Education and Skills Bill
Unregistered independent educational institutions: offence
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 153, in clause 80, page 49, line 7, leave out 51 weeks and insert six months.
A number of the provisions in part 4 repeat provisions from the Education Act 2002. Clause 80 essentially replicates section 159 of the 2002 Act but with changes to reflect the new term educational institution. Clause 80, however, prescribes a punishment for conducting an unregulated educational institution as up to 51 weeks in prison. The 2002 Act, even with amendments subsequent to 2002, carries a maximum sentence of six months. Will the Minister explain the reason for the change of policy? Is it to get more people into our jails, which appear to be lacking in customers, or is there a more specific reason?
Jim Knight: The clause provides that anyone who runs an independent educational institution is committing an offence if he operates without registering the institution.
The clause sets out the maximum penalties that can be imposed on conviction for an offence of operating an unregistered independent educational institution. The 51 weeks maximum sentence increases the sentence of six months. That change simply reflects wider amendments to sentencing law that are set out in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which extended the maximum sentence available to magistrates courts because short sentences have proved to be ineffective and inefficient in certain circumstances. This is not the right place to debate the sentencing requirements of the 2003 Act. On that basis, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Gibb: It is important to put that explanation on the record, as the Minister has done. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 80 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause s 81 to 84 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 53, in clause 85, page 51, line 12, at end insert one or more.
Clause 86 requires an independent educational institution to apply to Ofsted for approval for any change that is material. Material is defined as a change involving any of the items listed in clause 82(3),
(e) whether the institution provides accommodation for students;
(f) whether the institution is specially organised to make special educational provision for students with special educational needs
If an institution changes to provide one of those two things, that is regarded as material.
The purpose of this probing amendment is to ascertain whether it would be material change, as specified in subsection (f), if a school catered for just one student with those needs, or whether the school would have to become wholly or mainly involved in special educational needs for it to be regarded as such. My question relates to the definition of what constitutes material in subsection (f).
Jim Knight: I will be brief, to help the Committee, and will answer the hon. Gentlemans question simply. In legal terms, the use of the word students in the plural in this context includes institutions specially organised for just one student with special educational needs. The amendment would clarify unnecessarily matters that are covered by the existing drafting. On the basis of that direct, short answer to his direct question, I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Gibb: I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 85 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 86 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Inspection and report where applications made for approval
if he regards the change to be of such significance as to warrant an inspection,
(1A) In determining whether the change is of such significance, the Chief Inspector shall have regard to precedents..
The purpose of the amendment is to probe the issue of material change and what would constitute a change that was significant enough to warrant an inspection. The size of Ofsted necessitates that it is a somewhat bureaucratic organisation, so the fear is whether any change reported to Ofsted as the new registration body for independent schools would trigger an inspection, and that relates to the debate that we had about Ofsted-isation.
The purpose of the amendment is to try to get on the record the Ministers opinion on the degree of change that would need to take place for something to be material, because there is a fear that, once responsibility is transferred to Ofsted, simply reporting a change could trigger an inspectionat the moment such a change would be reported to one of the 18.2 officials in his Department who would record it and the school would just carry on. That is not to say that those schools are frightened of inspection, as they welcome it. They are concerned, however, about the bureaucratic driver of that. If the Minster could give them some reassurance, that would be welcome.
Jim Knight: Clause 87 allows the chief inspector to conduct inspections when considering applications from independent educational institutions for prior approval of material changes. In most institutions, a material change will be the introduction of boarding or a change to become specially organised to make provision for students with special educational needs. Where institutions are specially organised to make provision for students with special educational needs, a material change will be any significant change in their provision, as recorded in the institutions registered details.
It is particularly important that safeguards are in place to ensure that new boarding provision and any changes to provision for students with special educational needs will not endanger the welfare, health and safety of students. The thrust of the amendment would remove the chief inspectors discretion to decide whether an institution proposing a significant change should be inspected. It would restrict the chief inspector by requiring her to refer to past cases that may or may not be relevant when considering the merits of a specific proposal.
I get the thrust of what the hon. Gentleman seeks reassurance on, which is that the clause might allow the chief inspector too much latitude to inspect schools for all sorts of minor changes. I can reassure him that approval of a change is required only where the change is materialin other words, in significant cases. Not all changes will require approval, and a large number of changes will not require prior approval. Indeed, for those institutions that are not specially organised to make provision for students with special educational needs, the Bill reduces the number of changes that count as material and so require approval by the chief inspector. They will no longer have to get approval from the chief inspector for a change in proprietor, address, the age range of pupils, the maximum number of pupils or whether the school is for male or female pupils or both. That is further deregulation for us to celebrate.
The only changes that will require approval are the introduction of boarding provision and the change to become specially organised for students with special educational needs. Where a material change is proposed, the chief inspector should have a free hand to inspect when she considers it appropriate to do so, and she should not be restricted in the way that the amendment sets out. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is sensible, will withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Gibb: I am grateful for that helpful response, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 87 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Determination of applications for approval
(2A) Any such other evidence referred to in subsection (2)(B) must be made available to the independent educational institution..
Clause 88(2) contains a phrase that is of concern. Paragraph (a) states that in coming to a decision the inspector must take into account
the findings of any inspection carried out under section 87,
but paragraph (b) then states that the inspector must also take into account
any other evidence relating to the independent educational institution standards.
The amendment would ensure transparency because Ofsted would have to make such evidence available to the school. Again, it is a probing amendment, and if the Minister could provide a little more light on the meaning of that phrase, to alleviate any concerns that might exist in the independent sector, that would be very helpful.
Jim Knight: In deciding whether or not to approve a material change, the chief inspector must take account of the findings of any inspection carried out to consider the institutions readiness to make the change, and any other evidence available. To help reassure the
Where the chief inspector is satisfied that the institution is likely to continue to meet the regulatory standards once the changes are made, she must approve the change. If she is not satisfied, she must refuse approval for the change to be made. The chief inspector must inform the proprietor of her decision. Information received from bodies such as the fire and rescue service, the HSE and the environmental health agency would routinely be shared with institutions. The amendment would not change current procedures, which would then reasonably allow those institutions to make the necessary changes to conform. However, confidential information from parents, the Criminal Records Bureau, social services or the police would not routinely be shared for obvious reasons. Disclosure to the relevant institution would be determined according to the circumstances of the case. In some cases it would appropriate; in others, it would not.
I do not think we should fetter the discretion of the chief inspector by requiring her to disclose all the available evidence, regardless of the circumstance. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Gibb: This was a probing amendment and the Minister has been very helpful in his response. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 88 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 89 to 91 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Duty to inspect certain registered institutions at prescribed intervals
(2A) For the purpose of subsection (2) the Independent Schools Inspectorate shall inspect independent educational institutions that are
(a) members of Independent Schools Council associations, and
(b) all other registered independent educational institutions other than schools belonging to the Focus Learning Trust..
The amendment would enable the Government to achieve a more unified approach than their proposal to transfer regulation monitoring of independent schools to Ofsted. Its purpose is to keep the registration and monitoring with the Department and instead to unify the inspection by having all non-Independent Schools Council schools other than those which will be inspected by the Focus Learning Trust or the other new
Jim Knight: It will not surprise the Committee that I want to resist this amendment. The debates on part 4 have used the language of choice and flexibility. The argument goes that independent schools should have the flexibility within the basic regulatory regime to operate as their name suggeststhat is, independently. Indeed, one witness described a parents choice to educate their child outside the control of the state as a human right. I do not fundamentally disagree with the sentiment about choice and flexibility, and that is why I am intrigued by the purpose and effect of the amendment.
Ofsted is the principal inspection body in England. The breadth of institutions that it covers, including a significant number of independent schools, gives it a unique perspective on the English education system. Moreover, public confidence in Ofsted is high. The Government recognise that choice and diversity are important in the independent sector, precisely because it is independent. Parents of children in the independent sector often desire a more tailored and detailed analysis of their school than Ofsted can provide through inspections that focus solely on regulatory standards. That is why the Education Act 2002 enabled the Secretary of State to approve bodies other than Ofsted to inspect educational provision in independent schools.
The Independent Schools Inspectorate has inspected independent schools belonging to the Independent Schools Council for several years. Since 2002, two further inspectorates have been approved. The amendment would exclude one of those. The Schools Inspection Service inspects schools affiliated to the Focus Learning Trust and the Bridge Schools Inspectorate has just been approved to inspect schools belonging to the Christian Schools Trust and the Association of Muslim Schools.
On the other hand, there are a considerable number of schools that choose not to be affiliated to any particular group or organisation and who are not inspected by an independent inspectorate. Such schools are inspected by Ofsted and the Government believe that the option to have Ofsted as the inspection body should be open to all independent schools. The amendment would close off that possibility, replacing Ofsted and the Bridge Schools Inspectorate with one organisation: the Independent Schools Inspectorate. That would remove the choice that independent educational institutions desire. In the light of my compelling reasoning, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Gibb: The Ministers compelling reasoning is that he does not want to create a unified body, which undermines the thrust of the policy behind part 4. However, we have aired this debate at great length and I do not propose to do so again. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 92 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 93 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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