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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Self-evaluation seems a very good idea, and I have heard that there has been a good response to it in schools. However, it is not an easy process. By what method will we train schools to be rigorous in their self-evaluation?
Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is doubtless aware that we are already piloting that new approach in schools, where the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We are working with schools to see how they can use the self-evaluation method to best effect. The key is to move away from a process-based system to one based on outcomes. In that way, the self-evaluation reports produced by schools will give a true reflection of what they do, how they are perceived and how they work with parents and the wider community. Of course, a school can use whatever approach works best for it in arriving at its self-evaluation report, but we shall continue to work with schools to make sure that they are constantly improved.
Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): The Secretary of State has said that she is currently evaluating the pilots. Yet she is also putting self-evaluation into the legislative timetable. Why not wait until the pilot has finished, evaluate it and then introduce legislation? That would seem quite a rational process to me.
We have already worked with 100 schools in the pilot process, and the results have been
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overwhelmingly positive. The feedback from schools has been good. They think that this is a much less bureaucratic method of inspecting schools and allows for continuous improvement in the school system, and they look forward to being able to use the new system. There is no sense in standing back from the improvements that we are committed to making. We must make it possible for all schools to see the benefit of what we have already achieved with some.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State believe that the majority of schools in England at the moment have the required quality of self-evaluation skills? Is not it only four years since a survey of secondary schools indicated that only 30 per cent. were producing self-evaluation reports that reached the required level? Is she confident that the majority have the skills? Has she looked at the Scottish system? Are there lessons to be learned from Scotland?
Ruth Kelly: The real point is to allow schools to work with school improvement partners to drive up the standards of the self-evaluation mechanism. I am under no illusion; the process will improve over time. But it is right to focus on outcomes rather than processes and to move away from a cosy professional talk among people in the know about what schools should do and towards an emphasis on outcomes and the well-being of children. We need to work with schools to drive their own improvements as they work with their partners, with parents, and with all those who have an interest in the school, to drive up standards. We shall keep the system constantly under review.
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab): I acknowledge the changes that my right hon. Friend proposes and I am sure that they will be welcomed within the education professions. Does she agree that the current system can highlight some great achievements and improvements that schools can make? I draw her attention to Ponthir primary school in my constituency, which has just had an excellent Estyn inspection report, the best SATS results in its authority, and the best attendance record in Torfaen. Unfortunately, Torfaen county borough council has proposed closing the school. When my right hon. Friend meets Jane Davidson, the Welsh Assembly Minister, will she discuss the absurdity of that situation?
Ruth Kelly: I shall certainly be happy to receive further details about that situation from my hon. Friend, who recognises the benefits of the procedures and how we can see standards rising throughout the schools system. If he sends me details, I will look into the case.
The inspection process will produce an ongoing dividend for all schools. A school will publish an annual profile showing its targets for improvements, as well as its current results, and explain the offer that it will make to the wider community in sport, extended services and child care. It will have an annual dialogue on its performance against its improvement targets, allowing a process of continuous improvement for all schools. In developing those proposals, we listened to what schools told us about what prevents them from attaining even higher standards. We are acting on what they have told us.
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The Government have made it clear that we will use the Bill to develop a new relationship with our schools. The Bill makes that a reality by removing the barriers and freeing up our schools. The new relationship is about intelligent accountability and more focused school improvement, reducing burdens on schools and freeing up the front line to concentrate on promoting excellent outcomes for our children.
Mr. Gibb: The right hon. Lady referred to a new relationship with schools. The document of that name states that the inspections will be shorter and sharper, and will take no more than two days in a school. Is that right?
Ruth Kelly: That is absolutely right, which is why, although there will be inspections twice as often, the overall impact will be to halve the bureaucracy and red tape associated with school inspections. That is partly why schools are welcoming the change so forcefully and looking forward to the introduction of the new relationship.
The system is based on professionalism and autonomy. It establishes clearer, stronger lines of accountability and frees our schools from the unnecessary bureaucracy that hinders them from getting on with the job they set out to do: to deliver high-quality educational care to our children. It is a system that allows strategic financial management, with the advent of three-year budgets for our schools.
Schools should be accountable for the outcomes and improvements they achieve for children, rather than just for having shown that they can jump through a series of regulatory hoops. They must be accountable to the people who are most important: their pupils, their parents and communities. Parents know and trust the judgment of Ofsted, which for the past 12 years has made a significant contribution to raising standards in our country. We must trust our schools and free them from the burdens of inspection. That requires a new system, which places the school and its users at its heart.
Inspection will start from a school's knowledge of itself. A school that knows itself, is serious about its strengths and weaknesses and engages with its parents, pupils, community and partners openly and transparently will be a strong school, and lead its own improvement faster than any external challenge.
We propose a new system that provides for more frequent inspections, and the report will specifically address the key issue for all parents: how successful the school is at achieving good educational outcomes for every child. Short notice of inspections will avoid the stress of long preparation, which adds little value to the outcomes for our children. It will also enable inspections to give a more realistic picture of what children experience at school. That is what parents really want to know. We know that, because parents have told us through extensive consultation and trials of the new system.
The chief inspector has already made it clear that parents' views are critical to the new system. In producing reports, for which he is now the single authority responsible for all quality and content, the
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chief inspector will not just speak to the school, he will listen to all those with an interestparents, local authorities, governors, carers who have looked after children, staff and, perhaps most importantly, the children themselves.
Mr. Sheerman: I welcome what my right hon. Friend has just said, but how does she square that with the replacement of the formal consultation of parents by questionnaire? Will the new arrangements be good enough to provide real consultation with parents?
Ruth Kelly: Accountability to and consultation with parents will be much stronger under the new system. Under the old system, the whole inspection regime was very process-based. Lots of boxes had to be ticked, forms had to be filled in and meetings had to be held, without real consideration of the outcomes of the process. Under the new process, Ofsted and the school will let the parents know that the inspection is taking place, will provide a variety of means for taking parents' views into account, and will listen to parents about how they want their views to be taken into account. For example, the Ofsted inspector could provide a telephone number so that parents could ring him or her directly with their views of the school. Parents may want to stay behind for an hour after school and have their views listened to. The answer may be a tear-off slip at the end of the letter telling parents about the inspection, for them to send back. Parents will, for the first time, be really involved in the school inspection, in a much more productive way than they have been in the past.
Parents will be better able to challenge schools to achieve more for their children. They will be better able to make informed choices about which school is best for their children and they will be better equipped to participate fully in the life of the school. Clearer and stronger accountability is essential for the higher standards that our children deserve. Schools must be freed from unnecessary burdens and bureaucracy. One size no longer fits all, and schools must have the freedom to be creative, to be brave and to respond to the diverse challenges that they face. Only if schools are able to be flexible in response to the needs of their particular learners will each child achieve more.
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