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Hereditary Peers' By-Election

The Clerk of the Parliaments: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am now able to announce the result of the by-election to elect a Liberal Democrat hereditary Peer in accordance with Standing Order 10.
 
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Four Lords completed valid ballot papers. A paper setting out the results is being made available in the Printed Paper Office and the Library. The paper gives the number of votes cast for each candidate. The successful candidate was the Earl of Glasgow.

Education Bill [HL]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Filkin): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Filkin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 5 [Duty to inspect certain schools at prescribed intervals]:

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 22:


"( ) in the course of any inspection of a school to consult and have regard to the views of the head teacher, staff, parents, pupils and governors of that school,"

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 22 is all about consultation during the course of inspection with heads, staff, pupils and governors and having regard to the views expressed by them. In the run-up to this Committee stage, various organisations got in touch with us and suggested that when conducting an inspection the team needed to consult all these various groups. The simplest thing appeared to us to be to incorporate them all within one amendment. Importantly, the amendment says that the inspector must "have regard" to their views, not just consult them.

I recognise that we have a dilemma here. On the one hand, how can Ofsted achieve the desired short, sharp, very short notice inspections and yet arrange to see and talk to all of these people? Yet, on the other hand, how can it really get an impression of how well the school is performing, particularly within its wider context in relation to the well-being of children, without talking to this range of people? There has been a real advance in recent years with Ofsted paying more attention to such issues of governance, and meeting and talking with governors, and most recently with it taking the views of pupils into account, which is all very welcome. It would be a great shame if all that were lost.

Specifically, how can an inspection be completed without considerable discussion with the head and the staff about the aims and objectives of the school and how they go about trying to fulfil them? It is really vital that that goes on to the face of the Bill. Of course, you then get into, "If heads and staff, then what about
 
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parents, pupils, governors and support staff?", and we quickly get down to a list—which the Government hate, I know.

The issue is that all these stakeholder groups representing all the people I have mentioned need to be established and consulted, as that will enable each of their different standpoints about the school to be taken into account in the school's own self-evaluation. Information gathered on how well a school is performing will therefore reflect more directly the priorities of all these stakeholders who have a close day-to-day involvement in the school.

Teachers' judgments need to be at the centre of assessment and evaluation. The evidence from countries which have adopted this kind of bottom-up self-evaluation is that such approaches have contributed to high levels of achievement for the vast majority of young people—where teachers' own assessment and evaluation of their standards goes up and not down.

Similarly, it is vital that all those within the school community have a proper stake in and ownership of the inspection and improvement process. This consultation and having regard to their views would contribute to that.

Parents undoubtedly have more information about schools than they have ever had before, but the nature of this information has in many cases been somewhat misleading, involving a concentration on tests and examination score outcomes.

Issues of concern to pupils and parents—such as care, enjoyment of learning and emotional security—have been overshadowed by a national focus on targets and performance tables. The Ofsted consultation document, New Inspections and the Viewpoint of Users, referred to questions parents are most likely to ask about schools, such as, "Will my child be happy, safe, learning something, secure from bullying, able to enjoy school?". Yet Ofsted has not provided the means to be able properly to assess whether the new arrangements will achieve that purpose.

Under the new arrangements it is proposed that Ofsted no longer has a meeting with parents and instead seeks their views via a questionnaire. That brings certain dangers. These meetings have long been criticised for their low turnouts and the new arrangements may well be a more sensible development, but they have the potential to place additional burdens on schools unless they are carefully managed. Given the reduced notice period for inspection, can the Minister say who will be responsible for the reproduction, distribution and collection of the parents' questionnaires?

There is also the question of the ability of the parents to complete the questionnaires. As communication with Ofsted is now to be primarily in written form, those parents and carers with poor literacy skills and/or those who have English as a second or third language would not have equal opportunity of access to express what they feel about their concerns or even their praise for the school. Can the Minister tell us how the profile of parents and carers who fill in the form and participate in this consultation will be monitored?
 
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What action will be taken if there is any evidence that certain groups have been disfranchised by the new arrangements which are now to be in writing?

It is for these reasons that we feel that our amendment would be much more appropriate and would avoid that danger. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I speak to my Amendment No. 36 which follows on from the contribution that we have just heard. On the first day of Committee my noble friends were particularly helpful in their responses and I hope that my noble friend will agree to consider this matter.

Section 6 sets out the duty on the appropriate authority to inform parents that the chief inspector proposes to undertake a Section 5 inspection of their children's school. But it does not specify that a meeting should have to take place between the chief inspector and the parents of that school. My amendment ensures that wherever it is reasonably practical—I stress those words—such a meeting should be held.

I am very happy with the proposed new inspection regime—shorter notice, shorter time, more frequent inspection and, in particular, the fact that a greater number of inspections will be led by one of Her Majesty's inspectorate; also, the chief inspector will be accountable for all reports. All these changes are warmly welcomed. I believe that they will lead to a much more realistic inspection and I hope a rather less stressful one for teachers. But I have a real concern about parental involvement.

I understand from a very helpful letter from my noble friend that because of the short notice it is considered unreasonable to require schools to arrange the kind of parents' evening that is now arranged prior to the inspection. I also acknowledge that some of the practical points about that were discussed in the DfES paper, A New Relationship with Schools. The paper gave practical examples of about two to five working days' notice being given of inspections. One example was that staff would be informed towards the end of a week, with an inspection running in the following week—from, say, Tuesday lunchtime to Thursday lunchtime.

Unfortunately, in these illustrations, there is to be no opportunity for a meeting between parents and the inspecting teams. That would be a great pity and I ask my noble friend to give further thought to this. After all, the whole purpose of Ofsted is to improve the quality of schools. To exclude parents from the most visible part of that process would be a major mistake.

As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, schools will be obliged to inform parents of the inspections and give details of how to contact the inspector. But it is very different relying either on a paper-based response or on one-to-one meetings between parents and the inspectors which to many will be intimidating. One cannot substitute that for an opportunity for parents, in the round and collectively, to
 
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meet the inspecting team. Not all parents will take up that opportunity, but many will come and many will come at short notice.

Ofsted may say, as I think it has, that some of those parents will be unrepresentative. But are we to say that because parents are active and take the trouble to turn up they are to be discounted by Ofsted because they are regarded as somehow peculiar and unrepresentative?

My own experience in Birmingham with state schools, with four children, has generally been a happy one. My noble friend knows that I have been concerned, along with many parents, about the direction of my youngest child's primary school, Kings Heath. We have not had an Ofsted inspection for years. If we were to get a short-notice inspection—in a school where there is concern among a lot of parents—and then found out that there would not be an opportunity for parents to come together to discuss their concerns with the inspector, particularly where the concern is about the leadership of a school, the result would probably be that parents would have far less respect for the inspection report.

On the practicalities, I recall many occasions when a school has forgotten, for example, that there is a concert next week, so we get a letter on Friday about the school concert on Monday or Tuesday, and we all troop to it. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that parents will come to a meeting with two or three days' notice. Ofsted has enormous powers over these schools. On the first day of Committee, we debated the accountability of Ofsted; surely one of the most appropriate ways by which Ofsted can be accountable is its accessibility to parents. The meeting with parents is very valuable and I hope that my noble friend will agree to give this further thought.


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