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It is pretty clear that the intention behind the 1998 and 2000 Education Acts was to give greater responsibility to governors. At the moment what is being put forward is a reduction in the involvement of governors in this particularly important aspect of the inspection of schools. I am with those who are in favour of shorter inspections.
There are three reasons why I, and others, such as the National Association of Governors and Managers, which has just changed its name, and the NUT, are not entirely happy with what is proposed. My first reason is that during the passage of the Children Bill many of us argued for schools and the governors being involved in the delivery of children's well-being and, turning to the comments of my noble friend Lord Listowel, particularly that of the most vulnerable children.
There are requirements in the Bill for inspections to report on the school's contribution to the well-being of pupils. Secondly, therefore, it is more important that there is a meeting with the governors while the inspection takes place.
My third reason is a little different. All schools are now to have rather more responsibility for their budgets over a period of three years, which is excellent.
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There will be a huge range of different sorts of schools under the Government's plans. They will have greater responsibility once they have been approved as a specialist school or an academy. The governors' role will be even more important and, therefore, they should have a much greater say and be spoken to when inspection takes place. Those are my reasons for very much wanting to support a greater role for governors in the important inspection procedures.
As regards the parental side, I support very much what has been said, particularly the extremely effective and persuasive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. It is not good enough to say that, because parents do not attend meetings at the inspections, that is a reason for cancelling them. Sadly, it is more likely to be an indication that the school is not doing enough to communicate with parents. It may be that that side should be considered.
At a time when the Government are recognising the issues rather more effectivelyand I note, sadly, the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who is so passionate about parental involvement in all aspects of children's upbringingit is a backward step not to have this subject included. As regards the idea that parents are likely to feel included by filling in a series of forms, even if they have the capacity to understand them, that is a laughable suggestion. What is needed is a demonstration of how a closer relationship between parents and schools can be achieved, which is increasingly recognised as necessary for getting the very best out of children in attainment and well-being. How is that to be achieved? What is suggested now appears to be a step backwards towards earlier days in my time when there was a notice outside the school saying. "No parents beyond this point". We need to watch that danger.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: I offer my support for all these amendments, although my name supports only Amendment No. 38. There is a great body of research that shows the importance of the relationship which children sense between their home values and the school. The more a child feels that there is continuity of understanding between the parentsor whichever one it is living withand the teacher, the more the child's work improves and it thrives as an individual. Sadly, the reverse is true. The more the child senses that the parents and the parental home are at variance with the values and understanding of the school, the more the child's work is liable to suffer. The visible example of the parents being brought in at a meeting at which the performance of the school is being discussed with the involvement of the parents is an immensely valuable part of the inspection experience.
Similarly, governors have had more and more responsibility placed on them in the past 10 years. Being a member of a governing body now is quite a scary thing. The legislation for which you are responsible is pretty formidable. The idea that we take away the valuable meeting between the inspectors and those who are in law responsible for the overall educational character of the school is very retrograde.
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I have been asking myself why the Governmentand, presumably, the current chief inspectorare in favour of this change in the arrangements. My own experience in all three roles as a parent at my children's schools when inspected, as an inspector, and as a governor of one or two schools is that such meetings have been very positive and contributed to the inspection and to the long-term well-being of the school.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, there may be anxiety on the part of the Government and the inspectorate that the short timescale of notice is not enough to allow attendance to happen. I agree with the noble Lord entirely that that is not the case. Parents and governors will make themselves available and will turn up. Perhaps not all of them will attend, but certainly enough to be a representative group. Ministers tended not to want to accept any amendments at the first meeting of the Committee on Tuesday, but I hope that they will take this amendment away and think very seriously about reinstating the meetings.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, to expand on a point that he raised. I am grateful for his support. I do not usually enjoy much support on education matters from those Benches. It is an enjoyable position to be in. Amendment No. 38 appears to leave to the discretion of the head teacher whether a meeting should take place between parents and the chief inspector. In those few schools where there are real problems over leadership, does the noble Lord accept that the head teacher will often discourage such meetings taking place? Will the noble Lord reconsider leaving the matter solely at the discretion of the head teacher?
Lord Hanningfield: In tabling this amendment we felt very strongly that 99 per cent of head teachers would want the parents involved in the inspection. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was very persuasive. In a school where there are considerable problems with the head teacher, there might be difficulties as regards him wanting to have other people involved. That is a point the noble Lord made in his speech. However, I would be most concerned if the situation were not apparent to bodies other than parents, such as the local authority. That would ensure that the point was covered.
We have tabled our amendment because we felt that it might be one which the Government could accept. It is not as strong as the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and given that it is slightly milder in tone, we hope that it will be accepted.
Lord Lucas: I support Amendment No. 39. Given the consequences of an inspection, how can a school be inspected without consulting or even seeing a body as important as the board of governors? To leave the governors out of the consideration seems entirely inappropriate.
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I also support the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. If you were trying to form a picture of a business, this would be like not talking to the customers. It would be similar to sticking close to the factory, watching what goes out of the door and assuming that everything is all right outside. If something is causing concern in a school, it is more than likely to be revealed in the parents. It is much easier to find out something subtle, unusual or difficult to elicit from the ordinary procedures and school records by talking to the parents. As the Minister knows, I built a business on those grounds. You find out a lot of things from parents which would never be revealed by simply going around the school. Meeting parents is an absolutely crucial element when trying to understand how a school is working.
I turn to the questionnaire. It will have to be sent out with the agency of the school, because there is no other way in which it will happen. The questionnaires will have to be returned to the inspectors before they leave the premises. It is not possible to deal with a disparate collection of responses without having an opportunity to discuss them with the school. If this is to be done within the timescale, there may as well be a meeting of the parents involved in the process.
Beyond anything else, a meeting would allow parents to express points that are not raised in the questionnaire. I have never seen one that asked the right questions. It cannot be done in a one-size-fits-all-but-it-must-fit-on-to-two-sides-of-A4 exercise. Such questionnaires always ask the questions you are not interested in. Moreover, because the questions go through so many committees, they will be totally anodyne and lacking any point. There will never be a question such as, "What is the history teaching like?". If there are real concerns, they are likely to be much more focused than anything that would ever appear in a questionnaire.
However, at least the questionnaire may act as a prompt. I approve of it because it may encourage parents to recognise that they have a real role to play. But for goodness' sake give them a meeting because that is where the real information will come out.
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