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Education (Exemption from School Inspection) (England) Regulations 2012

Volume 739: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2012

Motion of Regret

Moved By

That this House regrets that the Education (Exemption from School Inspection) (England) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/1293) are both unnecessary and counterproductive as they would undermine the principle of all public services being inspected on a regular basis; undermine the professional oversight that is an essential part of good school governance; and run the risk of damaging children in cases where schools that have not been inspected then go into decline.

My Lords, the background to this Motion of Regret is the regulations that determine the framework for inspection of schools in England by Ofsted. Section 5 of the Education Act 2005 sets out the duty of the chief inspector to inspect schools at such intervals as are prescribed in regulations. The 2005 regulations made under Section 5 provide that the maximum interval between school inspections should be five years. However, the Education Act 2011, the passage of which we debated last year, now enables the Government to exempt specific categories of school from the chief inspector’s duty to inspect.

This is the first set of regulations to be made under the new power and has the effect of exempting from any further routine inspection any school that receives the highest Ofsted grading, which, as we know, is currently “outstanding”. Thus, in future, every school that is rated outstanding will not be routinely inspected further by Ofsted unless the school itself requests an inspection, in which case it will have to pay for it. The Government resisted amendments in Committee that would allow parents or local authorities to trigger an inspection.

The Government’s arguments in support of the change appear to be twofold. First, they say that exempting outstanding schools from future inspections will reduce, in the Government’s parlance, the “burdens” on such schools. Secondly, they say that it will enable Ofsted to target resources on less successful schools and so will have a cost benefit. Both arguments have some credence. However, for many years now, under successive Governments, Ofsted has moved towards a risk-based, proportionate approach to determining the frequency and intensity of inspection of particular schools. Successful schools can already expect to be inspected only once every five years. Therefore, risk assessments already enable Ofsted to target its resources effectively. However, to exempt schools from routine inspection entirely, and for schools to know that they henceforth they will be exempt, is not simply an extension of these developments. It is a significant qualitative change of a completely different order. It is wrong in principle and will have all sorts of adverse consequences in practice. I shall touch on both concerns—the principle and the practical implications.

The issue of principle derives from questions about the role of government in the delivery of our major public services. I would argue that the Government of the day have a duty both to the public generally, whose taxes pay for those services, and to the citizens who use the services. Surely the Government should be the guardians of both value for money and the quality of the public services provided. It is largely through regulatory and inspection regimes that the Government discharge their duty to service users and the wider public. That is why we have inspection of hospitals, GPs, police services, children’s homes and care homes. All major public services, whether provided directly by public bodies or indirectly through private, voluntary or independent organisations, are subject to inspection regimes to protect users and taxpayers. I know of no other services in which categories of provider are exempt. I would be grateful if the Minister could identify any for us, because I could not find any.

Because, for these very good reasons, this principle is so deeply embedded in the way we deliver public services; because many of these services are critical to people’s well-being; and because the people using them are often vulnerable in one way or another, it would be unthinkable for, say, excellent hospitals or care homes to be allowed to be completely exempt from future inspections. We can all predict the reaction if this were to be the case, so there are crucial questions that the Minister—with respect—has to answer, because they were not answered in this or the other place during the passage of the Education Act 2011. Why do the Government think exemption is acceptable for schools but not for hospitals, care homes and constabularies? Is this not an abdication of the Government’s duty to the public?

In striking the balance between the demands of inspection and the so-called freedom for schools, which the Government are promoting, have they not fallen too far on the side of the professionals and not sufficiently on the need to protect all pupils? The Minister may well say that the Government believe that they can trust schools to do the best for their pupils. We can for the most part, although not entirely, as experience tells us. However, that does not answer the point that it is wrong in principle for the provider of a service to be the sole arbiter of standards without any independent evaluation.

In addition to this fundamental issue of principle, there are a number of practical consequences to the exemption that I believe may have adverse effects on children and schools. I will mention three—other noble Lords will have other points—that are of particular concern to me. First, an outstanding rating at one inspection is not a guarantee of continuing excellence in standards of achievement. Outstanding schools decline. The 2010-11 Ofsted annual report reveals that 40% of the previously judged outstanding schools had declined at their subsequent inspection and three had plummeted to a rating of inadequate. For this reason, both the current chief inspector, Michael Wilshaw, and the former chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, have publicly expressed concerns about the proposal to exempt, as did the Education Select Committee.

Secondly, it is quite obvious that inspectors need regularly to see the full range of performance during their inspections in order satisfactorily to benchmark individual schools. If excellent schools are progressively excluded from the inspection regime there is a real danger that inspectors’ expectations will drift downwards over time as they lose touch with the very best practice.

Finally, inspections cover much more than the quality of teaching and learning. They have an important, and I would argue vital, role in telling us how well schools are addressing the wider well-being of pupils and preparing them for life challenges. Exam results alone cannot tell us how well, or even if, a school is teaching personal, social and health education, for example; how extensive the extra-curricular activities are; or, most importantly, how effectively a school is implementing good safeguarding policy and practice.

I know that if this exemption goes through—as I am sure it will—Ofsted has said that it will desktop assess outstanding schools regularly. However, that desktop analysis cannot possibly find out what is going on underneath exam results, and clarify and highlight whether there are any areas of concern, particularly in safeguarding and similar aspects of school life. For these reasons, and others that I suspect will be raised this evening, I believe that exempting any schools entirely from the inspection regime is a failure to children and parents. I beg to move the Motion.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on setting out her concerns. We know that she speaks from a very deep concern for the welfare of children and has a wish to see excellence in education, an aspiration which we all share. I know too that she has real concerns about the possibility of a school degenerating from outstanding to something less.

I want to take both aspects she mentioned, the practical and the principle, and to say a few words on why I believe that this set of regulations exempting some schools in this way is the right move. First, on the practical, I think the noble Baroness rather overemphasised the picture of schools that were never inspected. This is not what is going to happen. They will still be included in national surveys, with subjects and aspects of education, so her concerns that the people in Ofsted will no longer have the opportunity to see excellence is more than answered by the fact that they will still be able to see excellence across specific subject areas and specific aspects of education.

Secondly, the chief inspector’s risk assessment will be annual. It will be regular and look at more than simply exam results. It will look at any concerns raised about the outstanding schools which are exempt and will then, if necessary, trigger an inspection. The noble Baroness shares my concern that there is always a danger of a change in a school’s performance when a new head comes in—either for the better or for the worse. The regulations cover that eventuality. The chief inspector’s risk assessment will be speeded up after there is a change of leadership in the school. There again, any anxieties one might have have been addressed in the regulations.

There is a pathetic faith in the value of inspection. I say that as one who spent 18 years as an inspector. In the 20 years or so that Ofsted has been pursuing its inspections, this country’s young people have moved in their performance from being in the top five, six or seven by comparison with other countries to being down in 25th, 27th and 28th place in different subject areas. Although Ofsted, I am sure, has been pursuing its aims with the best of intentions, and no doubt the Government’s very tight regulations, particularly the previous Government’s regulations, for how Ofsted should go about its business, were all done with the best of intentions, it simply did not work in the way that it was hoped it would. The standards of performance in our schools have degenerated quite disastrously in comparison with the standards of performance of other countries over the period of Ofsted’s work. We need to start inquiring very deeply, rather than have a mantra of “inspection is good”, as to exactly what really does achieve quality in schools and education.

There is plenty of evidence that people perform at their best, whether professionally or in other areas, when they are trusted and feel valued. My very strong experience of talking to teachers and heads over the past decade or so is that they have lost that feeling of trust. They feel they are bound by an overweening inspection regime which has breathed down their necks. They are watching their backs and feel that the Government are permanently on their backs telling them things. That has been part of the Ofsted culture. I am happy to see that that is now being changed under the coalition Government. Ofsted is being changed very radically and made much more professional and much more limited in its inquisitorial role. That is a good thing. Nevertheless, for most teachers and schools, there is still a sense of being watched rather than being trusted. I believe passionately, as well as having seen the research evidence, that trust and value enable professional people and others to perform at their peak.

There must be accountability to balance autonomy. The more freedom that we give to exempt schools, the more it is essential that we decide what their autonomy should be. I would very briefly say that I think that there are three levels of autonomy that we should trust. The first is the professional code, to which teachers themselves rightly aspire. The conscience of the teacher in wanting to give his or her absolute best is the first level of accountability. That is what we must foster, help and encourage by giving them more freedom to do that, because it is the real guarantee of quality. It is only when teachers really feel that they are responsible for their own performance and that they are required to give the best to their pupils that the quality can really be guaranteed. The second level is that the head of the school and other senior people in the school are responsible for the quality of education in that school. We must foster that. Instead of their thinking that somebody is going to come from outside and judge them, they should take responsibility for themselves and be prepared to make those judgments and deal with any underperformance.

Finally, we have forgotten the role of governors here. The last port of call, rightly, is and ought to be the responsibility of the governors over the quality of what goes on in the school. If things start to go wrong, it is the governors who should blow the whistle and start taking action by changing the head or the other staff of the school. It is a matter of absolute principle that we should stop thinking that the Government are always the best judge of things and people. I love the phrase in the department’s Explanatory Memorandum to the regulations where it says:

“The intention is to give the best schools the power to manage their own performance and to be more accountable locally to their communities, rather than to central government”.

That is what I believe should happen.

My Lords, I do not have a “pathetic faith” in inspections, as my noble friend Lady Perry of Southwark, put it, as may become clear as I progress through my comments. The Explanatory Memorandum is very interesting and raises a number of issues. I am not against exempting outstanding schools and giving them more autonomy, as long as the risk assessment described in the memorandum is rigorous and properly applied. Paragraph 7.1, which my noble friend has just quoted, states that the policy intention,

“is to give the best schools the power to manage their own performance and to be more accountable locally to their communities, rather than to central government”.

Does this mean that the Government plan to restore the link between academies and their local authorities, allowing local authorities to monitor the performance of those schools and giving them the levers to ensure they are serving the community well? If not, that sentence is meaningless.

There is some detail about the risk assessment in the notes. It mentions that inspection will recommence if performance deteriorates significantly. How will that be judged? What is meant by “significantly”? Annexe A is even more interesting. It suggests that the changes will lead to higher quality inspections. Well, we would all like to see that, especially those of us who heard “File on 4” on Radio 4 on 1 July. We are told that Ofsted expects to save around £2.5 million per year through inspecting fewer schools. Can Ofsted plough back the money to improve the standard of inspection and inspectors, or does it have to be returned to the Treasury? In the latter case, how is Ofsted expected to improve the quality of inspections without any money?

Of course, Minsters always say that the quality of schools depends on the quality of teachers and school leadership. That is, of course, quite correct. In the same way, good inspections depend on the quality of the inspectors. There were some very worrying cases in the programme. Broughton Hall school in Liverpool is a case in point. It sends many pupils to Oxbridge and 97% of its pupils get five grade A to C GCSEs, even though it is located in a deprived area. The school was threatened by an Ofsted inspector with special measures, even though it had an award-winning outstanding head. There were 27 errors in the report. Ofsted refused to correct them all but gave the school a “satisfactory” rating. But we all know that, come September, “satisfactory” becomes “unsatisfactory”, so the stakes are getting higher. All the more reason therefore, why we are entitled to ask about the quality and fairness of the inspections.

In the programme Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, said:

“Schools have a right for the inspection to be rigorous, to be fair. If not they have a right to write in and their complaint will be looked at”.

But, “Where is the redress?”, said a head in the programme. He went on to say:

“If I get it wrong I will be held to account. Who holds Ofsted to account?”.

The problem is that Ofsted is not obliged to correct its mistakes. The adjudicator can look only at the way the original complaint was handled, not at the substance of the original judgment. Who does that? It relies on people going to judicial review, and we all know what that means.

All other regulators are held to account for the quality of their regulation by the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. It was clearly the previous Government’s intention that Ofsted, too, should be held to account under this Act. The response to the consultation shows that very clearly. Does Ofsted fall under the LRRA 2006 or not—and, if not, why not? If it does, it should follow the Hampton principles, including transparency. After all, there is evidence that the number of complaints against Ofsted is rising. The department itself admits to one in 12 inspected schools. That is a lot. There is not enough information about the qualifications of those who inspect schools and about whether they are qualified teachers or have recent experience in school leadership or in the specialist subjects on which they are passing judgment. My noble friend Lady Perry, who is uniquely qualified to ask questions on these issues, asked a Written Question about how many were even qualified teachers, but did not get a straight answer. It is not even known how many HMIs have secondary leadership experience, let alone all the freelancers employed by agencies.

In the light of “raising the bar” for schools, will the Government start to collect this data and raise the bar for Ofsted? We all want to bring about improvement in our schools, but we need to have confidence in those who make judgments about school standards. Currently that is in question. It strikes me that the saving implied by the reduction in the number of inspections brought about by these regulations gives us a great opportunity. We need to start asking a lot more questions about the quality of Ofsted inspectors and inspections if they are to concentrate on core areas, as they are, and if the consequences for schools of the judgments that they make are to become more serious, which they are. That is only fair.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend for allowing us to debate this important issue. I declare an interest; my wife is training to be an Ofsted inspector. I expect to learn much more about the process in the years ahead. I was surprised that the suggestion was made that the Committee stage of the Bill would resume at 8.30 pm. This debate is not time limited and I hope that we will not allow ourselves to be restricted in the Minister’s winding-up speech.

I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said. Ofsted inspections are not everything. I also understand the criticisms that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, made about specific Ofsted inspections. However, for parents and children Ofsted none the less provides a key safeguard if things go wrong in an individual school. That is why I am very much opposed to this statutory instrument; why, as noble Lords will recall, we had a vote on this at Report; and why many noble Lords remain concerned about the decision.

If ever one wanted to a reason to put forward to your Lordships’ House for needing this safeguard, it was the quite extraordinary decision of the Minister’s department this week to allow a free school to be opened by a group of creationists. The group behind the plans, known as the Exemplar Newark Business Academy, put forward a revised bid by basically the same people who proposed the Everyday Champions Academy last year, which was formally backed by the Everyday Champions Church. That bid was rejected explicitly because of concerns surrounding the teaching of creationism. In February 2011, while promoting the Everyday Champions Academy bid, the Everyday Champions Church leader, Gareth Morgan, said:

“Creationism will be taught as the belief of the leadership of the school. It will not be taught exclusively in the sciences, for example. At the same time, evolution will be taught as a theory”.

That bid was rejected, but it has resurrected itself—if I may use the term in relation to creationism and that belief. This is now going to be a bid by the Exemplar Academy without the formal backing of the church, but the website for the new academy was initially part of the Everyday Champions Church website, and the plans were launched at the Everyday Champions Church, described as a resubmission of a previous bid.

I use this, first, as an occasion to strongly protest against the decision of the Minister’s department on this matter. I find it outrageous—outrageous—that a school that clearly is going to be tempted down the creationism route has been authorised by the noble Lord. What safeguards are there apart from potential interventions by Ofsted if we find that creationism is being taught? What happens if Ofsted, first time round, makes it an outstanding school? For many parents there will be no recourse whatever. That is why one objects so much to the Government’s decision in this regard.

I recognise that exempt schools may still be subject to inspections as part of the chief inspector’s surveys of general subjects and thematic reviews. I noted what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said. However, what I find quite extraordinary is that this flies in the face of all the other regulatory regimes that are present in relation to public services, as my noble friend said. I thought that the Explanatory Memorandum was disingenuous—to put it kindly—when it stated in paragraph 7.3:

“Of the schools judged outstanding and inspected more than once since 2005, over 90% have remained either outstanding or good at their latest inspection”.

The reality at that time, as we discussed last year, was that, out of 1,155 schools that had been judged outstanding in that period, on subsequent inspection more than 30% had a reduced grading, including 58 that went from grade 1 to grade 3. What we see quite clearly is that outstanding schools do not remain outstanding. That is why this policy is so fatally flawed. I also refer the noble Lord to the college sector. I understand that in the inspections undertaken between January 2012 and May 2012, two outstanding colleges fell by one grade, two fell by two grades and one fell by three grades. Indeed, my understanding is that none maintained the outstanding grade.

I have seen no coherent, intellectual argument that would justify exemption for outstanding schools. There is no evidence that all outstanding schools remain outstanding. We hear about the risk assessment approach —the desktop approach—but I do not believe that there is confidence that that approach can get in to the school and actually see what is happening.

I will ask a number of questions of the Minister. First, we have heard that Ofsted will pay particular attention to a school or college where a new head teacher has been appointed. What about a considerable change in the leadership team? I also note that the consultation in March 2011—this order has not been consulted on but the original policy was consulted on—showed 60% of respondents supported a risk-based approach to determining which school should be inspected. Can the Minister tell me whether parents were brought into this consultation? If parents knew that this was going to happen, I doubt very much that they would have supported the policy.

Can the Minister tell me whether there is a guarantee that every outstanding school will be reinspected before the new system is brought in? In other words, given the new criteria that the chief inspector has announced, can we be assured that only schools that have gone through that process will be given the exemption? An institution that I know in Birmingham was last inspected, I think, more than six years ago and was graded outstanding. It has had a change of leadership—not the governing body that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, looked for—and it has not had another Ofsted inspection. However, because it was graded outstanding six years ago, it seems that Ofsted has bypassed it.

It might be an institution where the parents are not the sort of people to complain. A large number of them might be members of ethnic minority communities who are not used to raising issues and concerns. Who is going to protect the students? What about the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised about the grades the schools achieve for their students? What happens if there is a change in intake? Is Ofsted going to look at this through a desktop process? Clearly, despite all the nonsense that we hear from Mr Gove about education, we know of the big impact that intake has on the performance of a school. It is very easy to disguise the actual performance of the school simply by raising the bar for the students you take into your institution. Will the desktop approach take account of that? I very much doubt it.

I ask the Minister to contrast this with what he and his colleagues are doing in relation to other sectors. I know the National Health Service best, and I refer the House to my interest in it. Last summer, the health regulator, the Care Quality Commission, announced that it was replacing its light-touch style with an annual inspection of each NHS and independent-sector provider. As the CQC said at the time, when people’s lives and well-being are at stake, the public do not want to hear about light-touch regulation. We are supposed to have a Government who favour cohesion. Why on earth are we having a different approach in relation to health and social care regulation as opposed to education? I would hazard an educated guess that in October the report of the Francis inquiry will ask for much tighter regulation of the health service. Why should schools and educational institutions be different?

One should look at what is happening. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said that we should trust the schools. I am prepared to do so up to a point. I only wish that Mr Gove would trust the governors. The noble Baroness mentioned them. I should also like take this opportunity to absolutely deplore Mr Gove’s remarks in relation to governors. Talk about trusting schools and institutions. He is not prepared to trust schools that do not want to become academies. Those school governors are bullied and harassed for their schools to become academies. There is not much trust there. Thousands of governors give devoted duty, and being a governor today is much harder work than it was 20 or 30 years ago. What a remark. Is the big society over? Surely, if you were looking for an example of devoted voluntary service to the public, it would be school governors.

We are being asked to take this policy on trust. The argument is that by freeing up institutions, letting them have their head and allowing them in many ways to go down the selective route—which is, of course, the reality—we do not need to have inspection because we can trust the people to do the right thing. I am afraid that in education one cannot always trust people to do the right thing. I should have thought that the safeguard for the public is that if you are truly letting go and allowing institutions to stand or fall on their own two feet, the counterbalance should be to have a proper regulatory regime that involves all schools, not just those that are not classified at any moment in time as being outstanding.

I do not know what my noble friend is going to do when it comes to deciding whether to press the Motion to a vote, but I feel very strongly about this.

My Lords, I am surprised that this measure has come back as a statutory instrument, given our debate during the passage of the Bill. It is an ill advised piece of legislation. Like my noble friend who moved the Motion, I want to look at it on the strategic level and on points of detail.

The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, made a significant contribution because there has been agreement over the 30 years since her colleagues’ 1988 education Act that inspection constitutes an essential part of the infrastructure of education policy and it was the first time that I had heard any senior politician from any of the parties be so critical of inspection per se as part of the framework. If I follow the logic of what the noble Baroness said, I am left wondering why we are letting Ofsted into any school in the country. If Ofsted is so weak and if we should now start to question its role in the education service, it cannot be just for outstanding schools; it must be in respect of the schools for which we worry far more, which are the satisfactory and less-than-satisfactory schools in our education system. There was no logic in that.

I, for one, still believe that inspection has been an essential part of basic education policy for the past 30 years. Successive Governments have abided by this. The narrative goes something like: “We want to give more freedom to schools, to encourage them to innovate and take on local character, to trust them more and more, and we are more confident in doing that if there is an accountability mechanism at its core. The better the inspection framework and the better our testing and the publication of that data, the more successive Governments have felt that they could free up so much more of the education system”. I still abide by that. It has been a shared concern across the parties and I am really worried if Members on the Government Back Benches—and perhaps the Front Bench, from whom we will hear—begin to challenge that shared understanding that we have had for a number of years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, talked about a fall in standards in our schools over the past few years. I fundamentally disagree with her. That is not what I have seen, and I do not believe it describes what is going on in our schools. However, I do remember—because I taught in it—the school system before we had any inspection at all. I would not want to go back to that. The standard of education, the quality of teaching and the number of children being let down was far greater before we had this accountability framework, including inspection, than it ever has been since. That is my first point. Strategically, the Government are pushing freedom for individual schools. Logically, they have every reason to care more about the inspection framework and the accountability framework, rather than less. They are throwing it away.

My second strategic point, or point of policy and substance, is that if you read the Explanatory Memorandum—which I think was disingenuous in many ways—it says that allowing outstanding schools not to be inspected by Ofsted is a reward for good performance. We have spent years trying to persuade schools that being inspected by Ofsted is not a punishment. It is something that is good for schools and good for teaching, which they should accept. If being exempt from inspection is a reward for good performance, what does it say about those schools that we are asking Ofsted to go into more frequently? It must be that it is a punishment for underperformance.

If struggling schools see Ofsted inspections as a punishment, rather than as something that can be an essential step in improving their performance, that absolutely takes away all the progress that has been made over the past 20 years in trying to get a new generation of teachers to view Ofsted in a completely different light.

The second point the Explanatory Memorandum makes is about freeing up staff time. Ofsted inspection should not be taking up lots of classroom time. That is why we have moved to shorter notice for inspection and to inspectors being able to come in with two or three days’ notice. It is an admission by government that having Ofsted in your school wastes the time of teachers. Frankly, if we want to free up time, it ought to be for teachers who are teaching in schools that still have a long way to go, rather than in those that are outstanding.

The last point, of course, is saving money. If this is a money-saving measure, say so. Let it be. Let us talk about that, but let us not pretend that it is a decent educational measure.

In terms of local accountability, one of the things about Ofsted is that it gives a national framework for inspection, and it does not actually rely on local accountability. I want a system where the schools in the poorest areas are compared with the schools in the richest areas; the south with the north; the east with the west; the poor with the rich; the ethnic minorities with the affluent white. Unless we have a national inspection framework, we will never get that.

On details of policy, most of these points have been made, but I will make one more. The panoply of bureaucracy that is being built up as part of the risk assessment will take away any extra time or money that might have come Ofsted’s way. As the years go by, there will hopefully be more schools that receive outstanding Ofsted reports, go into that category and will have to be risk-assessed every year. We are assured that there is no trigger or tick box, so careful judgments about all these schools will have to be taken into account.

I will finish with two or three questions, some of which build on those which have already been asked. First, I want to pursue one of the questions outlined by my noble friend Lord Hunt. He asked whether schools will be reinspected. If in future Ofsted criteria change, will schools be inspected again or will they be allowed to be free for life from inspection against a set of criteria that is no longer being used?

Secondly, why are special schools not in this group? If we are going to exempt outstanding schools, then why are we not going to exempt special schools?

Thirdly, the Explanatory Memorandum talks about, I think, 60% of people who were in favour of a risk-based approach to inspection. I am in favour of a risk-based approach to inspection, but I am not in favour of this. Will the Minister let us know what the consultation report said about the number of people who were in favour of this particular recommendation?

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this very important subject. I share many of her concerns, particularly the concerns raised by several noble Lords about the rapid changes in school quality and how we can be sure we get on top of that in good time and do not allow some of these children’s education, and their time in school, to be wasted.

In one particular aspect of our education, which is faith schools—we have heard about creationism—there has been a lot of concern in debates on education Bills in this House about how they work in practice. Many faith schools deliver great education to children, but they are a special complexity for this country, and there is therefore concern about how this regulation may be implemented in that regard.

I have sympathy with the Government’s position. I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, said. I was reminded of the experience in Finland, where there is no school inspection system. Finland's Minister of Education says:

“Teachers in Finland can choose their own teaching methods and materials. They are experts of their own work, and they test their own pupils. I think this is also one of the reasons why teaching is such an attractive profession in Finland because teachers are working like academic experts with their own pupils in schools”.

I am reminded of visiting a children's home many years ago and meeting probably the best children’s home manager that I have come across. She was an immigrant from the highlands of Ethiopia who was wonderful at setting good boundaries for the children. She did not allow them to eat sloppily at the table and she kept good order, but she was compassionate and a rock for the staff in the children’s home. She would say, “Who are these inspectors who do not know much about my particular area and tell me how to run my home?”. She was proud of what she had achieved, and that was a good example of how a poor inspection can undermine the confidence, the work and the morale of the people on the frontline.

This is a complex issue. I want to concentrate on vulnerable children—those on free school meals and looked-after children—and explore what the consequences of these regulations might be for them. With Ofsted not monitoring these outstanding schools in the future, one has to worry that those pupils’ outcomes might be allowed to drift. What is measured tends to be academic outcomes. I was very encouraged by a recent framework for Ofsted, from which I wish to draw an example. It paid particular attention to the emotional, spiritual and other aspects of the development of children and looked at the progress of children with disabilities. Schools knew that they would be measured against that. I have a couple of quotations from recent reports of primary schools in County Durham. One says,

“Excellent partnership working with the Place2Be ensures that excellent care and support are provided for those pupils who are potentially vulnerable, to remove barriers to learning”.

That refers to Seaham Trinity Primary School.

“All pupils, including the most vulnerable, are very appreciative of the excellent help and guidance they receive from staff who know them very well. Some spoke particularly warmly of the support they receive from the counselling service ‘Place2Be’ which had helped them overcome personal difficulties and allowed them to achieve well”.

That refers to Cotsford Junior School in County Durham.

I am worried that those soft outcomes, those harder-to-measure things, may be lost and may not be captured by the annual overview assessments. I would appreciate reassurance from the Minister that the focus on these children, the softer information, the experience with vulnerable children in schools will not be lost because inspectors no longer go into those schools and see things for themselves. I know that the Minister will have data on the progress of looked-after children and on children on free school meals but there could be a lag between acquiring information about school performance and the actual experience of a child. By the time you have that information a child may have been let down for some years. I would like reassurance on that point.

To conclude, I have two questions. First, how does one capture the emotional and spiritual development of such children and how they are fairing without annual monitoring of children in school? What sort of metric can capture that? I expect that it is very difficult to capture. In terms of staff handover, I am grateful to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, that if a head teacher changes, there will be a sudden new focus on that school. However, senior staff move on too; school leadership is very important for good outcomes in schools. I would like further reassurance from the Minister, therefore, that there will be close monitoring of changes in school staff. Would that be a trigger for re-inspection?

In conclusion, I worry that schools can decline very quickly and that we might be letting some of their pupils down by this move. I worry that the needs of vulnerable children in schools might be overlooked because there will not be inspection in the future. Can the Minister give reassurance in his response to the debate?

My Lords, I am very glad that my noble friend Lady Hughes of Stretford has put down this Motion of Regret. This is proving to be an important debate, quite rightly raising all manner of concerns. I find the notion of schools being exempt from inspection quite extraordinary and somewhat sinister. If this is about money, can we afford to downgrade excellence in education? Inspection is about checking on measures to improve quality in all aspects of school life.

I would like to pick up on some of the things said by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. Inspection is not, of course, the only measure. I recognise that many schools have in place excellent self-assessment procedures. However, that is not the same as inspection. Who inspects the self-assessment procedures? I wonder whether the chief inspector’s risk assessment can kick in quickly enough or be rigorous enough. Regular inspection is something that many schools learn from; it makes them vigilant. My principal concern about exempting schools from inspection is that, as I know, the Minister must know and at least three other Lords have mentioned, schools can slip very quickly from being excellent, even good, to being not so good and not so excellent. I have known the loss of an inspiring head of department or an inspiring head teacher plummet a school into difficulties in less than a year. Deterioration of that kind can go unnoticed for a while but would not if inspection were in place.

School improvement partners were disbanded by this Government and not replaced. As a school governor, I found in south London that visits by the school improvement partner were a great help in examining pupil achievement and well-being, structural issues and staff training needs. That has gone. Where will the checks be? It is ironic that private schools are inspected regularly and thoroughly. Why will some state schools be exempt? This lack of inspection could well reinforce inequality. It is not fair on pupils and parents in state schools to remove controls on standards while they are maintained rigorously in the private sector.

I have seen good school inspection teams in operation. This is where I want to pick up on what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said. A good inspection team does not just pick up on academic achievement, although that is important. A good inspection team will recognise that some children have difficulty learning because of factors in their lives that inhibit learning, such as a home background that does not foster it. Schools must make good that deficit before children can take advantage of what the school offers. If they do not, and if they rely on developing self-esteem and overcoming disadvantage solely through literacy and numeracy, this has a profoundly negative effect on equality of opportunity. A Government who express a wish to overcome disadvantage should be ashamed to risk denying opportunities through negligence and through a lack of consideration for how schools are delivering consistently and appropriately for all pupils, including delivering on dimensions which are non-academic but which support learning.

I have just looked at the Ofsted subsidiary guidance issued to inspectors in January 2012. That guidance includes a spiritual dimension—the pupil’s perspective on life, their enjoyment of learning and so forth. It includes a moral dimension—the ability to recognise the difference between right and wrong and the consequences of actions. It includes a social dimension—co-operation and resolving conflict. It also includes a cultural dimension—responsiveness to artistic, musical, sporting, mathematical and cultural opportunities and exploring diversity.

Education is not education if these dimensions of learning are not considered, and they ought to be inspected. They are the less definable aspects of education. Inspection teams should look for a positive school ethos that fosters respect for others and respect for self. This ethos, embodied in and reliant on these less definable aspects and the dimensions that I have listed, can disappear even more quickly than academic achievement. It is terribly important to have inspectors go in, look around them and focus on the ethos of the school and the elements of learning that are essential to underpin all achievement.

I remember a discussion with the inspector for personal, social and health education. She had, in her reports, examples of good practice in different schools. That is another example of what inspection can do—to gather and share good work on all aspects of education. What a waste if that potential is lost.

I do not understand the logic of the Government’s thinking on these regulations. Good practice does not fear inspection. Inspection promotes vigilance and excellence. Excellence supports children in academic subjects and in personal and social well-being. I urge the Government to think again on this matter.

My Lords, we have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. Many noble Lords have spoken with a great deal of passion. We have talked again about some of the issues that we discussed previously in Committee and on Report and we have talked about the whole question of inspection itself. A number of themes have been covered. I will concentrate my remarks on the Motion before us moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford. I will attempt to pick up on the points raised relating to that. If I fail, I will follow up any particular questions afterwards.

I think that it is fair to say that, although there is clearly disagreement between us as to the definition of “proportionate”, there is agreement in principle that having a more proportionate approach to inspection in itself is not a bad idea to pursue. But, as I say, there is a difference between what we mean by “proportionate”. I know that noble Lords opposite and others argue that “proportionate” means that all schools should be inspected automatically at least once every five years. I contend that “proportionate” means that so long as there are proper safeguards—obviously I will come back to that—it is possible that some schools can be exempt from routine inspections.

As I listened to the contributions this evening, a number of common themes emerged. The first was that schools can fail very quickly—how can we be sure that we will spot that? That was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and most recently by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. How do you pick up failure? How will we share good practice? How will inspectors and others within the school system know what “outstanding” means and how will they learn from one another? The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, asked to what extent the Government’s proposals were being driven by financial considerations. How will we know about safeguarding concerns? Is it right in principle that all schools should be inspected? I will come back and try to answer all those concerns, but I want briefly to put the Government’s overall changes in context, because that helps to explain why we are doing what we are doing.

Before Ofsted was established 20 years ago, back in 1992, we had not had regular inspection of all schools. There was no formal assessment of primary schools and there was no published performance information. The introduction of routine inspection was the start of a process of making parents and the public more aware of how schools were performing. Since then, as noble Lords are well aware, there have been a number of developments under both Governments which have led to much more information being available. Key stage 2 testing, for example, was introduced in 1994, performance tables were introduced for secondary schools in 1994 and primary school performance tables followed in 1996. As a result, today there is a huge amount of information available on how schools are performing. I very much agree with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, about having that information that we can share.

I contend that we are getting that information through the publication of more and more information on schools. Last year’s performance tables, for example, contained information on attainment and progress, and differentiated between high, middle and low attainers. They covered the extent to which schools were narrowing the gap between the most disadvantaged and other pupils. They had information on the proportion of pupils with special needs, those for whom English is not their first language and those eligible for free school meals. They included details on pupil absence and on spend per pupil, and information about the staff, including pupil/teacher ratios. Just today, the department has published data showing the destinations for key stage 4 and key stage 5 pupils by local authority and by institution.

I argue that inspection itself is no longer the sole, or perhaps the main, source of information regularly produced about schools’ performance. As the availability of information has evolved and improved, so we argue that inspection should evolve too. That is a point that successive Governments have recognised. The last Government introduced regulations back in 2009 to allow for less frequent inspection for good and outstanding schools; they moved that to every five years, rather than once every three years. They accompanied that with stronger risk assessment. Therefore, I argue that the changes that the Government have introduced build on that principle, rather than departing significantly from it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, drew the distinction between concerns about principle and practical concerns—I recognise this. Let me say a few words to address those practical concerns, which a number of noble Lords have raised. I accept the case made by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that schools decline and, indeed, can do so quite quickly. Ofsted evidence—and we have heard some figures—shows that 95% of outstanding schools are either outstanding or good at their next inspection. However, there is some movement from outstanding to good, and some will go further. I accept that point. That is where the nature of Ofsted’s risk assessment process is so important, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley argued. Let me try to outline how that will work, because I recognise that that lies at the heart of a number of the concerns.

First, every exempt school will be risk-assessed once a year. That will look at, for example, the overall performance of the school, the trend in results, the performance of different groups of children, including those with special educational needs—the noble Earl asked a question about this—and the progress that they make. In response to a specific question from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a school with high exam results but poor pupil progress would be picked up. The basis of that assessment will determine what steps Ofsted then takes, leading to a full inspection if it thinks that that is necessary. In the past, risk assessment led to about 2% of outstanding schools being re-inspected. Ofsted’s experience is that this accurately picked up schools that had slipped in the way that noble Lords were concerned about. The new chief inspector has said that he expects to be inspecting between 5% and 10% of outstanding schools, but in fact he has complete discretion as to the number of schools that he thinks should be re-inspected. The exemption regulations do not constrain him in respect of how many schools he can inspect.

In addition to the annual risk assessment, there are a number of other ways in which any emerging concerns can be flagged and acted on. Parents, for example, can contact Ofsted through its website, Parent View, or they can make a specific formal complaint about the kinds of issues raised as examples by a number of noble Lords. That could lead to Ofsted bringing forward its assessment or, indeed, it could lead directly to an inspection. A local authority with good local intelligence could also contact Ofsted with the same result, bringing forward a risk assessment or leading directly to an inspection. Another factor that can lead to a sudden change in a school’s performance is a change of head, which was mentioned by several noble Lords. That is another case that Ofsted would use as a trigger for early risk assessment. High turnover of staff would also be looked at—the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about that. Any of these examples could lead to a fact-finding visit or a full inspection by Ofsted. What in effect we are doing is giving the responsibility for making these judgments to Ofsted rather than having a uniform approach applied across the country that does not take into account the performance of a school or local circumstances.

On the question of how good practice will be shared and how inspectors will know what “outstanding” looks like, the chief inspector has made it clear that he wants to make much more of the wealth of information that Ofsted holds on good practice. This will continue to be gathered through routine inspections and surveys. As part of plans to strengthen monitoring and provide support for weaker schools, the chief inspector intends to put in place more regular monitoring, which will include inspectors signposting best practice so that schools can benefit from it. As my noble friend Lady Perry argued, inspectors will continue to see outstanding practice through a combination of survey visits, including on subjects such as PSHE, to the best schools and the flow of schools that have moved to outstanding in their latest Section 5 inspection.

I was asked about the extent to which these decisions are being driven by financial constraints. That is not the case. In fact, as developments since the appointment of the new chief inspector in January show, there will in fact be more inspections taking place than originally intended, with more outstanding schools being picked up, as well as the more targeted follow-up of schools that require improvement. I agree with the comments made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley about the importance of having good inspectors. I know that the chief inspector is working up plans to try to make sure that he has a supply of good inspectors and specifically to attract into inspection more outstanding heads with recent and relevant experience.

On safeguarding, which is a particular concern of noble Lords, Ofsted evidence shows that outstanding schools perform well in terms of safeguarding. In 2009-10, 98% of schools that were judged outstanding were either outstanding or good for safeguarding, and the figure rose to 99% in 2010-11. I should like to reassure noble Lords that, under the new inspection framework, safeguarding forms part of the judgment on leadership and management. Inspectors must consider how leadership and management at all levels manage safeguarding arrangements to ensure that there is safe recruitment and that all pupils are safe. In addition, if anyone, including teachers, parents, pupils or the local authority, has a concern about safeguarding in any state-funded school, they must raise this with Ofsted, which can decide to inspect immediately and without notice. That will continue to be the case for any school exempt under these regulations.

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that the chief inspector is laying much greater emphasis on the quality of teaching and learning in the new judgment on schools. I would imagine that that would mean that a number of schools graded outstanding under the old regime would not be outstanding under the new one. I seek reassurance on this. I understand the argument for schools that are graded outstanding by the new chief inspector under the new criteria that he has brought in, but what I do not understand is why schools that were graded outstanding under the previous criteria will continue to be treated as outstanding.

The basic response to the question comes in two parts. First, to reclassify retrospectively schools that were once classified in a particular way is difficult. The judgment that is made at the time should be based on the framework within which they are operating. Secondly, as far as how these schools will be picked up is concerned, we do not intend that they should be re-inspected automatically, because they were found outstanding under the existing framework. But the point about outstanding teaching would be precisely the kind of issue that, in terms of prioritising schools for risk assessment, Ofsted would put at the top of its list with the focus that it now gives to outstanding teaching.

As I said on Report, Ofsted will carry out a targeted review during the academic year 2012-13 to look specifically at where the safeguarding arrangements remain strong in a sample of outstanding primary and secondary schools. The findings from that review will be published and used to inform the effectiveness of the new arrangements. We know much more about schools. We need to use inspection wisely and effectively. We know, including from recent evidence from the Institute of Education, that inspection has most impact in weaker schools. That is why we are keen to target inspection there.

There is no evidence that Ofsted is going soft on schools. Most of the time the department gets comments in the opposite direction. If anything the chief inspector has signalled a tougher approach, but it is right to recognise those schools that have demonstrated the strongest performance. We want to encourage the best school leaders to play a full and active part in wider system improvement, working in partnership with other schools, in federations and chains, as well as more formally, such as becoming national leaders in education. As my noble friend Lady Perry argued, we need to signal our trust in these leaders. One way of doing this is by recognising their hard work and not requiring them to be routinely inspected and asking them to spend more time working with other schools.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, asked me about special schools. As far as vulnerable children are concerned the reason why the exemption regulations do not apply to special schools—pupil referral units and nurseries—is because we recognise that there is a concern about vulnerable children. We want the reassurance of knowing before one were to exempt them that we could satisfy ourselves that that was a wise course of action. The current intention is that they will undergo routine inspection, but we will keep that under review.

Why are the data less reliable with those schools than they are with non-special schools? That has been the thrust of the Minister’s argument: that data are strong enough for us to be able to take this course of action. The data are the same for the special schools, so what is the problem?

There are some harder judgments to make about some of the children who might typically be in special schools or pupil referrals. That is a fair point. Given the particular sensitivity about those schools we would prefer to proceed cautiously in that respect.

At bottom, this is an argument about trust, not just about trust in schools—and I am not seeking to make a political point—but about whether we feel that we can trust Ofsted to do its job. There is a difference of opinion between us over the meaning of “proportionate”. What the Government have been doing has been made possible by the great increase in information that we have encouraged, as well as by the further strengthening of risk assessment that has been put in place, partly as a result of concerns expressed by Members of this House. It is no more than a logical expansion of developments in recent years. I commend the steps that we have taken to the House.

Since my noble friend appears to be drawing his remarks to a close, will he write to me about the questions that I asked him?

Before the noble Lord concludes, I thank him for his careful response. I may have missed his response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, with regard to faith schools, but will the risk assessments also consider the impact of faith schools on the teaching of science, for example, and the need to monitor that area?

First, inspections into faith schools concerning the arrangements that those schools make around their religious education will continue in any case, even for exempt schools. If there are concerns of the kind raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, about individual schools, whether by parents, local authorities or others, those would be referred to Ofsted and Ofsted would need to take a view as to whether it needed to act.

My Lords, I thank the Minister and my noble friends and noble Baronesses opposite for their very thoughtful and detailed contributions to what has been a very important debate. It has boiled down to three crucial questions. I will be brief because I am mindful of colleagues who want to carry on with the main business. I will not delay the House but I would like to bring these three items to our attention.

First, is external inspection necessary, even if it is not of itself now sufficient, to assure quality of education for pupils and to reassure the public? Notwithstanding the contribution of the Minister and the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, I do not think we have had an answer to that tonight, even though the Minister said he would address the Motion—and the first part of the Motion is about the undermining of that principle of regular inspection of public services. In every other service, the answer to that question is yes. In some critical services, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Hunt, inspection is not becoming lighter touch; it is becoming tighter. We have not heard the argument for schools uniquely to be exempt from inspection. We have not heard the Government’s answer to that question tonight.

Secondly, do we have the evidence that, contrary to other public services, outstanding schools exceptionally remain outstanding once they have been judged so to be? The answer is no, as we have heard. All the evidence says that many outstanding schools decline in standards; some decline dramatically and quickly, as my noble friend Lady Massey pointed out. If they can fall dramatically in relation to educational standards, they can certainly fall dramatically as well in relation to safeguarding and those other issues particularly germane to vulnerable children that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was concerned about, and I share his concern.

Thirdly, the Government’s argument comes down to the fact that the safety net, the annual desktop risk assessment, is there as a catch-all. As my noble friend Lady Morris pointed out, not only is this becoming an edifice in itself, but in my view it can never be a substitute for directly observing what is going on and talking to parents and teachers. I am afraid what came to mind when I was listening to the arguments in favour of this as an effective safety net was the Baby P case in Haringey, when I was a Minister, when we learned that Ofsted had very recently completed a desktop assessment of social care in Haringey, which obviously had failed to uncover the very serious problems in policy and practice. It seems to be common sense that a desktop analysis of data is never actually going to reveal what is going on.

I hope that the Minister has at least appreciated the genuine strength of feeling and concern on this side of the House—and I suspect elsewhere. I am not going to press this matter to a vote at this late hour but I hope that the Government will reflect and monitor what happens as a result of this measure. If this measure has some of the negative consequences that we fear in even one school, many children will have their educational years blighted unnecessarily and avoidably, and I think we all agree that that would be a tragedy. I withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.