as a staff governor,(bb) a person appointed as a local authority governor,”
Amendment 113AA agreed.
Amendment 113B not moved.
113C: Clause 37, page 34, line 30, at end insert—
“(4ZA) Regulations made by virtue of subsection (3)(c) in relation to a maintained school in England may include provision for eligibility criteria for the school’s local authority governor to be such as may be specified by the school’s governing body.”
Amendment 113C agreed.
Clause 37, as amended, agreed.
Clause 38 agreed.
Clause 39 : School inspections: exempt schools
113D: Clause 39, page 35, line 15, at end insert “except that regulations must provide for inspections of safeguarding policies at prescribed intervals”
My Lords, Amendment 113D would make sure that, where schools are not regularly inspected by Ofsted, regulations would provide for inspection of their safeguarding policies at prescribed intervals by some means or other. Due to the central importance of child protection in schools, somebody should be inspecting all schools to make sure they are fulfilling their legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under the Education Act 2002.
The NSPCC has had some conversations with Ofsted about those schools which are going to continue to be inspected. It has agreed that the right place for the inspection of safeguarding should be within the leadership and management strand of the new inspection framework. It also recommends in the statutory guidance, Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education, that the Ofsted report should state whether the school has an effective policy on child protection which is consistently applied; whether the school has a designated lead member of staff for child protection; whether the designated person takes part in local, multi-agency arrangements such as case conferences; and whether school staff attend child protection training which is refreshed at intervals set out in the statutory guidance. All these things would apply to schools that are not exempt from inspection. The question that I am raising in this amendment is what happens to safeguarding when schools are not regularly inspected?
If academic standards slip over a period of time—the head teacher might move to another school and a new one comes in who is not perhaps as able—someone is likely to notice and trigger an inspection, which legislation allows. However, safeguarding can go pear-shaped very quickly and this is often very well hidden. Can the Minister say how the Government intend to ensure that schools are carrying out their safeguarding role diligently, especially in the light of the intention to repeal the duty to co-operate with local authorities? Will excellent safeguarding policy and practice be a limiting factor in whether a school can achieve an outstanding Ofsted report? Guarding the safety of children in school is one of the most vital roles of every school, whether the academic achievement is good or poor. We are proposing not to inspect those that have high academic achievement. It does not necessarily go hand in hand with very high standards in safeguarding policy. What do the Government intend to do to ensure that this matter is addressed? I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 114. I entirely support Clause 39. It is absolutely right that academies and other schools that are exempt should be given freedom from full Ofsted inspection. I have severe reservations about whether Ofsted’s regime in the past has been proven to do anything to improve standards in schools. In fact, the contrary appears to have been the case. We have to hope, of course, that Ofsted in its revised form will be a more positive experience. Nevertheless, it is right that these schools should be exempt from routine Ofsted inspection. However, as my noble friend has already said, academic standards can slip, but long before academic standards begin to show a decline in a way that can be identified, it is possible for a school to begin—usually because there is a change of head—to decline in terms of standards of discipline and staff morale. Therefore, the overall ethos of the school begins to change and, within two or three years, that will certainly begin to be reflected in the academic results and standards.
The proposal in Amendment 114 may be a little leftfield. It proposes that, instead of having a full inspection regularly, a school should have somebody assigned to it who just keeps an eye on it. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, suggested that this amendment brought about something like a school improvement partner, but that is not what is envisaged at all. This person would not have a role in helping the school to improve or develop; they would simply be a friendly eye, popping in two or three times over the year—at least once a term—just to ensure that the high standards that had been present before were maintained. If there is any question or doubt, this would be the early warning system; if the “visitor”, as the amendment calls this person, had reason to believe that things were beginning to go wrong, he or she would be able to trigger a full inspection by Ofsted.
I am sure that all of us in this Room with our tremendous experience of schools have seen schools change very quickly when there is a change of head. I have certainly seen schools that were very good begin to deteriorate in a couple of terms, when a weak head moved in—and, vice versa, a school that has been weak in the past can suddenly begin to pick up very fast when a good head moves in. Assuming that it is the case in some schools that they go down in standards, I believe that it would be very important to have someone keep an eye on that, rather than wait the two or three years before it begins to appear in the standards of achievement. I do not need to remind the Committee that these are children’s lives; they do not have a second chance. If the school’s standards begin to decline, down the line their success and achievements will also go down. So I very much hope that my noble friend will at least look sympathetically on this idea.
My Lords, I take a more radical view than my noble friend, although if her amendment was accepted a lot of my worries would be dealt with. The Government are making a great mistake in going down this route. It is not that I like Ofsted—I do not like the old-style Ofsted; a lot needs to be improved about it. But going in this direction is going to cause considerable problems down the road.
Schools that are rated outstanding often do not stay outstanding. Quite a high proportion of them drift downwards. This is entirely natural, with changes in the staff and in tempo and other changes that mean that a school loses its grip on the excellence that it once had. Perhaps it was lucky to get a grade 1 in the first place and has just slipped back to its natural place in grade 2. Unless you have some contact with the school, you absolutely do not know that that is happening.
One of the main grouses that I have with Ofsted at the moment is that it is very late to pick up changes. Ofsted will pile into a school and put it in special measures when, if it had caught it a couple of years earlier, it would have meant a minor change of course. I can think of an excellent secondary school in Manchester that was dumped into special measures when it got a head who was being experimental and trying all sorts of things and forgetting to look after the basic management of the school. It was a very easy thing for an experienced head to pick up; if someone had just come in, as my noble friend Lady Perry suggests, and had a look at the school, they would have sensed that immediately.
I do not share the confidence of my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches that these things get picked up by parents, since parents are by and large terribly loyal to their schools. They do not talk to outside people or to Ofsted. There may be a flow of information round the local circuit, but it does not get out of that; no one complains. Often, there will be a flow of propaganda from the school that what it is doing is right and that the course it is taking is the best one. Even if it is experimental and there are some worries about it at the moment, it will all work out. Parents are inclined to accept that and an outside expert eye can make all the difference. At the moment, Ofsted is deficient in that it does not look at schools often enough and this causes much greater problems than there ought to be. If we get to a position where Ofsted does not see schools at all, we will start to have serious problems going unchecked, to the point where the rot is so bad that the fruit falls off the tree and the educational lives of a great many pupils are seriously damaged.
Beyond that, we are considering opening up the curriculum so that a great deal of what a secondary school, in particular, does will be down to that school. So we will start not to know what a school is doing and whether it is doing well unless someone tells us what is going on. How will we know that PSHE in a school is being done properly, or what is being done, or what is being taught? We will rely entirely on what the school chooses to tell us. If it is a good school doing the right thing, fine—that will be all right—but how will we know if that is the case?
The proposals in this clause, as they are now, will fail schools, fail children and fail parents and the information they should have. We should seriously look to do something about this.
My Lords, the clause is very radical in its consequences. Amendments 113D, 114 and 114A are all firefighting amendments and I support them as such, particularly with regard to the importance of safeguarding. However, I agree with my colleague and friend, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that, if we move away from requiring inspection of a whole range of schools, danger lies down the road and that we may be in a different position when debating this issue in five or 10 years’ time.
I was involved when Ofsted was established—I am sorry to be historical but this is relevant—and one of the earliest things I did was to go to a meeting with private school head teachers. I was wise to go to girls’ schools where they were mostly lady head teachers, who were much more reasonable. I challenged them and said, “If the state system can put up with this, what about you”? Much to their credit, they began to create an inspection system of their own and compared notes with Ofsted all the way down the line and found it beneficial.
On another bit of relevant history, five years ago during debates on the Education and Inspections Bill, a major issue about faith schools arose. Indeed, after re-reading Hansard and as I look around, it is like being back there—the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Sharpe, Lady Perry and Lady Howarth, were all there when we debated it at some length. They may recall—I certainly do, as I tabled one or two crucial amendments—that there was an immense degree of what I can only call aggression. Except for the issue of assisted dying, I have not seen the House of Lords quite as split right down the middle as on the question of the future of faith schools.
We have had a sensation of that in this Committee but we have held back, I am happy to say. However, that could be recreated because the exemptions proposed include a number of faith schools that cause severe worries for Members of the House. This may reopen the whole issue of whether there should be any at all, let alone, as the question was, any new ones. I see, for example, Amendment 114 as a step towards this. There could be other ways in which one might take a step towards obviating the possibility of a certain kind of curriculum, the way in which it is taught and a lack of attention to community cohesion—which I believe were the words on which the amendments at that time focused.
The crucial issue was that there would be a backstop, and Ofsted would inspect all schools on the basis of their capacity to create cohesion in the community. That provided a net within which many of the worries of Members of the House were resolved sufficiently for them not to move down the much more radical secular path. I put it to the Minister that a number of us would be minded to introduce further amendment at the next stage if Clause 39 stands in its current form without these issues being dealt with.
My Lords, our Amendments 114A and 122ZB would apply the same provisions to FE.
Under Clause 39, once a school was deemed “exempt”, it would never again need a Section 5 inspection. Like other noble Lords who have already spoken, we believe that freeing schools from any future inspection is a very dangerous step to take. Our amendments would therefore require regulations to provide for a range of local bodies to be able to trigger inspections where there are concerns. The most obvious of these would be local authorities and parents, but it is possible to imagine, for example, information from the police or appearing in the press being sufficient for Ofsted to decide that an inspection is justified. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, called it fire fighting, which may be what are talking about. We are certainly talking about recognisable incidents or failings which have triggered concern and therefore an inspection.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, there is no obvious purpose behind the clause. It is not clear what the rationale is, where the demand is coming from or how the resulting inspection void will be filled. We have considerable sympathy, therefore, with the movers of Clause 39 stand part.
Section 5 inspection reports are not just about a crisis of some kind; they are also extremely useful to parents and pupils, whether the pupils are already at the school or prospective pupils. The reports help parents and local authorities understand the strengths of a school and the areas where improvement is needed. They mean that parents can send their children to a particular school with a high level of knowledge about the quality of the learning experience that their children can expect. They also help local authorities hold schools to account and support them. The benefits for parents and the wider community of exempting schools are therefore unclear. Perhaps the noble Lord can explain that to us.
It is also not exactly clear from the legislation what conditions would render a school or college exempt. I understand that it was indicated in the Commons that it would be when a school was judged to be outstanding by Ofsted, but it is not clear that they would be the only circumstances in which a school would be classified as exempt. Perhaps the Minister can clarify that. If they are the only circumstances, can the Minister confirm that it is quite likely that a school, once deemed to be outstanding, may not be subject to an inspection for six years or more? In other words, a whole cohort of children could pass through it without it ever being subject to inspection. Surely, as has been pointed out around the Committee already, there is a risk that once a school has been judged to be outstanding, its standards could subsequently decline.
We, and no doubt others, have received comments from bodies such as Barnardo’s, Children England and Save the Children, echoing concerns about making exemptions from inspection. For example, unfairly selective admissions processes, lack of support for pupils with special educational needs or support to improve their behaviour, or dips in attainment of children from disadvantaged backgrounds may not be picked up. In addition, a school’s ongoing performance as a newly converted academy, with all the change and upheaval that it might entail, may not be considered and identified.
During the course of the Bill, we have debated the future of a number of education quangos. Thankfully, the Government have recognised the importance of Ofsted and that it needs to continue. They have also recognised that Ofsted inspections are still considered to be the gold standard which teachers respect and parents rely on. If they are going to apply to only a certain proportion of schools, is there not a danger that that whole brand and that authority will diminish over time? One of the great strengths is that it is something that can be compared across the whole spectrum of schools as things stand at the moment. The clause allows exempt schools to request an inspection themselves, and a number of outstanding schools have already indicated that they may be forced to make such a request because they fear that parents will not be interested in reading a report about them that could be five years out of date. The fact that Ofsted will be able to charge for those inspections raises the spectre that there may be another fundraising subtext to these proposals, and I would be grateful if the Minister could debunk that suggestion.
As the Bill stands, local authorities cannot trigger an inspection, yet local authorities are the champions of education in their areas and they are very well placed to identify concerns within a school, either through direct experience or through receiving concerns and complaints from the local community. Local authorities and parents are losing out in the way that these increasingly fragmented inspection systems are being introduced.
Our amendment would enable parents, the local authority and other interested bodies to trigger an inspection on an otherwise exempt school. I recognise that if this amendment were agreed it would need to be worked upon to identify what the threshold should be for triggering an inspection. For example, would there need to be a number of parents or prospective parents requesting an inspection and how would Ofsted assess the seriousness of the concern raised? We believe that that could be spelled out in regulations. We hope that our amendments go some way towards providing some checks and balances, but we are also extremely sympathetic to the wider issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and other noble Lords in this debate.
My Lords, I have put my name to the Motion that this clause should not stand part of the Bill. I find it quite extraordinary that the Government are proposing that schools should be exempt from Ofsted inspections. I am not an uncritical admirer of Ofsted. Like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I have seen some inspections which have not done the required job and have often had a disabling effect on the teachers because of the conduct of the inspectors. None the less, overall, Ofsted inspections provide important safeguards for the public.
We are not told very much about the rationale for this. The Explanatory Notes state that this will allow the Secretary of State to exempt certain schools, and one has to look at the debate in the Commons or at the Minister’s comments at Second Reading to find that the intention is that outstanding schools should be exempt. Like my noble friend Lady Jones, I would like the Minister to confirm that. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, suggested earlier that academies would be exempt. I would like the Minister to confirm that that is not the case and that it is, at the moment, the intention that only outstanding schools will be exempt.
At Second Reading, my noble friend Lady Morgan, the chair of Ofsted, commented on this. She said,
“outstanding schools and colleges will in future be inspected only where there is cause for concern”.—[Official Report, 14/6/11; col. 737.]
I have considerable concerns about this. The fact is that not all outstanding schools remain outstanding. The figures that Ofsted published in answer to a Written Question I asked a few weeks ago show that of the 1,155 schools judged to be outstanding at their penultimate inspection, 302 were judged to be grade 2 at the most recent inspection, 58 grade 3 and one grade 4, so over 30 per cent of schools experience a reduction in their grading on a subsequent inspection by Ofsted. What possible basis could there be to say that we will exempt outstanding schools for all time?
We are told that the Government believe that the risk can be reduced because Ofsted is developing this risk assessment approach to include a basket of indicators, which will flag up concerns. It will also be influenced by complaints from parents or local intelligence from the LEA—although given that the Government are taking so much power away from those LEAs, it is difficult to know how they will have much local intelligence in future.
We know that Ofsted is planning this matrix system, where data on schools can be checked to trigger an inspection, but we all know about data. In any case, the data will be historic so the risk is that when an outstanding school declines, the trigger mechanism does not come into play until children have been adversely influenced because of that decline. Given that top-grading already allows inspections to be postponed it is clear that nearly a third of outstanding schools take their foot off the gas when regular inspection is not imminent, so how much worse will that become if we have no regular inspections at all?
We have heard a number of examples. The most obvious is when the head and a cadre of senior teachers retire at the same time. I know that noble Lords will have seen examples where the school has declined rapidly in the event of that happening. Perhaps I might give another example, since the previous debate on governance was very interesting. There are outstanding heads who do not welcome strong governance and use their influence to make sure that weaker governors are appointed. My experience is that the person most influential in appointing governors is the head teacher themselves, so you can have a situation where there is a very strong head and a weak governing body. When the head retires, the governing body appoints a new head but then does not know how to deal with the incoming head, who may not be up to the job. The absence of regular Ofsted inspection means that there are fewer safeguards for parents than there would be if Ofsted continued to inspect those institutions.
The suspicion is that this is driven by resources and that a pared-down Ofsted will have to focus on the weaker schools, but surely we owe it to all parents who send their children to the schools affected for Ofsted to have a continuing role in relation to those schools. To give an example from the National Health Service—I declare an interest as a consultant trainer in the NHS and as chair of a foundation trust—NHS trusts have gone through a similar process of regulation, both by the Care Quality Commission and by Monitor. If you achieve foundation trust status, Monitor does not just go away and not darken your door for six or 10 years. We are in a quarterly reporting mechanism and if we fail to meet the top four or five targets, the chair and chief executive can expect to be called in at any time to account for the problems. I do not understand why the Minister’s department is taking such a different approach than to other parts of the public sector. I fail to see how you can justify not having regular inspections for all schools.
I also have concerns about the nature of Clause 39. Why do the Government not specify which category of schools is to be exempt in the Bill? The Bill could be used by the Secretary of State to exempt academies, if he wanted to, or faith schools, if he wanted to, or free schools, if he wanted to. There are absolutely no guarantees that he will not do that in future. Finally, why is the order-making power negative? I would have thought that something as important as the exemption of categories of school from Ofsted inspections would, at the least, deserve to be treated as an affirmative order. I hope that the noble Lord will reflect on these points. It is clear that there is concern around the Committee on these issues, as there will be among parents unless the Government are prepared to reconsider this.
My Lords, I want to add my voice to the concern about Clause 39 and particularly to support Amendment 114A. I have a rather more positive view of Ofsted than most noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. It seems to me that on the vast majority of occasions the Ofsted inspection is extremely valuable, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said earlier. While there are undoubtedly some exceptions to that, an effective and good inspection system is in operation.
I was particularly moved to intervene by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that this might be used as a way of, in some way, exempting faith schools from the inspection process. I want to make it quite clear that I at any rate would not want faith schools to be exempted from the inspection process in any way. I hope the Minister will confirm that there is no intention of doing that. The vast majority of faith schools are maintained schools and wish to remain so. Where some of them wish to become academies it is not in any way to avoid being part of an inspection system. Certainly I have never heard in the debates over academies of any school indicating, either overtly or covertly, that one of things it wanted to do was to evade the inspection system.
I believe the inspection system to be extremely important, not simply for local authorities—though certainly for them—but also for diocesan boards of education, both Roman Catholic and Anglican. They too work with schools through the Ofsted process and through that inspection and it is of considerable value in discussing, helping and encouraging the schools. I hope the Minister can assure me that there is no intention of exempting faith schools here and that he will say where academies stand in all of this discussion.
My Lords, I would just like briefly to say that I have some sympathy with this set of amendments and in particular to draw attention to the fact that Clause 41 applies these provisions to colleges as Clause 39 applies them to schools. We are all very well aware of how important school leaders are and that a head and a college principal can make all the difference. When they move on to take another job or to retire, a school or a college can go downhill extremely quickly. One needs to have some form of trigger for an inspection in these circumstances; something equivalent to Amendment 114 put forward by my noble friend Lady Perry might be appropriate for colleges as well as for schools. Alternatively, if we move on to Clause 42—I think it is that clause, but it may be further on—local authorities are given the responsibility for taking action when schools are causing concern. They might well have the responsibility for triggering an inspection.
We all probably welcome the slightly more light-handed form of inspection outlined in Clause 40, but at the same time there are dangers with total exemption of the outstanding ones. We are aware that what is outstanding one year can fall very quickly.
My Lords, I support the position of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, in particular. Like him, I would take some persuading to support exempting schools.
I can understand the Government’s probable motivation: they believe that schools should be freed up from unnecessary burdens of inspection. The trend over the past few years has certainly been to lessen the burden of Ofsted inspections and the use of self-evaluation has been relatively successful in that regard. I am sure that the Government and the Minister would not for a second want anyone thinking that they do not think that schools should be accountable and that accountability is an important element of parental choice. Certainly, throughout our perennial debates on testing and tables as the drivers of choice—and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, for his reviews around SATS at primary level—the mantra trotted out was that parents should not only look at the test results and the ranking tables, because those were put together by newspapers and, anyway, the Government do not rank schools, but at Ofsted inspections and other sources of information. An Ofsted inspection is always in the line that you have to take when talking about these issues. Yet if a school becomes exempt, all you can rely on is that data.
As the Government move towards opening up and publishing more and more data about schools, a richer picture can perhaps be formed. However, if the Minister were to persuade me that through better, more rigorous and richer publishing of data, we could get to the point of exempting outstanding schools, he would have to further persuade me that there are satisfactory forms of data. The data should relate not only to the achievement of pupils, the quality of teaching and the quality of leadership—difficult as some of those proxies might be in data terms—but to behaviour and safety. Are there good proxies for child safety, the subject of the amendment that I support from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley; are there good proxies for,
“the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school”?
All these items should be covered in a chief inspector’s report on a school. The only way in which you could possibly justify exempting a school is by coming up with accurate proxies in data form for all of the measures that the Government say should be covered in an Ofsted report under Clause 40.
As I said earlier and as others have said during this debate, schools do go backwards—and sometimes they go backwards fairly quickly. People can be tempted and attracted by exempt schools. In some of the conversations that I have had with head teachers who are four or five years from retirement, they have said, “I have had my last Ofsted inspection so now I can do what I like”. That will free people up to innovate and to ignore the Schools Minister in the other place. When Nick Gibb goes on about synthetic phonics and prescribing what kind of text books to use, they can say, “Well, it does not really matter. I do not have to do that because I am not going to be inspected on it. As long as my results are all right and I carry on being outstanding, I can ignore Nick Gibb”. That is quite a persuasive argument but, in the end, it is not good enough and we need that accountability through inspection.
I want to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, half way on her interesting amendment. When I talk to head teachers now about Ofsted—which they do not admire without criticism—they tell me that they would like a much greater feeling that the people doing the inspection are head teachers who are currently in the workforce. Their worry is that the people who come round are sometimes a little out-of-date in terms of what is going on. There is a lot to be gained from peer review—from heads inspecting other heads. One of the most successful forms of school improvement that we have at the moment is the national leaders of education, who perform that kind of peer review function in respect of school improvement.
There might be a middle way—I will not call it a third way because that may confuse people—of having lighter touch inspections, still as Ofsted inspections, but, by and large, being carried out by head teachers inspecting each other. They would not inspect schools that they know or have an association with, because that independence would have to be there. That might enable Ofsted to carry out its own burden of inspection in a relatively lean way in terms of cost, yet still give the accountability which parents and those of us who have to care about the spending of public money need. In the end, that is very important.
My Lords, I shall not repeat all the arguments about why we should continue with inspection because they have been made fairly clearly and in some depth. I shall make two points. I certainly support all those arguments, and I am not an uncritical observer of Ofsted, having been on the receiving end of its investigations, both positive and negative, in a number of roles and having had both positive and negative levels of inspections.
I am most concerned, and I speak from my experience as well as from my general understanding of safeguarding, that safeguarding will not be regularly inspected. I sit as chair of a safeguarding board and as chair of a number of organisations that have safeguarding boards, and I advise organisations that need to develop their safeguarding boards. In those roles, one thing I find is that whereas many social services establishments are keen to develop their safeguarding and to report on it, there is a culture within schools not to report but to develop their own safeguarding plans, if they possibly can, and not necessarily to co-operate with the wider organisation, if they are part of it. I understand all that, and I understand why. Reporting on something that has happened in your school has consequences, certainly if you have to report it to the local authority and it does not react appropriately, but also if the thing develops and you find that you have gone to the outside world. I understand that, but we cannot possibly have a regime where there is no inspection of safeguarding and safeguarding procedures.
I say to the Minister that if the Government intend that to happen, they are on an extraordinarily dangerous path. When we last discussed Ofsted, I was so vehement about some of the issues that I got sent off by the Minister to see the chief inspector—I got sent to see the headmaster. This was because I was concerned about the level of expertise of the people inspecting these sorts of areas; I will come to that again when we come to talk about boarding school inspections. I hope that the Minister will take the seriousness of this to the others in his Government who are looking at it. I predicted when children’s services went into children’s trusts that unless those heads of service who came from the education stream rather than the social care stream were thoroughly educated and understood safeguarding, there would be difficulties. I do not have to run through the series of cases for noble Lords to know that that prediction was unhappily proven. I simply encourage the Minister to look at that.
My second point is about visitors. I absolutely understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is getting at in this—she knows I have huge respect for her—but as a director and an assistant director of social services in the past, I had responsibility for implementing visitor schemes developed by a series of previous Governments, none of which were ever truly successful. If you talk, as I do, to head teachers—I also talk to people in social care—you find that they have real anxieties about any old body being able to come into their school. There would be issues about how the people are selected and whether they are going to be totally lax, and not know what they are looking for, or the kind of busybodies who get into organisations and institutions and drive those who are trying to run the place absolutely mad. There is the whole question of qualification: how they are trained in observation, what they are looking for and whether they have to be CRB checked. There is a whole issue about visitors, which you have to be absolutely clear about before you embark on that sort of path.
I am absolutely in favour of a lighter touch. Ofsted could do a third of the inspections that it does, but those that it does it should do systematically. My own local primary school, which we are all terribly fond of and which was in the top six schools in the county, had an inspection and was put immediately into special measures. I may have some view about that and to how it happened, but it shows how fast the world can change and how important it is that inspection is systematic. I hope that the Minister will look at this area because I am sure that we will come back to it seriously at Report, if there is no movement in between.
My Lords, there have been many wise words said this afternoon. Some sort of consensus is emerging that systems need inspection, and the Government are going to run into a tangled web if they think that we can end up with a random system, relying on complaints and such.
I, too, have had positive and negative experiences of Ofsted, but they have been mainly positive from its consultation with governors and parents of pupils. It does a very thorough job, although it depends somewhat on the team, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Knight, implied. I appreciate that self-evaluation within schools has contributed to checking standards but this can be fairly subjective, whereas an Ofsted inspection is objective. All systems, whether educational or not, should be inspected in some way to check on the quality, particularly systems dealing with children. If not, we risk infringing children’s rights to not only safeguarding, which has rightly been brought up, but academic achievement. I remember Graham Allen saying, in relation to early years, that we need firefighters but we also need smoke alarm systems.
I understand where the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is coming from with her model. I would like to look at the people involved and the criteria that they are working from to do this kind of visiting, but it is an interesting idea. Some terrible things could be not picked up in a school that was exempt from inspection, such as extremism or the impact of unqualified teachers. We have to be very careful here. Maybe Ofsted needs reviewing or a lighter touch, but it certainly needs to be there to ensure that children are receiving the very best in our schools in this country.
My Lords, I was sorry to be absent from these proceedings this morning but I was attending a youth court in London, where I heard about very serious offences committed by 16 year-olds. Two of them had been stabbed, one of them three times—in the lungs, the neck and, I think, the belly. It really brought home to me how important a haven schools are for children, and that the order that schools offer to children’s lives is so important—and, in particular, the fact that there was not a single father present in any of the four hours when I was listening to this. The mothers were carrying the burden for their young men.
With regard to the role of governors, is there clear guidance to them about how they can sit in, in schools, observing classes and what happens in the playground, so they can assist in this fire-alarm system in the new arrangements? I share the concerns of colleagues expressed in the Committee and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I shall come back to the issue of the trigger and the risk assessment which lie at the core of many noble Lords’ concerns. There was broad agreement over, and a broad welcome for, a “lighter touch approach”, if I can call it that, though there remain various concerns about how that would be translated into action and what safeguards there would be in place.
I also recognise the concerns emerging from the Committee about exemption, and I will seek to address them by setting out some of the principles and intentions that underpin Clause 39. I will respond to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, as well as addressing the context within which the clause has been developed. I will also say something more about the safeguards that are provided both within and beyond its provisions, and try to respond to some of the questions that I have been asked.
What is driving this? We think that we have an opportunity to respond to the concerns of schools, to reduce central prescription, to avoid uniformity, to eliminate unnecessary burdens and to be more proportionate. Inspection reform has a contribution to make as part of the overall move that we are keen to encourage. Clause 39 will introduce a more proportionate and targeted approach to school inspection by enabling our highest performing schools to be released from the burden of routine inspection as long as they continue to perform well. I shall return to that issue in a moment.
The thinking behind that is so that Ofsted can focus its inspections on where most noble Lords agree they are most needed—that is, on those schools that are inadequate or satisfactory or coasting. I hesitate to say much about the evolution of inspection because so many members of this Committee were instrumental in its introduction. Regular inspection was introduced with the establishment of Ofsted in 1992, which means that by now schools have experienced at least three Ofsted inspections. Also—and this is part of an answer to my noble friend Lord Lucas and his concerns about information—there have been in that period huge advances in the availability and quality of performance information. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that we need to develop more—it is not always straightforward—but the provision of more information is part of our answer to the question of how we can know what is going on in schools.
Inspection has evolved over that time and become more differentiated, with longer intervals already between inspections for stronger performers. Most outstanding schools are now subject to a full inspection once every five years. It is worth making that point because of some of the perfectly proper questions that are being asked as to what are the safeguards and how do we know when schools can change quite quickly. We currently have a system where the schools about which members of the Committee are most concerned are subject to full inspection only once every five years. Our thinking is that, subject to safeguards, it is possible to take proportionality to the next logical step and to free those schools from routine fuller inspections.
I accept the fact that schools decline and can do so quite quickly, a point made by a number of noble Lords. Ofsted’s evidence shows that the majority of outstanding schools are able to maintain their effectiveness over time. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, used figures which are true in the way that they break down—what he said was absolutely accurate—but it is also true that 95 per cent of those schools were outstanding or good at their next inspection. Not all remain effective—I accept that point—and that is why we have been clear that exempt schools would not be free from accountability and that any exemption is conditional.
My noble friend Lady Sharp made the point that the safeguards are the key issue and perhaps I may say a few words about the approach that Ofsted is developing to risk assessment. All exempt schools would be subject to annual risk assessment by Ofsted, starting three years after the school’s latest inspection. Risk assessment is currently used to determine the frequency of inspection for individual schools. In future, it is proposed that an enhanced process would be used as a basis for determining whether an exempt school should be re-inspected. Her Majesty’s inspectors would consider a range of indicators. These include performance data; information on staff changes—the point was made about a school suddenly losing a head or a group of senior teachers—the outcome of any Ofsted survey inspection visits; complaints from parents; the views of local authorities; and any other available intelligence.
From September, Ofsted intends to take greater account of parents’ views in helping to decide whether a school should be inspected. One way in which we are going to do that is by having a questionnaire online, which parents will be able to complete at any time to give their views about their child’s school. I can confirm that the powers for Ofsted to consider parental complaints under Section 11A apply to exempt schools and that the arrangements for students to complain will apply to exempt colleges.
Local authorities—a theme to which we have returned a number of times in Committee—have an important role to play in representing the interests of parents and pupils. If they have concerns about any exempt school, including an academy, they will obviously be able to request an inspection, and any such request would have to be considered carefully. The implication of Amendments 114A and 112ZB is that Ofsted would lose its discretion over whether it should inspect in these circumstances. We are not sure that that would be right, because HMI should be able to consider the range of evidence in deciding what action to take.
Where Ofsted has concerns about an exempt school or college, it would have a range of options open to it, including arranging a short-targeted visit or a full re-inspection. Professional judgment by HMI needs to be at the heart of the new arrangements. We think that Ofsted should have the appropriate flexibility to act decisively, but in a proportionate manner. The same powers that allow the chief inspector to visit an exempt school to test out a concern also allow for exempt schools to be visited as part of focused inspections of curriculum subjects and particular themes, including outstanding provision and practice. We expect an increased focus on best practice visits in future, as well as more emphasis on sharing best practice by Ofsted through a variety of means. One question raised in the past is how schools will learn from outstanding practice, and this is one way in which we can help address that.
Some points have been raised about information. As I have said, we intend to give parents easier access to information and so, from next January, parents will be able to access data showing the progress of high, average and low-attaining pupils across a range of subjects. From June, they will have access to data down to individual pupil level in an anonymised form. I hope that that will help.
In respect of information for parents, can the Minister clarify Clause 39(4)? It refers to charging schools for inspection. If parents have triggered an inspection using their current powers, is there any charge for that and, if not, how do we guard against Ofsted having a disincentive to inspect if, in its judgment, it feels it cannot afford it?
No, that should not be an issue. There would not be a charge in those circumstances. Perhaps I might move on because I want to respond to the underlying concerns about the risk assessment process and to some of the suggestions made by my noble friend Lady Perry and others.
On my noble friend Lady Walmsley’s important point about safeguarding, we know that Ofsted’s evidence shows that outstanding schools perform well in terms of safeguarding. Schools remain under a duty to have appropriate arrangements in place to safeguard and promote the welfare of their pupils, and we do not think there is reason to think that outstanding schools would not take that matter seriously. There would be a mechanism for concerns to feed in to Ofsted’s risk assessment process, and those concerns might come from parents, the local authority, the local safeguarding children board or any other local body or person.
We recognise that safeguarding is a hugely important issue and we intend to commission Ofsted to undertake a survey of safeguarding procedures in a sample of exempt schools and ask the inspectorate to publish its findings. On the basis of that evidence we could consider whether any further measures are necessary.
I was asked a number of specific questions about exemptions and who would be exempt. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked me that. We issued draft regulations in the other place in March making clear that our plan is to exempt only schools that were outstanding at their last inspection. So the definition is their status at the Ofsted inspection. It could include maintained schools, academies and whatever; it is not a special exemption for any particular groups.
The Secretary of State can, of course, produce draft regulations in future using the clause in this Bill to exempt any category of school he wanted. My second argument here, going beyond inspections, is that this is a great, open-ended power. I am interested to know why outstanding schools were not specified in the Bill because that would give a certain reassurance.
I will write on the point of detail. I had this explained to me earlier. The difficulty is because an Ofsted category is not a statutory definition. That is the problem and why it is hard to put it in the Bill. I will make sure that I have got that right and I will write, but I believe that is the explanation.
When the Minister writes, will he also clarify how, if it is difficult to pin it down in primary legislation, it would be possible in secondary legislation? Secondary legislation is still law, so you would still need a definition in law of what an outstanding school is.
I will get some clever person to write me something that will explain why that is the case.
The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, raised important points about faith schools. He will know better than me that it is a separate inspection process. Faith schools, including exempt schools, would continue to be subject under Section 48 of the Education Act 2005 to a separate inspection into their religious education. This can also cover spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and reports will be published. That is not a complete answer to the noble Lord’s concerns but it is another part of a possible reassurance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked me whether a cohort could pass through an outstanding school without any inspection. The absence of inspection does not mean that Ofsted will fail to pay attention to exempt schools. Currently outstanding schools have five years between inspections. The risk assessment would start at three years and be done annually but, if there were concerns before then, the whole point of the triggering process is that Ofsted would be able to look into them.
Overall, we think that a lot has changed in the past 20 years in terms of transparency and accountability. There is more information and the inspection system over those years has become increasingly proportionate. We have a large number of schools that are capable of evaluating their own performance and identifying and responding to their own improvement priorities. We are keen to focus inspection on those that need it most— underperforming and inadequate schools. I recognise the strength of feeling that has been raised.
There were a number of thoughtful suggestions, particular around the important question of the rigour of the risk assessment. I understand that Ofsted is due to publish its approach to risk assessment and I would like to use that as an opportunity to discuss these concerns further, to reflect on what has been said to me today and to raise them with the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton. I hope that through that process—I will be happy to discuss it with noble Lords who have particular concerns and who have contributed to this debate—I can address some of the concerns that have been raised, reflect on them and then report back to noble Lords. I will certainly reflect on the mood of the Committee. I will listen to the advice that I have been given but in the mean time I ask my noble friend Lady Walmsley to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for what my noble friend has said. I do not really think that saying that the system at the moment has its defects is a good reason for adding to them. I very much hope that, in what happens between now and Report stage in terms of an understanding of the Ofsted mechanisms and in discussions between ourselves, we can firm this up. It seems to me to be a serious disaster in the making and a very wrong step the Government are looking at.
I want to pick up on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. Clause 40(2) removes the compromise that we reached at the end of that long and, as he says, acrimonious debate. I very much hope the Minister will take the time to read that debate and to understand why that clause got into the 2006 Act. It was a compromise, carefully worked out by the then Government, to deal with questions about the way in which faith schools fit into the system. By removing that compromise you are reopening the whole argument as to that relationship and inviting a repeat on Report of the experience of 2006. I hope the noble Lord, if only in preparation for that, will read through that debate. I am sure we will revisit this in October. I hope that between now and then we will have made some progress.
My Lords, this has been a very thorough and rigorous debate and I do not intend to summarise the whole of it. I will respond only on my own amendment as the Minister has been intervened upon a number of times. My understanding of what the Minister said in response to my amendment was that there is no reason to believe that outstanding schools will not take safeguarding seriously. Without intending to be rude to the Minister, I wrote in my notes, “Well, we are hoping for the best then”. Frankly, I do not agree that if somebody is good at one thing they are necessarily good at another. Only on Monday I talked about my own grandsons, one of whom is brilliant at maths and the other is brilliant at English. I think the same applies to schools.
The Minister said that Ofsted will now carry out a survey, but I understand that there are currently no plans whatever to inspect safeguarding regularly in schools that are regarded as exempt—and therefore will not be regularly inspected—unless, of course, the Ofsted survey advises the Government that there is no correlation between a school being good academically and being good at safeguarding. Can the Minister just nod if I am correct in that understanding of his reply?
In which case, I have to declare that I am very unhappy about that. I rather suspect that my concerns are reflected in other parts of the Committee. It is a matter to which I may very well return on Report. However, in the mean time I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 113D withdrawn.
Amendments 114 and 114A not moved.
Clause 39 agreed.
Clause 40 : School inspections: matters to be covered in Chief Inspector's report
115: Clause 40, page 36, line 25, after “achievement” insert “and well-being”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 120. We are now moving to Clause 40, which sets out the new Ofsted framework. These probing amendments address two different aspects of that framework.
Amendment 115 seeks to add the words “and well-being” in proposed new subsection (5A)(a) so that it reads,
“the achievement and well-being of pupils at the school”.
I should have perhaps said, “the well-being and achievement of pupils in the school”, because well-being comes before achievement. All Members of the Committee will agree that unless a child’s well-being has been addressed, he or she is not going to achieve what he or she otherwise might. Well-being is fundamentally important to a child being ready to learn. I do not think I need to rehearse that argument any further because it is widely accepted.
That is why I ask my noble friend the Minister: where will well-being be covered in the framework, how will Ofsted report upon it and will the school’s performance in relation to the well-being of children be a limiting factor in determining whether the school can achieve an outstanding Ofsted report? I will leave my comments on Amendment 115 at that. It is fairly simple.
Amendment 120 was suggested to us by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which welcomes the explicit mention in the Bill of the needs of disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs in proposed new subsection (5B)(b)(i) and (ii). However, it is concerned that without specifying other protected groups in the legislation, inspection will not focus adequately on their needs and Ofsted may not be able to report adequately on progress towards closing gaps and improving educational outcomes. Indeed, the lack of these groups in the legislation may also undermine Ofsted’s ability to demonstrate due regard under the public sector equality duty.
The amendment is very simple and its purpose is to avoid any doubt in the wording of Clause 40. It is a small matter of crossing the “t”s and dotting “i”s for the avoidance of doubt. We are dealing with groups of children with specific needs who need to be dealt with in specialised ways. Those groups are: pupils in respect of whom the school receives the pupil premium and pupils who have protected characteristics for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. At Second Reading, there were several references to equality by a number of noble Lords across your Lordships’ House. They were concerned about how children and young people from culturally diverse backgrounds, including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, for example, will be affected—although unintentionally—because many are among the most deprived educationally in England and their needs must be considered. That is why Amendment 120 adds pupils who have a disability for the purpose of the Equality Act 2010 and those in respect of whom the school receives the pupil premium.
I simply need reassurance that the new framework will take full account of the school’s record in respect of meeting the needs of these children as well as of those referred to in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 116. All the amendments concern the role of Ofsted and it is very interesting to me—although not comprehensible—why community cohesion, as a separate fact, has been withdrawn from the responsibilities of an Ofsted inspection.
I have had a look at Ofsted’s document about inspectors’ responsibilities, especially in relation to community cohesion. It does not say anything except “community cohesion”, which is quite worrying, because I am sure that noble Lords around us in this Room have their own ideas about what amounts to community cohesion. It speaks mainly about well-being, which has just been referred to. That is certainly one of the issues that Ofsted has to look at, but there is nothing about community cohesion.
I spoke to an inspector who told me that her notion of community cohesion was, first, understanding one’s local community, which makes sense; secondly, understanding the national community, which makes sense; and, finally, understanding the international community, which makes sense as well. Why we should withdraw this duty from Ofsted, I fail to understand.
I have been sent a letter by the Minister which says that inspections will be related to schools’ “core responsibilities”. Why community cohesion should not be part of the core responsibilities is again not clear to me. Our country now encompasses many different types of people, cultures and development. If ever there was a need for community cohesion, it is now and for the future. To withdraw that seems to be spitting in the wind. We have schools which are different; we have faith schools. We need to know whether faith schools in particular are encouraging community cohesion. One can be faithful to one’s faith, but community cohesion is for all of us, of whatever faith we are. I would have thought that that was an integral and important part of any faith school. I am not speaking about Church of England schools’ bishops, because they are very good; I do not have much of a problem with them.
The Minister said in his letter that community cohesion is to be,
“considered in a proportionate and integral way”.
If it is not considered as a separate issue, I do not know how it becomes proportionate and integral, because it is a particular area which needs to be understood. The Minister went on to say that it would be considered,
“through looking at pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development”.
I am sorry. That is not about community cohesion; it is about a pupil’s well-being and making sure that they are well rounded. I do not understand where community cohesion comes in.
This is a very important area for the future of our nation. I remember very clearly, not so long ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, being made Minister for Community Cohesion in the House of Lords. What happened to that? I had thought that community cohesion was a “big buzz” thing. Whether it is a buzz thing or not, it is important that schools do not lose sight of it.
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, but in the interests of time I shall speak only to the amendment in my name, Amendment 116A. This gives Ofsted an additional task, to inspect the effectiveness of education as influenced by the buildings and design of the school. I do not expect that this is what the Government really want, but I would urge them to take the opportunity of this amendment to embed the importance of properly designed school buildings in the assessment of the education they provide.
I shall not repeat what I said on the earlier group of amendments, but I think that it is all the more important in view of the Minister’s response on design standards. I briefly draw attention to the recently published Space for Personalised Learning report commissioned by the previous Government. In changing their approach to school building, I implore the present Government not to throw the baby out with the bath water and ignore this treasure trove of expertise. Learning is changing, and so is our understanding of it. Even if we return to chronological history and Latin, both of which I rather like, our children need to be at home with and, indeed, masters of, the modern world and its changes. They need to earn a living in that world, and they need to be able to contribute to UK growth and culture and their own self-fulfilment. The essential message of the report is that buildings and the designed space matter very much for effective learning, inclusive learning, safe and secure learning and enthusiastic and creative learning. If our inspectorate does not pay attention to this aspect of education and further it where it can, we shall all lose out.
I rise very briefly, just for a few minutes, to speak on Amendment 116. When the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, was moving the amendment, I felt I reached a new understanding with her, seeing as we have previously disagreed. I was even starting to think that I had a soul mate—I will withdraw the word “soul” in case that offends her. She said so much in the first part of her speech, but I will deal with that secondly. She rather spoilt it in the second part of her speech by homing in on faith schools. Although she made it clear, as usual, that she was not talking about Church of England schools, I had a bit of bother trying to fathom out which particular faith school she was on about. I am sure I will figure it out at some point. It would be totally invidious if separate criteria applied to faith schools, and I am afraid it shows deep paranoia and suspicion about Catholic schools that I just do not get.
Being positive and concentrating on the first half of her speech, it was brilliant in trying to get across how much all schools can contribute to community cohesion. I see schools I am most aware of—outside England’s jurisdiction, but nevertheless, I have knowledge of schools in England as well—and all schools getting involved in fair trade and fund raising for Africa and going out to Africa as part of various voluntary organisations. There are parent-teacher organisations that dig deep into the community because they get the parents involved. All of this goes back to the school and feeds back to the community. If there is any discrimination or any lack of importance given by the Government to community cohesion, the noble Baroness has highlighted that that is a weakness. Where it is going well, it is going very well. I also notice a bit of local rivalry which helps because if one school sees that another school has raised £2,000 or £3,000 for aid to Africa, that is its target. That is friendly rivalry, not contentious rivalry. Anything that brings back into consideration by the Government the contribution of all schools to community cohesion, the sooner the better.
My Lords, in a spirit of attempting to clarify rather than add to the duties of Ofsted, the proposers of Amendment 117 hope that it will find favour with the Committee and with the Minister. Indeed, we can see no reason why it should not, for this minimalist, one-word addition to the Bill very much runs with the grain of the clause in which we propose to embed it.
For those who may say, not unreasonably, why not add also other terse desiderata, such as mathematical, musical or physical, we say, no, linguistic is in a class of its own. The social and cultural development of pupils depends critically on their command of language and the interpersonal relations that promote such development proceed above all else on successful and confident facility with language. In other words, the social and cultural development already in the clause actually entails linguistic development. So manifestly true is this that it might well be felt that adding “linguistic” is superfluous, but it is not. Rather, its omission from the clause should be viewed as a glaring oversight, so much do the other two—social and cultural—depend on it. Language is what supremely distinguishes the human species, giving us uniquely the facility to talk about the past, speculate about the future and analyse the present.
This is why Ofsted's attention needs to be specifically drawn to the monitoring of linguistic development, not only for the sake of the unfortunate minority of youngsters with pathological problems in speech and language, nor for the sake of the much bigger minorities who come from non-English speaking homes or from homes which are non-speaking, and in which conversation in any language is in short supply. Our amendment has all these in mind but we propose it for the sake of the school community as a whole, for whom rich, rapid and early language development is the key to their whole education and subsequent careers. Moreover, the richer their English, the likelier it is that their interest—social and cultural—will reach out beyond English to the social, cultural and, indeed, vocational opportunities to be found in the realm of foreign language learning.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 118. To an extent, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has already said when introducing Amendment 120, in which two additional duties for Ofsteds are mentioned. I will try not to go over the arguments in support of that. I am concerned that the Minister indicated that the framework is, among other things, to give a lighter touch to the work of Ofsted. That in itself worries me to the extent that a lighter touch has proved disastrous—perhaps I am wrong, as the Minister is nodding.
I hope I would have said that what we hope to get from boiling it down is a sharper focus, not a lighter touch.
That is helpful, and I thank the Minister. I will refer not to a lighter touch, but if in fact the sharper focus is to lighten the burdens of the chief inspector and narrow the focus, however sharply, then the way we are trying to address this worries me. I used “lighter touch” because I heard those words used by the Minister—it may have been in a different context. However, a lighter touch is associated historically with the FSA which, as we saw, led to the disaster which we are all still suffering from.
One of the additions that we seek to make here to provide protection to all pupils in our schools, as associated with the Equality Act 2010, is because a lighter touch has been so light that it has been almost totally ineffective. I worry when I hear about a lighter touch because that Act was predicated on a White Paper that talked about light-touch regulation, which does not work. Light-touch inspection does not work either, although I agree with it being sharply focused. However, in this case we have heard of the variation in the quality of inspection reports over the years. I have experience of seeing some of those reports and how they have either impacted on the way in which people have responded to the needs of children within those schools or avoided saying things that have to be said.
The amendment is important because we need to make this as explicit and comprehensive as possible, without adding to the burdens of the chief inspector in reporting, so that we are able to provide what is intended and deal with the needs of all our children. By focusing only on those with special educational needs and those with a disability, we do a disservice to what is intended and to all those other children who have particular needs but will be excluded from that category. A great many other disadvantaged children will not be sharply focused on by any chief inspector’s report. The reason for the other two categories being included has been alluded to and cogently argued for by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.
When we discuss meeting the needs of a range of pupils in the school, it is important that we recognise that there are many socioeconomically disadvantaged children whose needs have to be addressed. If the focus is on schools that are not achieving and not doing well, there will be many children within the range that we ought to be looking at who should be the subject of careful consideration and who should be reported on.
I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. We are in rather strange circumstances. We have agreed to complete this important group of amendments but we need to finish by 4.30. Perhaps we could make our contributions as succinct as possible in order that the noble Baroness and I have a chance to wind up.
Thank you very much. I acknowledge what the noble Baroness has said, and I am about to conclude. However, I have not made many interventions in Committee and I intend to speak as fully as I can while being as brief as I think is reasonable.
The protected characteristics under the Education Act 2000 provide us with a basis to enable some of the other amendments in this area to address this issue. The amendments will need to remain as explicit as they are here if we are to do justice to what we want to see achieved, through inspection reports, in addressing the range of educational needs across all different groups of children. It is particularly important that we include those characteristics and enable, as part of any follow up, the guidance that the chief inspector should have.
When we consider groups on the basis of race, it is easy enough for a report to be blunt in the way in which it states that it has dealt with the issue of race and ethnicity. However, if you look across the whole range, groups such as Traveller and Gypsy children are very often excluded when inspections are taking place and the report does not relate explicitly and specifically to those groups which are underachieving, and the quality of education that is being inspected in the school tends not to address those particular needs.
Bearing in mind the time factor, I conclude by asking the Minister to explain why, when looking at the range of needs, the sharp focus is restricted to only two categories. Why is not this comprehensive amendment—which enables a broadening of the categories while maintaining a sharp focus—an appropriate way forward?
My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and I hope that she brings her amendment back on Report.
As we discussed on the previous group of amendments, the research I have been doing for the Localism Bill about how neighbourhood planning works within cities, and mostly within London, has drawn the comment from a number of the people involved that one of the principal problems they face is the actions of faith schools, in this case the very small ones—I am certainly not referring to the favourite cause of the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy—both Christian and other denominations, which seem intent on focusing communities around themselves rather than reaching out more widely. That certainly relates to the point about community cohesion which the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, raised and which was the subject of long debates in 2006.
On the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Boswell of Aynho, I merely say that it is a well known problem that secondary schools take the prospectuses of FE colleges and others, lock them in the head’s cupboard and say that that is their duty to their pupils. This needs to be looked at, at least occasionally.
My Lords, I will ask a brief but important question in relation to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I should have stood up and asked her, but I have been told off before for standing up too soon, so I thought that I would wait.
I was unable to be present for the Statement yesterday about buildings, and I am sure that this might have been raised then. The question is whether or not a building should be a limiting factor in an Ofsted inspection’s outcome. Many schools now have huge problems with their standards, and I speak as a trustee of a college where the premises are totally inappropriate for the work that we are trying to do. This means that we can never get a good Ofsted inspection, despite the fact that the teaching is good and the pupils like going there. There would be nowhere else for these disabled young people to go if it did not exist. In the present economic climate, is this limiting factor appropriate when we know that it is not going to change? This school would have been redeveloped under the previous programme, which, of course, was abandoned.
My Lords, the amendments tabled by my noble friends Lord Quirk and Lord Ouseley belong closely together because you do not have to visit many primary schools with children of disadvantaged backgrounds to discover that one of their chief difficulties is lack of linguistic capacity when moving from reception into primary school. That is why I support the amendments, as I do the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Flather. In view of what I said earlier, I shall not repeat myself, but there is a definition of community cohesion, quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, from the Home Office, available at column 39 of volume 686 of Hansard.
My Lords, my name is attached to Amendments 117 and 121, and I wish to associate myself with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, with regard to Amendment 117. Both these amendments were intended to remind us of and to draw our attention to the importance of the teaching and learning of modern languages for communication skills, for understanding other people’s cultures, as an added value for employment purposes and to enable pupils to have a better understanding of their own language. I wish to make that rapid interjection to support these amendments.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Boswell of Aynho has asked me to flag up for Amendment 122ZA the requirement on schools to provide a continuity of careers guidance to young people with special needs, which can take them out of the purview of the school, and who can therefore be missed by Ofsted.
My noble friend Lady Coussins, who is attending her daughter’s graduation today, asked me to say a couple of words on Amendment 121, to which I wish to add my support. The late, lamented Lord Dearing picked up very strongly in his languages review that we are not monitoring the catastrophe that has happened to the learning of modern foreign languages in the wake of what many of us regard as the largest single piece of inadvertent educational vandalism in the past decade—the removal of the GCSE language requirement. Since then in state comprehensive schools the proportion of pupils still studying a language between the ages of 14 and 16 has halved from 80 to 40 per cent. As ever, it is the children in the less ambitious schools who are being deprived in every possible way, including being deprived of certain future employment opportunities. I hope we could at least start monitoring it.
My Lords, I associate myself, too, with Amendment 116 and the excellent contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I come from Leeds, where we now have a city board for safer and stronger communities. It is interesting that the chief inspector has to report on safety but not on stronger communities as the legislation stands. The way in which schools contribute community cohesion over the whole of a city such as Leeds seems to me to be crucial to the way in which the city develops. I, too, hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, will bring back this matter on Report.
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships agree with me that it is vital to give full recognition to those teachers and head teachers who put a huge effort into taking children forward. Where there is a challenging intake, perhaps with high levels of special educational needs or numbers of children with pupil premium, it is important to recognise in achievement the distance pupils have travelled and not just their performance against all other pupils across the country. I would be grateful perhaps for a note from the Minister on how Ofsted inspections will look at achievement and fully recognise it in terms of the distance travelled by children.
My Lords, our names have been added to Amendments 115 and 118, so I will speak very briefly. First, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the narrow focus on educational achievement which ignores the wider role of education in providing a safe and happy environment where all children can thrive and be healthy and confident. We believe that well-being should include such things as nutrition, exercise, relationships, respect for each other and how to overcome low self-esteem. A good school will include all this in the curriculum, but it does not mean that we should exempt all schools from having that assessed and checked from time to time.
The noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, gave a very coherent case for why Amendment 118 is important. It is important that we check that the Government’s rhetoric when they introduced the pupil premium can be backed up by independent assessment in the longer term, particularly in light of the new autonomous school structures. If we are not careful, disadvantaged children will get left behind. We need independent assessment to double- check that all is going well with the way that the money is being spent. I sense people’s frustration at the late hour and I will say no more at this stage.
My Lords, I shall try to speak very quickly, which in no way reflects the seriousness and importance of the group of amendments we have just been discussing. The existing arrangements for inspection have become cluttered and crowded. Inspectors face the challenge of having to form a discrete judgment on just about everything schools do. The cumulative effect of this is that we have lost the sharp focus—which my noble friend referred to and the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, picked up—on those things that are the fundamental responsibilities of schools.
Clause 40 seeks to address this by streamlining the reporting arrangements so that they focus on four key areas: pupils’ achievement, the quality of teaching, the effectiveness of leadership and pupils’ behaviour and safety. In doing so, inspectors must consider pupils’ spiritual, moral and cultural development and how the needs of all groups of pupils, including in particular those with SEN or a disability, are being met.
As far as Amendments 115 and 116 are concerned, schools themselves remain under a duty to promote pupil well-being and community cohesion. The provisions in Clause 40, including the specific requirements around behaviour and safety and spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, provide the right structure.
Ofsted recently commented that well-being will be at the heart of the new framework, because it will require inspectors to consider the full range of experiences for pupils. This demonstrates clearly its commitment to covering pupil well-being appropriately. It also confirmed that community cohesion remains in scope for inspection. In practice, that involves inspectors evaluating pupils’ understanding of their own culture and those of others locally and nationally. As part of overall effectiveness, inspectors will consider how pupils develop the skills to enable them to participate in a modern, democratic Britain, and whether pupils understand and appreciate the range of different cultures within school and beyond school as an essential element of their preparation for life. I hope that that will provide noble Lords and, of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, with some assurance on this matter. I am sure that we are all delighted that she and the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, have become soulmates.
Will the noble Baroness take on board that it is not just about culture?
Indeed we take that on board.
Amendments 118 and 120 seek to ensure that particular groups of pupils are considered as part of school inspections; namely, those benefiting from the pupil premium and those given specific reference in the Equality Act 2010. Clause 40 requires inspectors to consider the needs of the range of pupils at the school. This is a phrase lifted from the current inspection legislation. It is a useful catch-all that avoids the needs for lists in the primary legislation. Inspectors will pay particular attention to the extent to which gaps are narrowing between different groups of pupils in a school and compared to other schools. They will evaluate teaching with an eye to how well teachers engage, motivate and challenge the most able pupils.
In the case of protected groups, additional assurance is provided by the fact that Ofsted is subject to the public sector equality duty, which is provided for in the Equality Act 2010. This commits the inspectorate to playing its part in promoting equality and eliminating discrimination, including through its inspection activity. We do not therefore believe that it is necessary to replicate this within the clause. The best place for these references is not in the primary legislation, but in the framework and supplementary guidance—the detailed documents that determine how inspections are delivered on the ground—and that is where they will be found under the new system.
The last set of amendments in this group all seek to add to the inspection provisions explicit references to various subjects and aspects. Amendments 117 and 121 concern linguistic skills and modern foreign languages. I entirely endorse what was said by the noble Baronesses, Lady O’Neill and Lady Coussins. Here I would highlight the benefit of the new arrangements in giving inspectors more opportunity to focus on teaching and learning, observe lessons, listen to pupils read, and talk to individuals and groups of pupils. In terms of inspection of modern foreign languages, Ofsted conducts a rolling programme of subject surveys, and that will continue to be the way in which it assesses individual curriculum areas in future.
Moving to careers advice, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, spoke on this on behalf of our joint noble friend Lord Boswell of Aynho. This will be captured within the new inspection arrangements. Inspectors will consider, for example, the extent to which pupils have a well informed understanding of the options and challenges facing them as they move through school and on to the next stage of their education, training and employment.
I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, raised the matter of school buildings and design at the recent meeting hosted by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton. I am aware that we have discussed this before and, if she will forgive me, I will skip over a further to reply on that, but I assure her that what she says is being taken on board.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, pointed out during Second Reading,
“There are always perfectly good reasons to add to an inspector’s remit”.—[Official Report, 14/6/11; col. 737.]
However, we have a real opportunity here to start afresh, to streamline the requirements on inspectors, to provide more coherence to the arrangements, to clarify to schools what is expected of them and to provide parents with more meaningful assessments of their child’s school. It is vital that Ofsted is allowed to stay focused on the key aspects set out in Clause 40. This will not be the last time that we discuss these important issues, but I hope for the moment that the noble Baroness will support this important ambition by withdrawing her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for skating so very quickly through her response and yet managing to be so thorough. I shall be very brief. I thank her for her confirmation that well-being and community cohesion are within the scope of inspections as undertaken by Ofsted, that Ofsted will inspect how well schools narrow the gap, that the equality duty covers Ofsted and that all ranges of children within the school have to be considered by it. That will, I hope, include those schools that have the groups of children about whom I had some concerns.
On languages, I welcome her statement that there can be themed surveys. I think there is a danger that including languages will get us on to the slippery slope of including geography, physics, history and all the rest, which we do not want to do. Finally, I welcome the fact that, as my noble friend Lady Brinton and I have just noticed, lines 30 and 31 on page 36,
“the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school”,
are lifted directly from Every Child Matters, which proves that this Government believe that every child does matter. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 115 withdrawn.
Amendments 116 to 122ZA not moved.
Clause 40 agreed.
My Lords, I think this may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn until Monday 12 September at 3.30 pm.
Committee adjourned at 4.37 pm.