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Baroness Andrews: We have had a good debate on an important group of amendments. My noble friend has already told me to stop nodding, but there is much that the Government can agree with in the spirit and intent of what has been said. I hope to be able to demonstrate that in my response. I want also to address the many concerns that have been expressed, such as time factors, the imperatives of the new system and what impact they will have on the processes and the people involved.
I shall start by addressing the general amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, which sets out the stall for the group. We welcome the positive statements from all around the Committee about the vital roles played by all the different participants in a school when it comes to inspection. As each amendment has been spoken to, warm tributes have been made to those roles, which I wholly endorse. We do not take any
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of those for granted and acknowledge their value in the year-on-year improvements in performance we have seen in schools.
The current position is that the School Inspections Act 1996 places a requirement on schools to arrange a meeting with parents and inspectors, and requires inspectors to consult the appropriate authority about the inspection. However, there is nothing in the statute about consulting pupils, head teachers or staff. That is something on which we shall reflect. However, we know that in the past inspectors have consulted widely with all the relevant parties. That has always been extremely important. Without that, we would not now have a school inspection system. However, the question of why we should put certain provisions into statute has been raised.
I shall address first the issue of head teachers and staff before turning to the role of parents. We do not believe in general that the amendment is necessary becauserecalling our debate on Tuesdayof self-evaluation, which lies at the heart of the new system. Self-evaluation means looking at the way things are done at each level within the school: teaching, learning, organisation, leadership and the relationships between teachers and the whole range of people involved in educating and bringing up children.
The inspection will start with a professional engagement between the inspection team, the head teacher, his senior management team and the staff. Inspectors will examine the self-evaluation exercise, looking at how it relates to their experience of what is going on in the school during their time on the premises. They will ensure that the initial statistical and other data concur with what they find. They will then sit with the senior management team to explore and challenge the self-evaluation. They will work alongside and engage with independent members of staff in particular areas of the curriculum to understand what people are actually telling them about what is going on. During the event, there will be similar engagements with pupils and parents. The aim is to verify the evidence set out in the self-evaluation summary, ensuring that it accords with what people without any vested interests tell the inspectors about their experience of the school and how it is delivering.
That is a fundamental principle. One must involve the child and the parent at all stages. Each of the views gathered will be used to inform the final judgments that the inspector puts into his report. The inspector will provide verbal feedback at the end of the inspection, at which the governing body should be represented, with the draft report following shortly after. Where it has not been possible to meet the chair of governors, Ofsted intends to provide every opportunity for the chair to speak to the lead inspector at first hand. At that point additional evidence can be brought forward. Time will be available to correct any factual mistakes.
I am not talking about theory in my response, but about what is now being tried and tested in the 100 pilot inspections. The results of those are
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constantly being fed back to Ofsted so that the process itself can be refined and improved. To date we have had, as I said, 100 pilot inspections in which the head, staff, parents and governors have each had a full opportunity to take part in what is after all a defining moment for the school. Is it working? Noble Lords would expect me to say that it is, but not only does Ofsted believe that it is going well; schools themselves are telling us so. Satisfaction ratings, which are measured independently of the inspection team, show us that almost every school feels that the report resulting from the pilot inspection is a fair and accurate reflection. Almost 100 per cent of those schools taking part have expressed that they were very happy with both the process and the final report.
But do not mistake this for complacency. We are looking to improve on those findings. I shall explain how that is to be done, particularly in relation to the points raised about governors. We are in a process of iteration about improvement.
First, I shall address the issue of parents. There is a clear sense among noble Lords that we are somehow giving parents less or even inadequate opportunity to make their views known. Let me reassure noble Lords, especially my noble friend Lord Hunt, that that is absolutely not the case. The whole thrust of what we have been trying to do with parents in our school improvement policies over the past seven years is to bring them into a proper relationship with schoolsnot an occasional meeting to talk about the curriculum or visits if the child is in trouble. We want to see proper relationships based on continuing dialogue. We see that as part of the process we are now engaged in with the inspection system.
In response to Amendments Nos. 36, 37, and 38, we want to strengthen parents' hands. We would not make impracticality an excuse, but there are issues regarding time that we have to address, which is now being done in the pilots. We are looking for improvement. However, it will be difficult for all parents to meet an inspector during an event that schools will know is taking place only at very short notice, and which might last for no more than two days. It would be a burden for both schools and parents to arrange meetings with a representative number of parents at such short notice. Indeed, schools might complain that on the one hand we are giving them less notice and asking them to do more. However, they will continue to be under a duty to notify parents of an inspection, and that has certainly proved possible in the pilot.
We should also remember that in Ofsted's consultation parents were strongly in favour of reduced or no-notice inspection. They also wanted to continue with the requirement that all schools must arrange a meeting, which is often poorly attended and does not necessarily contribute to the cycle of school improvement. So we believe that this would not add to the inspection's findings and outcomes.
The latest, very recent, figures show that attendance at pre-inspection meetings for parents averages 16 in a primary school and 30 in a secondary school. That
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could be 15 families out of 300 or 400 in a secondary school. We may deplore the reluctance of parents to come to these meetings but the reality is that this is not a very efficient or humane way to engage people in this process. Given the views received from parents we have sought to find better ways of encouraging their participation.
I intend to talk about the questionnaire and address any practical problems but the most important thing I wish to say is that this has been worked through with parents themselves. We are being kept informed by the pilot schemes and are working with focus groups who are helping to develop a friendly and accessible questionnaire. We should not patronise parents by expecting them not to be able to fill it in. Parents are extremely well used to dealing with forms, not least on the web.
This questionnaire will be something that the parents themselves will own. I take the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Questionnaire-creating is a science as well as an art. One has to get the language right and ask awkward as well as comfortable questions. If parents are involved in that process we can trust them to do that properly. The schools will circulate that questionnaire and it will be returned to Ofsted.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked me how this would be done. Schools will issue the questionnaire as part of the notification of parents provided by Ofsted. The questionnaire will be returned via the school but it will be the inspectors who analyse it. We do not anticipate any additional burden on them because there is no evidence of that in the pilots. There has been a good response and we believe we are getting it right. The questionnaire will be in minority languages as well as English and I hope that will encourage the participation of parents. The letter within which the questions are presented will provide details of how parents can make contact with the inspection team.
What can we do and what else are we doing to involve parents? Parents can provide comments on a confidential basis directly to the inspection team, who will use them as part of their evidence-gathering. We are working with parents' groups to understand how best to manage that process in the light of the shorter notice. However, let me stress that questionnaires are not the only option.
I was interested in the exchanges between my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. During those exchanges the Government were asked if we would retain the discretion of schools to retain meetings. Yes, Ofsted will encourage schools who wish to do so to arrange a meeting. There is nothing to stop the head teacher from setting up a meeting if there is demand for it. That does not need to be specified in law. I have an interesting example of one school in the pilot where 400 parents signed and submitted a petition to Ofsted complaining about the school prior to the inspection. That was part of the process.
We all know that some head teachers are more charismatic leaders than others. We know that some are reluctant to meet parents and engage with them but, as
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the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield said, there are ways to encourage them to do that, not least through the governing bodies or the parents' associations themselves. I believe that parents and schools will take up this opportunity. I would argue that we are looking to the best of both worlds. It will be a more systematic means of gathering evidence. It also be more democratic since the questionnaire will go to every parent and every parent will have the opportunity to respond and at the same time have an opportunity for face-to-face meetings. This is a system whereby schools are free to build on their strengths and reflect on the way in which they manage their relationships.
Turning to the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, he will know that, following the Children Act, local authorities have a duty to raise educational achievement and ensure that foster carers, children in care and key workers are fully responsible and fully engaged with the school. We want them to come along, not only to parents' meetings but at every possible opportunity. The designated teacher responsible for looked-after children has a duty to ensure that these key workers are fully engaged in the process. While I am very sympathetic to his amendment, I should point out that we are putting a whole raft of guidelines in place. We are looking constantly at whether these are robust and I believe that we are getting better at this. The national minimum standards on fostering will have something in the placement agreement about these necessary meetings between key workers.
Several noble Lords spoke about inspectors meeting with the governing body. We do not intend in any way to reduce the scope, the competence or the opportunity for the governing bodies to be fully involved not just in a meeting with inspectors but in the whole process of self-evaluation. This will not work unless parents, children and governors are fully engaged in that process. Self-evaluation is about ownership. I should point out that the amendment has a flaw because it would require the appropriate authorityin most cases the governing body itselfto arrange a meeting with the governors of the school. I am sure the purpose of the amendment was to place a duty on the chief inspector to meet with the school governors.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, talked about the greater role of inspectors in auditing. However, development to inspection forms a key part of the strategy for accountability in the new relationship with schools. There will be no diminution of the principles underpinning the role of governing bodies. I must point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, that governors have a key role to play in the self-evaluation process. They will contribute to the process of gathering evidence as well as being responsible for signing off the self-evaluation form. That way they know whether there are any discrepancies.
This annual process will be linked to the planning and improvement cycle. One great burden on the governing body is how to be fully engaged with such a cycle. They will take forward any actions arising from the inspections. This is a massive challenge so we have to ensure that they are clear about any essential outcomes. In recognition of this, under the new arrangements,
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governor representation at the feedback meeting with the head teacher and the senior team will be standard. Lead inspectors will be able to invite a governors' representative to attend the feedback meeting. That is in itself a major improvement. The current system provides that governors can be represented only at the discretion of the registered inspectors. In the majority of cases no governor is currently present at feedback sessions.
Members of the Committee were concerned about meetings with the inspectors and governors. We recognise that the issue of short-notice inspection raises a challenge. The difficulties are not insurmountable. I am able to say that because in the pilots, during the 100 or so trial inspections that have taken place, governors have participated in every single inspection. Ofsted has used a variety of methods to secure that, including telephone discussions if that is more convenient. We have been monitoring this process and have insisted that inspectors meet with governors to discuss their role. This has happened as the trial inspection process has developed.
We have also asked governors about matters arising from the standard evaluation. When the school is contacted about its inspection we ask that the chair of the governors be available at the beginning and end of the inspection. We expect governors to meet with inspectors on every inspection. However, neither we nor Ofsted are complacent. We are watching the trials and effectiveness of these arrangements.
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