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Lord Davies of Oldham: I quoted the junior school improvements, not those for secondary schools.

Baroness Blatch: That is an interesting ploy. I did not mention primary schools. I was referring to

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secondary schools and I would expect the noble Lord to answer the specific points that I raised, not those that I did not raise.

It would be helpful to know between now and Report stage what is the strategy referred to in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. Who does the assessment? Where are the reports and why have we not received them? I withdraw my opposition to the Question that Clause 180 should stand part of the Bill.

Clause 180 agreed to.

Schedule 15 agreed to.

Clause 181 agreed to.

Schedule 16 [Amendments of School Inspections Act 1996]:

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 337:


    Page 174, line 22, at end insert—


"In section 2(7) of that Act after paragraph (a) there is inserted—
"(b) shall at least once in each period of five years commencing upon the coming into effect of this Act, carry out a review of the system and framework of inspection and report thereon to the Secretary of State who shall lay a copy of that report before each House of Parliament;"."

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to ensure a five yearly review of the working of Ofsted. If the DfES and Ofsted consider that four or five yearly inspections of schools help them to become dynamic organisations, responsive to a changing world, surely the same can be said about Ofsted itself. The more important one considers the work of Ofsted to be, the more important it is to enhance its public accountability by a regular review by Parliament of how it is working. That is what the proposed wording of paragraph (b) would do.

The Government have recently allowed a review of Ofsted, although not as radical a review as some would have wished. However, this amendment would put such a regular review on the face of the Bill and ensure the benefits of self-evaluation and the informed advice of so-called critical friends for Ofsted itself.

In the decade since Ofsted was established the arrangements for school inspections have evolved considerably. And yet, at the end of 2000, many policy makers and influencers, including the chief inspector, made statements which led many of us to expect a more radical shake-up of the system. It is no bad thing that that should happen to this large organisation every five years. After all, if education itself is changing in response to a changing world, it is reasonable to expect that the system of its inspection should do so too.

One of the most fundamental changes has been the move towards more on-going self-evaluation. We on these Benches hope that this will contribute to improvements in schools and teacher morale. However, the old saying, "What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" might apply here. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Baroness will recognise that the chief inspector already has a

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statutory duty to keep the system of regular school inspection under review. There is no doubting the fact that there has been considerable development of that system since Ofsted's inception in 1992. Indeed, the inspection framework has been subject to regular review and amendment, to reflect the changing legislative and educational environment in which Ofsted operates.

Developments, such as a reduction in the notice period before an inspection, the introduction of more flexible arrangements in which the interval between inspections varies according to the particular circumstances and performance of schools, and shorter inspections for the most effective schools—to name a few—demonstrate that today's system has evolved significantly over the 10 years of Ofsted's existence. The current arrangements have not hindered that development; in fact, they have enabled valuable changes to be implemented as part of a continuous process of reflection and adjustment to changing circumstances.

As I am sure noble Lords are aware, Ofsted has recently conducted a wholesale review of the inspection system, and has consulted widely on a range of proposals to make inspection more responsive to the different circumstances and priorities of schools; more supportive of school improvement; better informed about the views of stakeholders; and better co-ordinated with other inspection and monitoring activity. The consultation document was sent to every school in the country, and the proposals have received widespread support. Ofsted intends to implement the changes from 2003.

Her Majesty's chief inspector is the head of a non-ministerial government department and is, therefore, directly accountable to Parliament for the management of Ofsted, and for the public funds that it administers. In practice, parliamentary scrutiny operates principally through the Education Select Committee in another place. As noble Lords will be aware, that committee has taken a close interest in Ofsted's operations; for example, in 1999 it undertook a very detailed review of Ofsted, and produced an equally detailed report on Ofsted's work. The committee has since established arrangements whereby the chief inspector appears before the committee at least twice a year, providing an opportunity for regular parliamentary scrutiny.

The new chief inspector, David Bell, who took office on the 1st May, has already appeared before the Select Committee—an indication, I am sure noble Lords will agree, of the seriousness with which the committee undertakes its responsibilities to hold Ofsted to account. During that session, David Bell recognised that the inspection system had evolved significantly during the past 10 years; and he confirmed his commitment to further evolutionary change.

Our aim, and that of Her Majesty's chief inspector, is to ensure that school inspections continue to provide a rigorous external check on schools' performance, and achieve the best possible value for money. I can offer the noble Baroness an assurance that we shall

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continue to work with HM chief inspector to ensure that inspection remains relevant to the needs of schools and parents. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will accept this assurance. I also hope that she will recognise that the current arrangements, which include a statutory duty to keep the inspection system under review, foster a process of continual review and development and, therefore, are more appropriate to the ever-changing educational landscape than any five-year review could conceivably be.

As for parliamentary accountability, I am sure that the noble Baroness will recognise the value of the Select Committee in another place, and its determination to hold Ofsted to account. On the basis of my reply, I trust that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Walmsley: The increase in scrutiny of Ofsted over the years is most welcome; particularly the scrutiny by the Select Committee. Evolution and constant improvement are also welcome. The idea of a five-yearly review was not to replace, but to complement that scrutiny. It is sometimes a good idea to do some spring cleaning and take a radical root-and-branch look at a system and the way its structure is working. Although I believe that it is still a good idea, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 16 agreed to.

Clause 182 agreed to.

Schedule 17 [Amendments of Part 5 of Education Act 1997]:

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendment No. 338:


    Page 176, line 5, at end insert—


"A1 (1) Section 23 of the Education Act 1997 (c. 44) (functions of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in relation to curriculum and assessment) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1) for the words from "with respect to" to the end there is substituted "with respect to—
(a) pupils at maintained schools in England who have not ceased to be of compulsory school age,
(b) pupils at maintained nursery schools in England, and
(c) children for whom funded nursery education is provided in England otherwise than at a maintained school or maintained nursery school."
(3) In subsection (2)—
(a) in paragraph (a), for "such schools" there is substituted "maintained schools or maintained nursery schools", and
(b) paragraph (f) and the word "and" immediately preceding it are omitted.
(4) After subsection (2) there is inserted—
"(2A) In subsection (2) references to the curriculum for a maintained nursery school include references to the curriculum for any funded nursery education provided as mentioned in subsection (1)(b); and references to assessment in schools include references to assessment in funded nursery education."
(5) Subsections (3) and (4) are omitted.

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(6) In subsection (5), after "test;" there is inserted—
""funded nursery education" has the meaning given by section 73 of the Education Act 2002;"."

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 338 I shall speak also to government Amendments Nos. 340, 375, 378 and 380. They are technical amendments and consequential repeals rectifying an overlap of powers in the education legislation. These relate to the foundation stage and the functions of the Qualifications Curriculum Authority—QCA—for England and the Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority—ACCAC—for Wales as set out in Sections 23 and 29 of the Education Act 1997.

They seek to provide consistent roles for QCA and ACCAC so that their functions in relation to children below compulsory school age in foundation stage settings are brought into line with their functions in relation to children who have reached compulsory school age.

I turn to the more substantive government Amendments Nos. 339, 341 and 342. Recent events have revealed that the regulatory authorities' current powers need to be improved if they are to safeguard the effective delivery of qualifications where there has been a failure or there is a serious risk of failure. Currently, if an awarding body is not delivering qualifications satisfactorily, the regulatory authority may make recommendations for improvement. If the awarding body does not co-operate, the authority may withdraw accreditation, and the Secretary of State's approval, from the qualifications concerned. However, that is of no help where learners have begun a course of study leading to a qualification and so withdrawal of accreditation would be impractical. Amendments Nos. 339 and 341 will fill that gap in relation to England and Wales.

We expect those powers to be used as a last resort, in circumstances where there is a risk that significant harm will be done if timely and appropriate action is not taken and where there is evidence that the awarding body cannot or will not take sufficient remedial measures. Indeed, the threat of a direction might be sufficient in itself to initiate appropriate action. The power is not limited to key school qualifications offered by the three English unitary bodies, but may be applied in the context of any accredited qualification.

The power will enable the regulatory authorities to direct an awarding body either to take or to refrain from taking specified steps. Any decision is likely to be a question of balanced judgment based on the facts of the case and it will need to be perceived as having been reached independently. We believe that the regulatory authorities are in a unique position of being both independent and having the relevant professional expertise. As a matter of public law they are of course required to act rationally, and are themselves subject to the jurisdiction of the courts.

It is vital that the regulatory authorities should have a power to be able to enforce a direction if necessary. QCA and ACCAC will have separate powers to direct in their respective areas. That is consistent with their

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separate powers to accredit qualifications. We would expect them to work together where students in both areas are affected. Amendment No. 342 is a consequential amendment to the 1997 Act, extending the new power for QCA to give directions to Northern Ireland in respect of NVQs. That is consistent with QCA's other powers in relation to NVQs in Northern Ireland.

The attainment of qualifications is of great importance to our economic growth, and is of growing importance to the life chances of individuals. It is vital that reasonable measures can be taken to protect the interests of learners and retain confidence in the qualifications system. We believe these amendments will provide that protection.

Amendments Nos. 370 and 371 are technical amendments to Clauses 290(2) and (3) concerning commencements respectively in England and Wales to take account of the introduction of the new amendments to the Education Act 1997 contained in Schedule 17, concerning the responsibilities of QCA and ACCAC.

I turn finally to Amendments Nos. 338A and 338B and reiterate that we are not seeking to be overly prescriptive in setting out the learning areas and the early learning goals for the foundation stage. The Bill already ensures that publicly funded Montessori schools are able to retain current levels of flexibility in the way in which they deliver the foundation stage curriculum. The six areas of learning of the foundation stage curriculum were arrived at after widespread consultation by QCA with the full range of providers of nursery education, including those of Montessori education.

Introduction to the foundation stage has been almost universally welcomed across the sector. The curriculum is not prescriptive in its principles and teaching methods and it is already applied across a range of settings. We would not wish to make it inoperable for any of the practitioners who deliver it.

I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will want to deploy substantial arguments in respect of the Montessori position, but I wanted to indicate the outline of the Government's response. I am conscious of the lateness of the hour, but she will recognise that we are seeking to work in co-operation of the providers of that tradition of education. On that basis, I beg to move.

Midnight

Baroness Blatch moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 338, Amendment No. 338A:


    Line 23, at end insert—


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