Education and Skills Bill

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Clause 94

Power to inspect registered institution
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 130, in clause 94, page 54, line 29, at end insert
‘, or any other standard considered to be relevant by the independent inspectorate.’.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the Independent Schools Inspectorate can look beyond what is specified by the chief inspector. That concern was raised by the ISI in its comments on the clause. It said:
“We would want to look at more than an area which may be specified, if it was appropriate.”
The concern is that this provision might restrict that.
Jim Knight: The clause aims to strike a balance. It will not impose any requirement on the inspectorate to report on standards additional to those specified by the chief inspector. Equally, it will not restrict the freedom of the independent inspectorate to inspect against a wider range of standards than those specified by the chief inspector, if the independent inspectorate thinks it appropriate. The amendment would remove that flexibility by requiring the independent inspectorate to report on additional standards.
Given that the clause does not restrict the freedom of independent inspectorates and that if the Independent Schools Inspectorate wants to add additional standards and inspect against them, it is perfectly at liberty to do so, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Gibb: On the basis of that response, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 94 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 95 to 97 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 98

Publication of inspection reports
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 131, in clause 98, page 55, line 41, at end insert
‘except for reports of inspections carried out in response to a specific complaint.’.
This is a probing amendment to ascertain the implications of the clause and what happens if a specific complaint against a school led to an inspection and the complaint derived from a confidential matter, perhaps relating to something that happened to a pupil in the school. Will the Minister address that point?
Jim Knight: Inspection reports on all educational institutions are published regularly, so that parents and other interested parties have access to objective judgments about the quality of education provided. Indeed, the provisions of the Bill will add to that information by having Ofsted report on registration of a school, which it currently does not have to do.
Clause 98 follows the established practice in allowing the chief inspector to arrange for the publication of any inspection report she prepares following inspections of independent educational institutions. Under the Bill, the Secretary of State will continue to be able to prescribe the manner in which the chief inspector’s reports are published. The clause does not require, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said, the chief inspector automatically to publish inspection reports carried out in response to a specific complaint, but it gives her the power to do so. That is an important distinction, because it is easy to see a situation where inspectors find no evidence to substantiate a complaint, which may have been made maliciously. In such cases it is unlikely that publishing the report would be appropriate, and the clause gives the chief inspector the discretion to decide not to publish.
On the other hand, there are circumstances in which the chief inspector may decide that it is in the public interest to publish a report, even though it has been prompted by a complaint. For instance, if an inspection stemming from a complaint identified serious regulatory failings, the chief inspector might decide that it would be appropriate to publish the report so that parents were aware of the shortcomings of the institution.
Mr. Heald: Am I correct in thinking that children would not be named in the course of the report—that it would be anonymised, so that the public reading the report would not be aware of embarrassing details about particular youngsters?
Jim Knight: I am confident that safeguards will be in place, as in the normal course of operations—how we report court proceedings and so on—to protect children. I do not have the specific information with me now, but if it is any different to the common-sense arrangement that the hon. Gentleman and I envisage, I will write to the Committee to inform Members of what the situation will be.
On the basis that we have a flexible system, which allows discretion according to individual circumstances, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Gibb: On the basis of those words, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 98 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 9 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 100

Power of Chief Inspector to take enforcement action
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Gibb: The clause relates to the power of the chief inspector to take enforcement action. Subsection (4) says that:
“the Chief Inspector has, during the period of three years before the enforcement action is taken, required the...institution to submit”
an action plan. The comment of the Independent Schools Inspectorate is that, for such a school, that seems like a long period in which to require an action plan and to allow the school to languish in that condition. Will the Minister say why the figure of three years was put into the clause?
Jim Knight: The clause sets out the circumstances in which the chief inspector may take enforcement action—under clause 101, which we are about to come on to—against the proprietor of a failing independent educational institution. In order to take enforcement action, the chief inspector must be satisfied that the institution is failing to meet one or more of the regulatory standards. However, to take enforcement action, one of two conditions must first be met.
First, the proprietor must, as we heard, in the previous three years have been required to submit at least one action plan, setting out how the regulatory failings would be dealt with. Where that action plan was not submitted by the required date, was rejected by the chief inspector, or was approved but later not complied with, the first condition is met. Alternatively, where the proprietor was required to submit an action plan at least two years previously, and at least one inspection has taken place since then and the chief inspector is satisfied that at no time in the two-year period has the institution met all the standards, the second condition is met.
The problems identified would not necessarily be allowed to go on for three years, but it is important that schools be given time to put an action plan in place. Three years is the period in current practice, but it would be extremely unusual for Ofsted to allow a situation to carry on for that long. I will reflect on whether three years bears my scrutiny. If I do not raise the matter on Report and the hon. Gentleman wishes to do so, I will come back with the answer as to why three years is right. Indeed, I might even write to him and to the Committee if I believe we need to set things out in more detail. As I understand it, however, the clause simply reflects the present situation.
The clause carries forward provisions in existing legislation, but amends them to allow enforcement action to be taken where institutions do not sustain previous improvements or fail to meet all the regulatory standards. It is essential that action be taken, and I hope we can agree that the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Gibb: The provision contradicts the very welcome policy in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 that brings about closure of a poorly performing school within 12 months. I welcome the fact that the Minister will reflect further.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 100 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause s 101 to 114 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 115

Directions under section 113: information
Jim Knight: I beg to move amendment No. 207, in clause 115, page 64, line 29, leave out ‘in connection with the Secretary of State’s functions’.
Mr. Bayley, listening to you read the numbers of the preceding series of clauses made me think that if you need another job, bingo calling might be the one for you.
Clause 115 carries forward provisions already in place in existing legislation. It enables the sharing of information between relevant authorities to prevent an unsuitable person from working with children by participating in the management of an independent educational institution. Relevant authorities are the chief inspector, the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers, the Independent Barring Board and the General Teaching Councils for both England and Wales. This will assist relevant authorities to discharge effectively their statutory functions to protect children and vulnerable adults from those who might cause them harm.
The amendment allows the Secretary of State to share with the authority responsible for making the direction under clause 113 any information which may be relevant to consideration of a direction to prohibit a person from participating in the management of an independent educational institution. It will bring consistency between England and Wales and allow the Secretary of State to share any information that may be relevant.
Amendment agreed to.
The Chairman: I did not want to interrupt the Minister in full flow, but as an accomplished and experienced part-time bingo caller, I should remind him that numbers above 100 do not appear on the bingo card.
Clause 115, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 116 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 117

Providers of independent education or training for 16 to 18 year olds
2.45 pm
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Hayes: I felt it was important to say a word about this clause on the grounds that we have not said anything on clause stand part for a long time. We do not want it to be thought that the Committee is not scrutinising the Bill with appropriate diligence.
According to the explanatory notes, clause 117
“enables regulations to be made allowing for any part of this Chapter to apply to this particular group of learning providers”—
the learning providers in question being independent providers of education or training for 16 to 18-year-olds. Clauses 117 and 118 deal only with those organisations. However, the explanatory notes go on to explain that this group of providers
“do not receive any state funding from the LSC.”
Is it really necessary to regulate the sector further? Is there any evidence that those providers are failing to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of young people? If not, and the current regulatory regime works for them, why do we need to change it? We should never legislate unless there is a proven need to do so. I look to the Minister to establish that proven need in the mind of the Committee.
Jim Knight: Those who have been listening and who might have wondered why we did not talk about previous clauses may be reassured to know that in large part they repeat what was in previous legislation, but in respect of the transfer of functions.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about why we should worry about standards or requirements beyond ordinary health and safety law for those providers of education for 16 to 18-year-olds. There are important minimum regulatory standards that we should put in place beyond health and safety, particularly in respect of child welfare and child protection. This is a good opportunity to do so.
In placing a new duty on all young people to continue to participate in education or training until they are 18, it is right that we take the power to set standards to ensure that they are healthy, safe and supported wherever they choose to fulfil the duty that we discussed at such length under part 1. In many ways the provision is not a response to any specific evidence that there is a failure on the part of those providers. It is much more a consequence of raising the participation age through part 1. I hope, on that basis, that the Committee will support the clause.
Mr. Hayes: I simply say to the Minister that it would perhaps be useful if he could give us some idea of the history in this area—not now because I would not expect him to have this sort of information at his fingertips. If no concerns have been expressed about the way the system operates now and if there is no record of problems relating to child protection, health and safety and welfare, the only grounds I can see for introducing the clause is to establish consistency. That may be sufficient of itself, but it is important to know whether that is the only basis on which the proposal is being made.
Jim Knight: It is about slightly more than consistency. As we have discussed, new forms of provision will be developed by various organisations from the third sector and elsewhere to engage people who are particularly difficult to engage. There will be an expansion of provision in an area where there are no statutory duties in respect of safety and well-being. Consequential to raising the participation age and to all the extra provision, it is also important—beyond the need for consistency—to lay down statutory duties to safeguard the well-being of the especially vulnerable people we want to engage. Any regulations laid, however, will be dealt with through the affirmative procedure, after consultation, as set out in clause 118(2). We might go on to discuss that if anyone is minded to do so. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman—and the rest of the Committee—reassurance.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 117 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 118 to 124 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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Prepared 29 February 2008