Education and Inspections Bill

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Schedule 15

Transitional provisions and savings relating to part 8
Amendments made: No. 489, in schedule 15, page 217, line 1, after ‘done' insert
‘(or having effect as if done)'.
No. 490, in schedule 15, page 218, line 39, leave out paragraph 6 and insert—
‘6 Paragraphs 52 and 52B of Schedule 14 to this Act (and the corresponding entries in Part 5 of Schedule 18 to this Act) do not affect—
(a) any provision of a scheme made under section 90(1) or 92(1) of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c.21) which has effect immediately before the coming into force of those paragraphs;
(b) the operation of section 95 of that Act in relation to rights and liabilities under a contract of employment transferred by virtue of such a scheme.'.—[Phil Hope.]
Question proposed, That this schedule, as amended, be the Fifteenth schedule to the Bill.
Mr. Gibb: Schedule 15 allows the Secretary of State to make provision for the transfer of staff, property rights and liabilities to the new office and allows for the continuity of exercise of the current functions of the merged inspectorates. The Government have given us a policy document on this which states that the Secretary of State, under paragraph 7, will be able to establish a shadow Ofsted following Royal Assent to ensure that it is functioning on 1 April 2007 when the new organisation comes into being. When does the Minister plan to advertise the positions for the office and what powers and duties does he intend to give the new office prior to the appointed day?
Phil Hope: I am grateful for that question. Rather than answer it now and take up the Committee’s time, I will respond to the hon. Gentleman in writing.
Mr. Gibb: I am very happy with that reply.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedule 15, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 144 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 32

Inspection of foundation schools
‘(1) A foundation school established under the provisions of section 7 or section 9 shall be subject to inspection by OFSTED, provided that—
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
If foundation schools are to mean anything, they must be more independent than community schools. I therefore believe that it would be useful to their ethos if they were subject to the same regulations as apply to independent schools. They should not be subject to any direction from the Secretary of State as to the nature, scope or frequency of such inspections. Those inspections can be costly. For a smaller school it might be £6,000, and for a larger school it might be £20,000 or more.
Phil Hope: The new clause would introduce different inspection regimes and standards for different categories of school within the local authority maintained sector. That would be inappropriate and potentially damaging to standards and to public confidence in our school system. We have always been clear that trust schools, in common with all publicly funded schools, including academies and local authority maintained schools, should be subject to the same Ofsted inspection regime and held accountable in that way for delivering high-quality education to their pupils.
It cannot benefit anybody if different regimes and different requirements apply within the maintained sector. We intend, of course, that the reforms in this Bill, including the possibility for schools to acquire trust status, will continue to drive up standards. We are aiming for greater choice and diversity within the system with greater freedom for schools to work with external partners and so on, but a strong and unified inspection regime is crucial for this. In view of our concerns about the impact of the new clause, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the motion.
Mr. Leigh: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 42

Frequency of inspections (no. 2)
‘(1) Section 5 of EA 2005 (duty to inspect certain schools at prescribed intervals) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1) omit “at such intervals as may be prescribed,”.
(3) After subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) The normal frequency of inspections is to be every eight years, unless academic, discipline or other factors seem to the Chief Inspector to require more frequent inspections of a particular school.”.'.—[Mr. Leigh.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Leigh: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 42 would result in inspections being at eight-year intervals, unless there were special reasons for them to be otherwise. I believe that Ofsted should work more closely with schools on the necessity and timing of inspections. I do not believe that schools that are doing well need to be inspected more than once every eight years. I may be wrong, but I think that that used to be the pattern. Once every six is currently the norm, but it wastes a lot of time and money for good schools that are performing well. Could the Minister explain why it is necessary for schools to be inspected more frequently than once every eight years, unless there are special reasons?
Phil Hope: An eight-year cycle for school inspections would go in the opposite direction to the one that we wish to take. We are moving from a six-year cycle to a three-year cycle, with more frequent inspections for schools that cause concern. However, the hon. Gentleman has put his finger on an important point—how to handle the burden of inspections.
The change, which follows extensive consultation by Ofsted, is part of a wider package of measures, including shorter inspection visits conducted with minimal notice. The aim is to reduce the burden of inspection yet increase its impact with a view to improvement.
The three-year cycle, which has been in place since last September, ensures that inspectors have regular contact with schools. That allows problems to be spotted earlier and rectified sooner, with recommendations and their implementation being tested and good practice being shared; and it gives parents, prospective parents and the community more up-to-date information about a school’s performance.
To inspect every eight years would greatly increase the risk of schools deteriorating or merely coasting without showing any evidence of continuous improvement. It could often result in a school never being inspected during a child’s time there, and the parents would never receive an independent report on the school’s performance. That would be unacceptable.
Underlying concern about the burden of inspection can be resolved through other means, as I have illustrated, rather than proceeding as suggested in the new clause.
Mr. Leigh: I hear what the Minister says. The truth is that inspections used to be huge events in the lives of schools. An inspection by Her Majesty’s inspector was almost like the Queen turning up. It was a massive event. The trouble is that inspections have become more frequent, although I agree that they are less demanding, and a sense of complacency can creep into the system. I agree that because inspections are much more frequent they are less demanding; and there is more self-assessment, although there have been some worrying instances of self-assessment not being effective. I hear what the Minister says. We have had a short debate and we have aired the issue. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 50

Adult learning director
‘(1) One of the persons appointed to the staff of the Office under paragraph 6 of Schedule 11 is to be appointed as Adult Learning Director.
(2) The Adult Learning Director is to have such functions in relation to the performance by the Chief Inspector of functions relating to—
(a) inspection of employer- and work-based learning, and
(b) contacts with private businesses, sector skills councils and other bodies involved in employer- and work-based learning to ensure best practice in inspection,
as the Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe.
(3) Any report made under section 107 shall contain a report by the Adult Learning Director on the performance of his duties under this section, which shall include a report on the extent to which strong links with, and understanding of the needs of, employers have been developed.'. —[Mr. Hayes.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Hayes: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
We had a longish debate earlier about the changes in inspection that will result in adult learning being dealt with by Ofsted. The Minister said that that was in line with the Foster recommendations, and that the simplicity and clarity it would bring should lead to improvements.
The new clause would establish an adult learning director within Ofsted. The Minister said that much of the expertise and skills of the adult learning inspectorate would be incorporated into Ofsted in the form of the staff who previously worked for the ALI. The icing on the cake of appointing an adult learning director, in my judgment, would be that it gave leadership and focus, and once again it would send the important message to those who have doubts about the change that the Government take their concerns seriously.
I was disappointed earlier, but I hope that on this occasion the Minister will hear my argument and respond by accepting this measured and helpful new clause.
3.30 pm
Phil Hope: I am afraid that I will have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman again. I spoke at length in response to new clause 57 about why we do not want to create a federation of inspectorates within the new Ofsted, so I shall not repeat those arguments. New clause 50 would create a separate adult learning directorate within new Ofsted, and the same arguments apply.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s wish to put on record the requirement to safeguard the needs of adult learners and employers within the new system. That is the reason for the duty on the new non-executive board to have regard to the views of users, one of whom is the employer. During the consultation, we decided to expand Ofsted’s remit to include inspection for all learners, but it is important that the relationships that the adult learning inspectorate had already created, its credibility with employers and its best practices should not be lost. The hon. Gentleman is right—I described earlier how that would be safeguarded. We must get the transfer of the inspection remit right, and I believe that we have done that on this occasion.
I have one other thought about the proposal. Would not having a head of schools and a head of adult learning place a dividing line between the academic and the vocational? The hon. Gentleman and I have debated in the past the importance of not creating such divides. We want pathways between the vocational and the academic, so his idea does not stand up to scrutiny. There are significant benefits to a single inspectorate that is able to understand and recognise that employers and businesses need high-quality academic and vocational learning. Consequently, the new Ofsted inspectorate will be able to speak for both.
We do not believe that we need to include a report by the adult learning director as a statutory responsibility in the Bill. Clause 107 does not list specific items, and we have had this sort of debate before. The hon. Member for Brent, East made that point. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the chief inspector’s annual report will cover the full breadth of his remit. We have debated that.
Therefore, on the basis of the structural arguments that I have given, on the basis of an integrated inspection system that covers academic and vocational education for the benefit of employers and businesses, and on the basis of the board’s responsibility to take a user approach with employers, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the motion.
Mr. Hayes: The Under-Secretary made a convincing case on the structure and on lines of accountability, but I am not sure that his case on the perceptions of employers and others is as convincing. I cited the Institute of Directors earlier, but perhaps it is worth mentioning it again. The IOD argued that the change in the adult learning inspection was unconvincing. It stated:
“The operational benefits were unconvincing and the financial savings underwhelming.”
On perception, it stated that the new merged service will probably be seen as an inspectorate for education, not work-based or adult learning.
The perceptions of employers are critical for maintaining and growing employer engagement. The new clause, which would send out a powerful signal as well as add a level of co-ordination above and beyond what the Under-Secretary described, is of some importance, not because I think that the hon. Gentleman does not understand the issue or because I do not think that some of what he said is persuasive, but because I want to send out a loud and clear signal. Therefore, I am inclined to press the matter to a vote. We should not let Ministers off the hook, even when we come to the tail end of a Committee. Therefore, I invite Members from both sides of the Committee to join me in supporting the new clause.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 16.
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