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Baroness Blatch: It will come as no surprise that we do not agree with the whole process of organisation committees and adjudicators. It is almost a contradiction. Local authorities have a responsibility to ensure that standards are maintained in their schools, yet another body which is divorced from them and on which they have only partial representation will make the recommendations and the decision. That will then go to an all-powerful, single person.

We have already seen the quality of the judgments made by adjudicators who have not performed well. They have cost the taxpayers considerable sums of money when they have acted beyond their remit. I therefore have grave reservations about the proposals, but I should like the Minister to answer one or two questions.

First, what period do the Government have in mind beyond which a decision will automatically be taken from the organisation committee and referred to the adjudicator? Secondly, will the Minister be kind enough to repeat the fourth criterion for reference to an adjudicator?

Lord Bach: As regards the noble Baroness's second question, the third and fourth sets of circumstances apply to the committee's consideration of changes to proposals already approved; for example, to modify the date of implementation or to remove the duty to implement the proposals. These cases are similarly referred to the adjudicator where the committee has not been able to reach a decision or where it has taken no action within a specified time.

In reply to the noble Baroness's first question, the period is likely to be about two months.

Baroness Blatch: Perhaps I may come back on both of those points. I thought that the period of time was the third criterion. I had not realised that it was also the fourth and that the Minister had read them out as being separate.

Given the length of time that previously the Secretary of State has taken to make decisions, we know that they can be complicated and extremely complex when more than one school in an area is being reorganised. Two months is a short time in which to make a decision. The proposition appears to be totally inflexible; it appears to be two months unless the Secretary of State determines otherwise. As regards the third and fourth criteria, if the organisation committee cannot reach a decision it can refer the matter to the adjudicator. Must that also be a unanimous decision?

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Lord Bach: I shall be frank with the noble Baroness and say that I cannot answer that question now, but I promise to write to her with an answer. If one is forthcoming, I shall give it to her in order to save the stamp!

I repeat that the fourth set of circumstances is where the committee votes but is not unanimous. However, that is not a complete answer to the noble Baroness's question. So, I shall pay the price of a stamp and write to her with the correct answer.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord. It will be most helpful to have a full answer. There appears to be a first, second and third set of criteria, but no fourth. Some clarification and confirmation on the other questions I have put to the noble Lord would be very helpful.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 210B, 210C and 210D:

    Page 70, line 9, leave out ("in the same way as") and insert ("for all purposes of this Schedule and the School Inspections Act 1996 as if it were").

    Page 70, line 10, leave out ("the School Inspections Act 1996") and insert ("that Act").

    Page 70, line 17, leave out ("or a report under paragraph 3 of this Schedule").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 210E:

    Page 70, line 26, at end insert--

("(3) Sub-paragraph (2)(b) above shall not apply where a report is made within six months of the previous report.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 210E, I should like to speak at the same time to Amendment No. 210M. We welcome the Minister's assurance that the proposals put forward for Schedule 7 will not target small sixth forms, in particular those in rural areas. We accept that high standards are necessary and that it is usual for Ofsted to make such inspections.

However, we have reservations about the details of Schedule 7 and have thus tabled a series of amendments. Amendment No. 210E refers to sub-paragraph (2)(b) to ensure that it,

    "shall not apply where a report is made within six months of the previous report".

This aims to ensure that, if a second inspection report becomes a trigger for the publication of proposals to close a sixth form, it should not be made within six months of the previous report, thereby giving the school sixth form a reasonable period of time in which to make rapid improvements and turn itself around.

Amendment No. 210M removes the provision to allow an inspection report made before the Act is passed to be counted for the purposes of allowing publication of a proposal to close down a school sixth form or sixth-form centre. The amendment would

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ensure that the mechanisms of the Bill come into play only once the Bill becomes an Act, and not before. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: I rise to support the noble Baroness. We have already touched on the issue of the period between inspections. I believe that there is a strong argument for the period to be longer than six months and I gather from the Minister that it is likely to be so. However, I agree with the noble Baroness that a form of words giving effect to that should be put on the face of the Bill.

I support absolutely the removal of retrospection. It is a bad thing in principle, and I certainly support Amendment No. 210M.

Baroness Blackstone: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for her support for the necessity to maintain high standards in this area.

First, on Amendment No. 210E, the Government's policy is that where post-16 learning provision is not of the quality expected, the provider will be given a reasonable amount of time to make the necessary improvements. Only where adequate progress is not made by the end of the period would we look to the LSC or the CETW to propose remedial action. In the case of inadequate sixth forms, we intend that the time to be allowed for a school to make the necessary improvements will generally be around two years. However, we want to have the necessary flexibility to deal appropriately with each case. I am sure that the noble Baroness will accept that a little flexibility here is desirable.

At the end of the period, the sixth-form provision will be reinspected and an adverse report from that second inspection would, as noble Lords know, trigger the LSC and the CETW's powers to propose closure. I understand the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness that this power should not be triggered by a reinspection after an unreasonably short interval. Together with the National Assembly, we shall certainly be guarding against that risk when we agree with the respective schools inspectorates the detailed arrangements for reinspecting inadequate sixth forms. I can reassure the noble Baroness that no sixth form will be placed in jeopardy by a premature reinspection; namely, before it has had a real opportunity to make the improvements needed after an adverse inspection report. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Perhaps I may now turn to the second amendment in this grouping, Amendment No. 210M. The inclusion of paragraph 11 in Schedule 7 again reflects our commitment to high quality in post-16 education and the need for any necessary improvements to be made quickly. After all, students have only two years in a sixth form. Those are two extremely important

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years in terms of their futures. Where a school or LEA-maintained 16 to 19 institution has had an adverse report, action needs to be taken straightaway. That is no less true where an adverse report is made before this Bill is passed and the schedule comes into effect.

If the second inspection report finds that students continue to be short-changed because the necessary improvements have not been made, we would not want the LSC or the CETW to be prevented from proposing remedial action until there had been a third adverse report. Under current inspection arrangements, the school as a whole may be deemed to require special measures because it is failing to provide its pupils with an adequate standard of education. A school supported by an LEA must take action to tackle the problems. If a school sorts out a number of problems but fails to address the inadequacy of the sixth form, a further report under the arrangements now planned may state that that sixth form is still failing. In such circumstances, the provisions now under debate would allow the LSC to take action.

I recognise that the amendment is intended to provide a safeguard for schools. However, we have already written into the provisions a number of safeguards: at least two adverse reports, statutory processes and so forth. Paragraph 11 of Schedule 7 provides a safeguard for students against low standards, which is the other side of the coin. We believe that the need to ensure high quality should take priority in this case. I very much hope that the noble Baroness will share this view and that she will feel able not to move this amendment.

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