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Mr. Davey: I share some of the hon. Gentleman's concerns. Some amendments have improved the legislation, especially following the Select Committee hearings mentioned by the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North. I hope that London local authorities will think carefully before they use the new powers and will keep any use under regular review. If buskers know that the powers exist and that local authorities can step in, the Bill might assist self- regulation. I hope so.
I also hope that London authorities do not set up large bureaucracies to go over the top in using the powers. I hesitate to develop this train of thought, but I can imagine local authorities holding events to determine the quality of buskers. If local authorities decide to license certain areas for certain times, they will have to restrict the number of licences, and one hopes that they will not set up casting arrangements to decide the distribution of the busking licences.
I hope that London local authorities will use the powers sparingly, because busking is an honourable tradition, which is enjoyed by many people. Traditionally, people have had the right to entertain their fellow citizens on the streets. Arts budgets are being squeezed, but buskers,
I shall share with the House how the Bill will work in the royal borough of Kingston. We have been fortunate to benefit from the establishment of a town centre manager and Kingston Town Centre Ltd., which work to improve the quality of the town centre for shoppers, businesses and those who work in Kingston. Dr. Julie Grail, the chief executive of the organisation, works closely in partnership with the retailers--the organisation is funded by many of them--and the local authority. She supports the Bill as she feels that it could serve a useful purpose, and she does not want to see it being abused by the local authority. She has worked closely with the retailers and the local authority, so she is well placed to give a practical view of the need for the powers.
Let me make one final point, about street cleaning. The Bill gives London local authorities stronger powers to require alleyways to be kept clean. That has proved a great problem in the royal borough of Kingston upon Thames, which the Deputy Prime Minister described as a leafy borough. It is true that it contains many trees, that gulleys are blocked when they shed their leaves, and that the streets need to be cleaned at such times; but the Deputy Prime Minister was wrong to imply that, because the borough is leafy, it is homogeneously wealthy. I have made that point many times. Anyway, given that cars are often parked on the streets for a long time, cleansing contractors may not be able to ensure that all the leaves are swept up and all the gulleys are cleared.
The measure is welcome, as I can attest on the basis of practical experience--again, in Kingston. In the summer of 1999, three freak storms in Kingston gave rise to a lot of flooding. It was an example of "microclimate": the flood was intensive in one area, but not in adjacent areas. It was a remarkable meteorological event, and the fact that it occurred three times was particularly remarkable. The event is relevant to the issue of street cleaning. Because some of the gulleys in the borough had not been cleaned for some time, the flood was severely aggravated and many people's homes and property were damaged as a result.
The powers conferred by the Bill will enable bodies such as the borough to ensure that that does not happen again. I have been given 250 pieces of case work, and 500 people have written to me about the floods that they experienced that summer. I think that those people will be particularly pleased about the new powers, and will feel reassured about Kingston council's ability, under the Bill, to fulfil its role--a role that it takes seriously--in keeping alleyways free of leaves and excess rubbish.
Let me say again how much the Liberal Democrats support the Bill. We believe that it will strengthen local government in the capital and help the 32 London boroughs to do the job that their citizens elect them to do. The tasks involved are often basic, everyday tasks: regulating parking, regulating street cleaning, licensing, and so on. They could be described as mundane. However, when I knock on doors in my constituency-- in Chessington, New Malden, Tolworth, Berrylands, Surbiton, Kingston and Worcester Park--I find that people raise those basic issues. Members of Parliament often expect people to raise issues involving the health service, the police or education, but in my experience of knocking on doors, most people want to talk about parking and street cleaning.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): I want to tell the House about a school that the Office for Standards in Education said was not improving, but the result of whose standard assessment tests--published yesterday--show remarkable and significant improvement.
I want to tell the House about a school to which Ofsted inspectors did serious damage after a visit lasting just five hours, but whose science SATs have improved by 40 per cent. in the past year: 85 per cent. of pupils in year 6 have attained level 4 or above, as opposed to 61 per cent. In that context, it is at or above the national average. In the past year alone there has been a 7 per cent. improvement in English SATs results: the proportion of pupils attaining level 4 or above has risen from 67 per cent. to 72 per cent.
Many schools throughout the country will not have agreed with the report and recommendations of their Ofsted inspectors, but in most cases it is likely that the inspectors' judgments were right. I will not contend tonight that there is anything wrong with a system of independent external inspection that seeks to raise standards in our schools; such a system is vital, and will inevitably mean that some schools are deemed to need special measures. But it is another matter to argue that the current Ofsted system is perfect and cannot be improved, and that Ofsted always gets it right. I believe that Ofsted must be reformed. There is mounting evidence for that, not least from last summer's report by our own Select Committee on Education and Employment, which investigated Ofsted in detail.
It is because I have more, and recent, evidence of the need for Ofsted reform that I requested the debate. As I hope to show, the inspectors got it wrong in the case of the recent Ofsted visit to Moor Lane junior school in Chessington. Perhaps worse, the process by which they got it wrong was itself seriously flawed. What was the result of Ofsted's mistakes? A shattering of staff morale, leading to the resignation of the six teachers who were not already due to leave.
The school will weather the storm. We are all determined that it will. It has great support from the community and from parents. The local education authority, rated by Ofsted itself as a "well-run authority", has already stepped in to protect the children's education from next September. I want to place on record my total confidence in the seconded head teacher, Mr. Tim Rome; I also want to reassure parents of my belief that Moor Lane was, is and will be a good school to which they can entrust their children's education. The purpose of the debate, however, is to share the lessons of the Moor Lane experience with the Minister, and those lessons suggest to me that a number of specific reforms are needed of Ofsted and its processes. I hope that, as a result of this debate, Ofsted will be seen to have been held to account for its mistaken processes, and that the school can put what has happened behind it.
The trouble really started with the April 1999 Ofsted inspection. It originally recommended special measures for the school, but its conclusion was contested both by the local education authority and by the school. Her Majesty's inspectorate upheld the appeal, so the report recorded only "serious weaknesses". Moreover, Ofsted also partially upheld the school's view that the April 1999 inspection had not been conducted properly. At the time, I wrote to the chief inspector to express my concern that the original Ofsted report had got it wrong and had undermined the school. I only wish that I had pursued the matter even further at the time.
What happened after the report was published and the appeals against it had been heard? The school and the LEA got cracking and got down to work. Action plans were drawn up, and close monitoring was instituted. Kingston's chief inspector is Patrick Leeson, an excellent and highly regarded specialist, and he took a hands-on approach. A new chair of governors, John Heaman--a councillor and a former chair of education in the royal borough of Kingston upon Thames--was elected. Mr. Heaman is the former head of a teacher training school, with 28 years of experience in training teachers. In all, the LEA and the school took the April 1999 report--the one that said that the school had serious weaknesses--very seriously.
The House should know that the LEA believed that the school was making good progress after the April 1999 inspection. Neither it nor the school was complacent. It believed that the school still had some genuine weaknesses, but all parties considered that major improvements had been achieved.
The December 1999 LEA report on the school judged that 86 per cent. of the teaching was satisfactory. In March 2000, the LEA judged that more than 30 per cent. of the teaching was good, with weaker teachers performing satisfactorily. In terms of attainment, the LEA inspectors
What did the Ofsted inspectors find in their May progress report visit? Officially, we do not know, as the written report has yet to be finalised and published. However, we know the main findings, as the inspectors gave an oral feedback to staff directly after the visit that precipitated the resignations. The inspectors' overall judgment was that the school required special measures.
The detail of some of the inspectors' oral feedback is interesting, as a report from the LEA to the Kingston council cabinet shows. The feedback suggested that there had been some improvement in standards, but that the school's attainments remained too low. That was not borne out by the SATs results. It revealed that 16 lessons were observed, of which seven were good, four satisfactory, and five unsatisfactory. It continued:
Only five lessons were found to be unsatisfactory. The finding that special measures were needed contradicted the views of the LEA inspectors, the SATs examiners, and parents. Three obvious questions arise in connection with the Ofsted visit and report. They suggest that there is a need to reform the process by which the snapshot inspections--the brief progress reports--are made.
First, why did Ofsted not wait until after the SATs results were available and use them to cross-check its findings? That would have required a wait of only a few weeks, and would have saved Ofsted from getting egg on its face. If SATs results are expected in a short time, the Ofsted process ought to require that they be taken into account.
Secondly, why did Ofsted not refer back to the LEA, which had been working closely with the school in a concentrated and focused way for months? The Minister might say that Ofsted is not supposed to refer to the LEA about an inspection, as inspections are supposed to be independent and external. That is true, yet we are talking not about a full-blown inspection but about an extremely brief visit. It is possible that the Ofsted inspectors found five unsatisfactory lessons, but surely they should have sought corroborative data before pressing the nuclear button of "special measures". Such data would have backed up the limited information that they acquired for their findings.
I know that the Minister is not as anti-LEA as the leader of the Conservative party, and I am sure that she believes that LEAs have a role with regard to inspection. The staff at Kingston LEA knew the school very well.
As I said earlier, an Ofsted inspection of Kingston LEA a few years ago found it to be well run and one of the best in the country. Improvements have been made since then, so why did the inspectors not talk to the education authority? I strongly believe that Ofsted must reform the way in which it works. When inspectors make a brief visit and monitor lessons for only five hours, Ofsted ought to refer to other sources for corroboration.
My third question has to do with statistics. In a full-blown inspection, many lessons are monitored so that a representative sample can be used in a well-informed report. However, in an inspection that lasts only a morning and afternoon, only a tiny sampling exercise is possible. If the inspectors were familiar with statistics theory, they did not apply simple mathematics to their techniques and conclusions. It is remarkable that they should call for special measures after finding unsatisfactory five of the 16 lessons that they monitored.
Of course there are practical constraints on the time that can be spent on progress report visits, and on the number of lessons that can be monitored. However, should that not suggest that inspectors apply much greater caution and recognise the limitations of the inspection process? I hope that inspectors exercise rather more caution in future, especially with regard to brief progress reports.
There is a fourth reform that I should like to be made to the Ofsted process. Inspectors need to be more sensitive to the morale of teachers. It serves no purpose if Ofsted undermines morale. It certainly does not help children's education, or lead to higher standards.
The teachers at Moor Lane school had been working very hard, none more so than head teacher Jane Wright. She and her staff are dedicated, committed and caring, and they have the confidence of the community. Jane Wright announced her retirement before the Ofsted visit, and I believe that she can retire with her head held high. However, I do not consider that Ofsted recognised her work, or the genuine achievements revealed in yesterday's SATs results.
I am delighted that last summer's report by the Select Committee on Education and Employment suggested that Ofsted should do more when reporting inspection results, and that it should have a more "professional dialogue" with staff. I would go further, and say that Ofsted should have a more developmental role in terms of its links with, and feedback to, schools. It should not merely light the blue touchpaper and walk away; it must get involved with schools in post-report work. That would earn it greater respect and acknowledgement among the teaching profession.
I have concentrated on the direct lessons from Moor Lane school's experience with Ofsted. In the time that remains, I want to look briefly at some wider reforms that I consider should be made. To do so, I shall lean heavily on the work of the Select Committee.
The first reform is about accountability. I have received many letters and e-mails from parents who are dismayed with Ofsted and the way that it has undermined the school. Invariably, they ask to whom Ofsted is
Although it is difficult to hold Ofsted and its individual inspectors to account for every individual report, the overall performance--the quality of inspectors, the processes involved in compiling reports, and so on--is a legitimate matter for the House. The Government should turn their mind to the question of how the inspectors can be inspected.
A key question for many people at Moor Lane--and, I am sure, at many other schools--is: who is guarding the guardians? Recommendations 49 to 59 of the Select Committee report contain many suggestions, such as an annual debate, preceded by evidence from Her Majesty's chief inspector to the Select Committee, annual meetings between the Select Committee and the chief inspector, confirmatory hearings for the appointment of the chief inspector, and quinquennial reviews of Ofsted. Those all seem sensible proposals. They would keep Ofsted in check and ensure that it was inspected, and that it improved.
I hope that the Minister does not think this is too controversial, but I wish to put on record my concern at the way in which Her Majesty's chief inspector reacted to the inspection report and the press accounts of it. Mr. Woodhead clearly did not do his homework well enough; he made inaccurate remarks about the history of the school. He has allowed the flawed system of progress reports to continue. In this case, the system has hit Moor Lane, but it may hit other schools if it continues. I think that Chris Woodhead should apologise to Moor Lane school, and I hope that when he reads this debate, he will feel that that is the right thing to do.
I wish to end on a note of praise for the school--praise for the teachers, the head teacher, the governors, parents and children for the way in which they have withstood a great deal of pressure following the April 1999 report. They have also had the media spotlight on them, and they have conducted themselves very well, in a mature way. They are determined to pull together with the local education authority and the Ofsted inspectors, when they arrive in September, to make sure that the quality of education at Moor Lane school continues to improve from what is already quite a high level.