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Standing Committee Debates
Learning and Skills Bill [Lords]

Learning and Skills Bill [Lords]

Standing Committee F

Thursday 18 May 2000

(Morning)

[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Learning and Skills Bill [Lords]

New clause 5

Defamation: Part III

    `.-(1) For the purposes of the law of defamation a report published under a provision of, or made as a result of, this Part is privileged unless its publication is shown to have been made with malice.

    (2) Nothing in subsection (1) limits any privilege subsisting apart from that subsection.'.-[Mr. Wicks]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New clause 2

Area inspections by the Chief Inspector

    `.-(1) The Chief Inspector of Adult Learning may, on his own initiative, conduct an inspection of-

    (a) the quality and availability of a specified description of education or training, in a specified area of England, for persons who are aged 16 or over;

    (b) the standards achieved by those receiving that education or training; and

    (c) whether the financial resources made available to those providing that education and training are managed efficiently and used in a way which provides value for money.

    (2) The Chief Inspector of Adult Learning must carry out such an inspection if asked to do so by the Secretary of State.

    (3) If the Learning and Skills Council or a local education authority has applied financial resources in respect of education or training which is being inspected under this section, the inspection may extend to considering the manner in which the Council or that authority has applied those resources and whether they have been applied in a way which provides value for money.

    (4) The education or training that may be made the subject of an area inspection is any education or training within-

    (a) the Adult Learning Inspectorate's remit; or

    (b) the remit of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools for England.

    (5) If, in connection with an area inspection, the Chief Inspector asks Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools for England for advice on a matter relating to education or training within his remit, the latter must give such advice as he considers likely to be appropriate for the purposes of the inspection.

    (6) A person providing education or training which is the subject of an area inspection must provide the Chief Inspector with any information reasonably asked for by him in connection with the inspection.

    (7) Any local education authority whose area, or part of whose area, is within the area which is the subject of an area inspection must provide the Chief Inspector with such information as the Chief Inspector may reasonably ask for in connection with the inspection.

    (8) ``Area inspection'' means an inspection under this section.'.-[Mr. Willis.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9 am

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Good morning to you, Mr. Benton, and to the rest of the Committee. I was tempted to move the new clause formally, because it is so sensible that I am sure that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks) will accept it immediately. We ran the same clause through another place, but because it was grouped with two other amendments it did not get a proper airing. I want the Minister to say why he thinks there should be area inspections by Her Majesty's chief inspector and Ofsted but not by the adult learning inspectorate.

After 1992-93, when further education and sixth-form colleges were transferred from local authority control and became self-incorporated colleges, there was a huge division between what had been the comprehensive provision of further education, community and adult services and the more specialised provision. That is not a criticism of what has happened to further education since then, as there have been some tremendous developments in that sector since incorporation in 1992-93. However, members of the Committee could not put their hands on their hearts and say that what has happened to adult and community education in their constituencies since 1993 has been satisfactory.

The Government made the right decision to end the ludicrous divide between section 2 and non-section 2 funding and to ask the Learning and Skills Council to look after everything. The Bill makes it clear that the Government expect proper provision for the post-19 sector and for adult and community education; they even want to slice resources from local education authorities to ensure that that provision is right and proper. I am therefore surprised that there are to be no area inspections of general services in adult and community education.

Baroness Blackstone's reasoning in taking that decision was that there is a statutory requirement in the Bill to provide services for those up to the age of 19 and after that it is discretionary. She said that because education in the earlier years was a statutory provision, and the state provided the resources, it was right and proper to have inspections and audits, but that that was not necessary for services for those over the age of 19. The adult and community education world hoped that the Government's legislative programme would place greater emphasis on the whole lifelong learning product and not create artificial divisions between younger and older people. I hope that the Minister will take on board the fact that we understand and accept that the 16 to 19 group has priority. However, it is important to provide resources to create a genuine lifelong learning society and to allow the Learning and Skills Council to promote lifelong learning, and adult and community education, in all regions. Clearly, the Government envisage that such resources will be made available, so how can they say that they will not inspect provision into which they intend to invest significant amounts of taxpayers' money?

Without inspection, inequalities between areas could grow, and the quality of provision to the adult age group could become less than satisfactory. The new clause has two aims: to provide for constant monitoring of adult and community education through inspections, and to use such inspections as a tool for ensuring that the quality of delivery in that sector always aims to be the best possible.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): I shall be brief, because the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) introduced the new clause in a modest and exemplary manner. We have considerable sympathy for his serious point. I anticipate that the Minister's response will return to the two inspectorates' relative remits, which, increasingly, I see as a series of potentially interlocking Venn diagrams. We are anxious that they should interlock at some point, so that somebody takes an interest in adult and community education. As the hon. Gentleman said, that evokes a good deal of sympathy from the whole Committee. It is important, and many of us have shared the increasing concern about the extent and quality of provision, which has become uneven between providers and between areas. If we are trying to take an overall view, that cannot be right.

Technically, the new clause would reverse the burden of prime responsibility, which we debated at length in the previous sitting, and which means that the chief inspector of schools leads, and the chief inspector of adult learning follows in a subordinate position. That relates to what I said about interlocking remits. Further education providers and, I suspect, adult and community education providers, which may not be the same, are unhappy with that relationship. Yesterday, the principal of a major regional further education college repeated to me that the sector remained unhappy about that hierarchy. The Minister will no doubt respond to that, and we shall listen carefully.

Unless I misheard the Minister or was not concentrating the other day-possibly because of the heat-he did not adequately respond on the issue of subject inspections. Whichever inspector examines an area, as part of his remit he may wish to inspect a particular subject-to use an old-fashioned word-or a particular delivery. In the clauses that we have passed, and the new clause, it might be possible to define the area as England, yet choose a specific subject to study. It would help if the Minister could make it clear that, following the examples of the further education inspectorate in the past and the schools inspectorate, it will be possible to consider areas of study or delivery on not so much a geographic as a functional basis.

The issue is important and has been touched on in another place. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has made his case well and deserves a substantive reply.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks): I welcome the opportunity to explain the Government's stance on the significant issue of area inspections. The proposed new clause would make the adult learning inspectorate responsible for area inspections-the opposite of the policy in clauses 63 and 65. It would therefore clash with provisions and cause confusion. The other substantial effect of the new clause is that the adult learning inspectorate would conduct area inspections for the age group to which the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has referred.

My noble Friend Baroness Blackstone twice resisted a similar amendment in another place. Let me explain again why we should not go down the route that this clause would take. However, I would not want anything that I said this morning-we had a debate earlier on a not dissimilar theme-to take away from the Government's commitment to lifelong learning and our real concern to boost different aspects of post-18 or post-19 provision. I will say more about that in a moment.

Area inspections are designed to raise standards of education and training for young people. They examine area-wide provision for 16 to 18-year olds, especially in inner cities, where there is an urgent need to focus the challenge to raise achievement and widen participation. The need in some areas is so acute that we have asked Ofsted, using its existing but limited powers, to lead some early inspections. It has been working closely with the Further Education Funding Council and the Training Standards Council inspectorates to do that. Last month, I received the first area inspection report-on Hackney and Islington-and I expect new reports on 16 to 18 provision in Newcastle, Coventry, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth to be published in the summer. The purpose of clauses 63, 64 and 65 is to give Ofsted a comprehensive set of functions with regard to area inspections, and in particular to establish a clear statutory basis on which the inspectorates will work together in future.

Participation and attainment are far too low in such areas, and it follows that the life chances of too many young people are jeopardised before they start. The evidence that we have gained from the Hackney and Islington report proves my point. The inspections will make a major contribution to raising standards and improving relevance of opportunity for young people.

For example, we can now be explicit about the problems in Hackney and Islington, because for the first time we have objective evidence about the whole area. We have a picture of an exceptionally deprived area, with poor staying-on rates, too many 16-year olds going to unknown destinations, low prior attainment, weakness in pre-16 guidance and information on options, poor uptake of modern apprenticeships, poor collaboration between schools, colleges and training providers, and unacceptable variations in achievement in all post-16 routes. That adds up to a pretty poor picture for young people in the area. If that is not bad enough, last night's football result will not cheer some members of that community either.

However, the report was not all bad news. Vocational A-level results were good. Levels of achievement in the work-based route are above average. There have been improvements in collaboration between the lifelong learning partnerships that we have fostered. However, the picture is one of 16 plus providers-schools, colleges and trainers-doing their best against the odds. There is no outstanding provision. Achievement is best summarised as too little, too late. We are therefore taking immediate action in Hackney and Islington, and I have asked for an action plan to ensure that some changes are made so that by next September young people in the area get a much better deal.

9.15 am

We certainly want to expand post-19 participation and to make sure that the quality of learning is high, and I appreciate that that was the burden of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough. We have given substantial extra resources, especially in basic skills. The adult learning inspectorate will have a major role in helping to drive up post-19 standards. I can envisage ALI inspecting a number of particular post-19 providers within a locality and taking an in-depth look at how those institutions provide quality education in the area. The powers in clause 54 provide for that activity by the new inspectorate. It will be able to make judgments and draw inferences about the quality of adult provision in a locality.

One of the crucial differences between an inspection of adult provision carried out on that basis and an area inspection led by Ofsted under clause 63 is that the latter may include an examination of the way in which the LSC or LEA has applied its resources. This additional aspect of an inspection is justified on account of the entitlement that young people have to education and training under clause 2. The adult learning inspectorate has all the powers it needs to examine the quality of provision across institutions in an area, and there is much to be gained from such activities.

Area inspections under clause 63 are the means by which we can in future judge whether the LSC and LEAs are making provision of adequate quality and sufficient quantity for young people. There is no need for a clause that extends area inspections of provision for people beyond the age of 19 and, similarly, no reason to extend the remit of the adult learning inspectorate.

 
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