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Baroness Walmsley: I rise briefly to support the amendment. It seems to me that the Government need to do everything that they can to increase the pool from which childminders can be drawn, while paying attention to appropriate quality at all times. Clearly, a great deal of benefit can be gained from the mutual group support that minders in such a situation can obtain. Moreover, this provides employment opportunities, and the chance to increase skills and qualifications among a group of people who may not otherwise have such opportunities. There would also be further benefits for their own families, as well as for the children whom they mind.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, Section 79A(2) of the Children Act 1989 clearly defines childminding for reward as taking place on domestic premises, and other forms of day care as taking place on non-domestic premises. I acknowledge that there are childcare facilities—I believe that the Soho family centre will have been in touch with noble Lords, as, indeed, it has been with me—that wish to operate on non-domestic premises and that seek to offer the kind of service for parents, children, and the local community normally associated with childminding.

I recognise that childminding is an attractive option for some people who, for different reasons, may not wish to work in their own home. We have been in touch with Ofsted, and we are assured that such arrangements can be accommodated under existing group day care registration requirements with little or no impact on the service to parents and children. Ofsted has also advised that it stands ready to consider favourably an application from the Soho family centre on this basis. I can tell the Committee that there is no question of such a valuable local facility being closed down if such an application is made. As I said previously, the head of Ofsted's Early Years section, Maggie Smith, is making a courtesy visit on 11th June. I use the word "courtesy", because this will not be an inspection. I hope that that issue will be quickly resolved.

The point about the proposed amendment is that it would make a fundamental change in the legislation. Although I accept the reasons behind the amendment, there are wider implications involved. I do not believe that I should accept the latter without consulting within the childcare profession by talking to childminders, the National Childminders' Association, the Daycare Trust, and others, with whom I launched "National Childcare Month" today. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walsmley, will be aware, I did so specifically to continue to increase the pool of childminders available to us. With those reassurances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

I have been worrying for some hours about the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on the ratio of one teacher to every 10 children in a playgroup. It did not ring any bells with me, so I took

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the trouble of asking the department to send the figures over to me, as it is important for those who will read the debate in Hansard, and indeed for the playgroups about which the noble Baroness is concerned. The target is that by 2004 all settings delivering a foundation-stage curriculum should have access to input and advice from a qualified teacher. The target ratio for involvement is one teacher to every 10 non-maintained settings. We are seeking that for every 10 playgroups or settings there should be one qualified teacher available to offer advice and support for those delivering the curriculum.

I hope that that will change the nature of the issue and that Members of the Committee will be reassured.

Lord Northbourne: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask a question. Will the alternative form of registration, which I understand is proposed for the Soho family centre and other similar centres, increase the cost of the provision?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: That would have an impact on parents. I am assured that this measure can be carried out without an impact on parents. It is my assumption—I would certainly want to know the reason if it were to have that effect—that there will be no increased cost. If that is incorrect, the noble Lord will wish to return to the issue on Report. In the meantime, I will have written to him if my assumption is incorrect.

Lord Northbourne: I am most grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 147 agreed to.

Schedule 13 agreed to.

Clauses 148 to 150 agreed to.

Schedule 14 [Inspection of nursery education]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 326:

    Page 170, line 37, at end insert—

"Rights of entry

In paragraph 18 of Schedule 26 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) (rights of entry), in sub-paragraph 2(b) for "which he requires" there is substituted "which he reasonably requires"."

The noble Baroness said: There are two reasons why the amendment is important. First, by referring the Minister to paragraph 18 of Schedule 26 to the 1998 Act I hope I may raise her awareness of the Gothic horror of bureaucracy which has been allowed to grow since 1997, under which schools, teachers and governors now labour.

Something needs to be done about that regulatory nightmare. I hope it will be addressed positively, well before Report. The Minister should not underestimate the importance the professional world of teaching attaches to getting a grip on the department's bureaucracy.

Secondly, the amendment adds a further test of reasonableness to the behaviour of inspectors. Nursery schools are typically small, local affairs, run

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by dedicated teachers and managers. They should not be borne down by bureaucracy, yet wherever one goes in the nursery world one hears tales of endless and endlessly changing demands for paperwork that have little or nothing to do with the mission of teaching.

I know schools where papers, policy documents and reports demanded by inspectors for just one inspection fill many boxes. There should be a test of reasonableness in the quantity and the nature of the material demanded by inspectors, particularly when schools can be rendered guilty of a criminal offence for non-compliance.

If the Minister were to agree to insert a defence of reasonableness, it would be a positive signal to nursery schools up and down the land. It would be even better if she were to clamp down on the misplaced zeal of paperchasers everywhere. I can think of no sensible reason why the amendment should be resisted. If it is, I promise the Minister that it will result in great disappointment throughout the nursery education sector—and we wouldn't want that to happen, would we? I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I have no evidence to suggest that the early years sector would be disappointed. I will resist the amendment because it is unnecessary. I take on what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is saying about making sure that we do not overburden schools. The department has been looking at the issue and has cut back on the amount of paper and work sent to schools. However, we are always looking to ensure that we give schools the right kind of information for there is, as ever, a balance to be struck.

Paragraph 18(2)(b) of Schedule 26 to the School Standards and Framework Act already makes it clear that a nursery education inspector or a member of the inspectorate monitoring inspection should copy only documents that are required for the purposes of conducting or monitoring the inspection. And in exercising statutory functions under the School Standards and Framework Act, the chief inspector must in any case act reasonably according to the normal principles of administrative law. There is of course an official complaints procedure for any provider who believes that Ofsted acted unreasonably.

The inspection framework governing nursery education is not designed to be onerous and burdensome. Inspections of nursery education are carried our every two to four years except where there are concerns or where weaknesses have been identified. In those cases, a subsequent inspection is carried out within one to two years. In addition, Ofsted has recently reviewed the inspection framework for funded nursery education. As a result, combining nursery education inspections with the annual Children Act inspections will produce a more streamlined service for providers. I am sure that that will be welcomed by the noble Baroness.

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I believe that the addition of the word "reasonable" is therefore unnecessary and on that basis I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: There appear to be two worlds: that of the department and the real world in which schools exist. The schools in the real world are experiencing over-zealous demands for paperwork and preparation for inspections. The Minister says that there is nothing to worry about, that it does not happen and that many safeguards are in place. However, the truth is that it is happening in reality and it is being experienced in particular by the small nursery schools which are now subject to inspection.

I cannot see what is wrong with the word "reasonable". Its inclusion will send out a message that at least there is a test of reasonableness to be applied. It would cost nothing and it would be so comforting to a sector of education which the Government want to cherish and nurture. It is a mean-spirited rejection and I am sorry it has happened so late at night. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but I shall return to it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 14 agreed to.

Clause 151 [Meaning of "nursery school" and "primary education"]:

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