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The letter is almost Chris Woodhead's valedictory contribution as chief inspector, and it is specifically on this subject. It was sent to me on 30 November last year in response to a parliamentary question that was referred to him because of convention, and it has been lodged in the Library. Even though Chris Woodhead was sometimes a controversial figure, I do not think that any Member would take exception to anything in that letter. It was very trenchant and to the point, and I will return to it in a moment.
I must point out to the House that there may be a technical error in the new clause. [Interruption.] The Government Whip, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), wants me to sit down, but he should hear what I have to say.
The error reveals my personal background in further education because it refers to area inspections. I think that the Minister is aware, and has been briefed accordingly, that it was my intention to deal with all inspections carried out by the chief inspector, including those of local education authorities and of areas under the Learning and Skills Act 2000, so the new clause goes wider than further education, taking in schools, colleges, the lot.
A few general remarks are called for about the inspection of special educational needs provision. I tabled my parliamentary question last November because I felt that insufficient attention was paid to that. It was also in my mind that as we move towards our stated intention of greater inclusion, or of the right to inclusion wherever possible, the role of the inspector will become ever greater. It is one thing for an inspection to be carried out in a special school--it has already been pointed out that many of those are excellent and appropriate to the job that they are doing--but it is a little more difficult to focus on special needs provision in mainstream schools. It is not an impossible task, and the inspector's letter to me, to which I referred, makes it clear that inspections can be general. There is no reason why they should be confined to special educational needs.
"then the inspection of these should be led by an inspector endorsed to inspect that specialism."
The inspector also pointed out that Ofsted has commissioned four short documents that focus on pupils with SEN, boys and girls, gifted and talented pupils and ethnic minority backgrounds as being specialist areas of concern. There are also forthcoming reports on the implementation of the national literacy strategy in special schools and on the evaluation of the national numeracy strategy in special schools. A lot is going on in the inspectorate, which is entirely welcome, and not as many of us are aware of that as we should be. It is clear that as we move towards greater inclusion, there will also be greater dispersion of the activity that caters for special educational needs, and it is important that the inspection process should reach into those areas so that inspectors can satisfy themselves about what is going on.
I want now to make more specific remarks about the new clause, which is designed to reflect the particular context that the Bill will change and the move towards the new inclusion framework, as well as the concerns that we have expressed in debates about the Bill. New clause 3(a) invites the inspector to look at
In our debates we have already emphasised that informed and genuine choice is important. Burrowing into SEN structures, one cannot but be struck by huge disparities. My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) may wish to speak about that when he moves a subsequent new clause. However, I noticed a large disparity in the levels of statementing by different local authorities that were set out by the Minister in a recent written answer. In my own county of Northamptonshire, for example, 2.8 per cent. of the school population have statements, and that percentage is broadly similar in Leicestershire. In Nottinghamshire, the contiguous county to the north of Leicestershire, also in the east midlands, 1 per cent. of the school population has statements. My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings, who knows that county well, has referred to a tradition of not statementing.
That extraordinary disparity in special educational needs clearly derives from the traditions of different local authorities and is the kind of matter to which Ofsted may wish to return. Similarly, the House will be familiar with the different patterns of provision affecting the balance
Mr. Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman is making some interesting and telling points about the adequate provision of local settings on which parents can make an informed choice. What assessment has he made of the challenges which, inevitably, will be posed by remote rural areas? Clause 39 deals with the extension of provision to the Isles of Scilly, where providing special needs education will be particularly challenging, as there are small groups of children on islands and in remote rural communities. Surely there is a particular challenge in such areas.
Mr. Boswell: I strongly endorse that point. The challenge applies particularly to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but he will be the first to acknowledge that it is not confined to it. The matter should be resolved by the professional judgment of Ofsted in the light of all the circumstances. However, living only hundreds of yards from a county boundary, I believe that other factors must be borne in mind. Most hon. Members will be familiar with the fact that much of the delivery of special education is outsourced across local authority boundaries because of the need to match needs to provision and find the best solution. Ofsted should take an interest in exactly that kind of matter.
Mr. Bercow: I recognise that my hon. Friend is describing an inspection, rather than a consultation, function. Nevertheless, will he confirm that, under new clause 3, the chief inspector would consult the LEAs in the areas in question, but his work would not consist exclusively of consultation with such bodies? Instead, it would involve listening to the views of parents and consultation with them, educational organisations and others.
Mr. Boswell: My hon. Friend is on to an important point. It is right that in carrying out the inspection, the inspectorate should look for itself and see what is happening, and that it should not be nobbled by any particular interest. Thank God that the present chief inspector is an independent person who will want to take into account everything that is going on, but will not adopt a view necessarily aligned with that of the local education authority. Our concerns about practice in the past suggest that it would be unfortunate if some LEAs were allowed to get away with their traditional practices. I shall not comment further on that. Independence is important, and Ofsted is probably the right vehicle to deliver it.
My second point, relating to subsection (b), may be summed up in the single word "transparency". Right across the SEN world and within the consortium, although there is general satisfaction with the Bill there is some concern about whether funds provided to LEAs and through LEAs, in accordance with the special educational
In Committee I mentioned Dr. John Marks, who has shown that there is a high expenditure which may broadly be called SEN expenditure, that it has risen fast, and that nobody knows a great deal about it. It is an important professional role of the inspectorate to identify what money came in, what money was allocated for provision and on what basis, and whether it was delivered and spent on that provision. That is in the interests of parents and children with special educational needs and of mainstream parents as well.
Educationally, induction--the moment of arrival--is the most difficult. I have come across distressing cases of children who have been well served in special schools, and have then been moved forward through an inclusion agenda or an inclusion philosophy to secondary schools where they enter mainstream provision. The arrangements made for their induction, including the training of teachers, which is critical, were not as good as they should have been, and the result has been a great deal of distress, usually leading to a retreat back into special provision. That is not satisfactory by anyone's standards, and I am sure that it is not what the Minister wants. It is a matter to which the inspectorate should pay particular attention.