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Lord Roberts of Conwy: I have not participated in the debate but I have listened very carefully to it. The Minister referred to 400 parents who protested in advance of an inspection. Did the inspectors meet representatives of those 400? What was the further outcome, as it were, of that protest?

Baroness Andrews: The school was judged to require special measures. Although I do not have much detailed background, I should imagine that the parents involved wished to draw quite a number of different aspects of the school to the inspectors' attention. I would have thought that almost certainly there would have been a meeting. I shall check on that and write to all noble Lords.

In conclusion, I hope that I have addressed every issue raised. If I have not, I shall certainly write to noble Lords. It has been a high-quality debate. It is always a pleasure to read Hansard the following day and to reflect on the quality of the arguments. In the mean time, I hope the amendment will be withdrawn.

Lord Hanningfield: I was pleased that the Minister basically agreed with our amendment that heads could call a meeting of parents. She went on to give several instances of where Ofsted could require meetings—for example, with the chairman of governors. Will this requirement be given to the school by Ofsted in notes of guidance during a pre-inspection phase, or something like that? Obviously, if a note goes to a school saying that a meeting with parents is desirable, the school is likely to arrange it. Although the noble Baroness has said several
 
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times that this is desirable, we will feel much more comfortable if we know how the school will know that, what will be the process and how it will happen.

There have been several references to the 100 trial schools. Of course—I have been trying to make a quick calculation—100 schools is not even 0.5 per cent of all the schools in the country. I suspect that the 100 schools were fairly good ones which volunteered for the process. Perhaps the noble Baroness will let the Committee know at some stage how those 100 schools were chosen. They represent a very, very small percentage of the total number of schools in the country and I do not know whether one can make a judgment on such a small sample. Perhaps the noble Baroness will tell the Committee about the process of Ofsted alerting a school to what might or might not be desirable.

Baroness Andrews: The answer is yes, there will certainly be a full statement, which will set out in detail what is expected. Of course 100 schools in relation to the 20,000 schools, or whatever, in England and Wales is a small number. But they are a representative sample—they were carefully chosen—and come from 15 LEAs. This summer there will be a further 100 in the rolling pilot. If the noble Lord would like me to do so, I shall be happy to send him more information about the nature of the pilots.

The Earl of Listowel: I thank the noble Baroness for her helpful response. I did not know that the national minimum standard ensured that foster carers have a duty to be involved in school processes. That is welcome information.

The Minister referred to the designated teachers in a school for looked-after children and the important role that they play in ensuring that foster carers and residential childcare workers are involved. However, let me draw her attention to what is said in the Social Exclusion Unit's recent report, A better education for children in care. It states:

It has certainly been my experience that while these teachers should be senior teachers, they can be teachers with a very low level of experience.

I thank the Minister for her response but it has not entirely allayed my concerns in this matter.

Baroness Andrews: Let me reply to those two points. First, as to the fostering service, I would refer the noble Earl to standard 13 of the national minimum standards. It is not quite as specific as I said. Standard 13.3 states:

Standard 13.4 states:
 
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As to designated teachers, I know that there is room for improvement. We are looking at that issue in the whole context of improvement in the delivery of quality to looked-after children.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: Whether correctly or not, I attempted formally to move Amendment No. 39 and it is right that I should for the record formally withdraw it.

Perhaps I may make two comments. First, I appreciate the answer of the Minister and the stress that it puts on the work of the governors. Secondly, I leave one thought for further reflection. The emphasis has been on the rights of Ofsted and the processes that the chief inspector has the right to go through. If I were a governor of a school about to be inspected, I would want the right to see the governors, and this is one of the ways of building that into the system. I ask the noble Baroness to reflect on that.

The Earl of Listowel: I apologise for intervening once more. Can the noble Baroness provide the Committee with more information about the experience in the pilots of parental involvement with the inspectors? What value did parents and inspectors place on these meetings? It would be helpful to have that.

Baroness Andrews: I shall certainly try to do that.

Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for her careful comments on the issue. I hope that she does not really think it was patronising of me to raise the issue of low literacy and minority languages. It is not patronising but realistic in a situation where some schools have as little as 2 per cent of pupils who have English as a first language. But I very much welcome her statement that minority languages would be used where appropriate for the questionnaires.

I thank noble Lords on all sides of the Committee for their support on the issue of parents and governors, in particular, and the importance of them being properly consulted during an, albeit short, inspection. However, I stress that our amendment also included heads, teachers and the children. Although I accept what the Minister said about the professional engagement between inspectors and teachers that occurs at the beginning of the process and the self-evaluation of teachers, I would point out that our amendment contains the two very important words "have regard". The process the Minister described does not necessarily include that. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, the pupils are the customers at the school, and you would not evaluate a retailer without talking to its customers. That is very important.

The Minister's main argument against the amendment is that it is not necessary; it happens anyway and so there is no need to put it into statute. I believe that passing legislation is often an opportunity to send out a message
 
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about the importance of things. Clearly the Committee believes that it is extremely important that the opinions of the various stakeholder groups should be fully taken into account during an inspection.

But we are in a new situation; we are legislating for a new kind of inspection. In these very short inspections we are asking the inspectors to do a great deal in a very short time. That is why it is necessary to specify that they consult these various stakeholder groups during the course of an inspection.

I welcome the statement of the Minister that heads will keep the discretion to have a meeting with head teachers, but if it is not in statute, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pointed out, there may well be very dominant heads who really do not want to encourage contact between the inspector and the parents and they will not use that discretion to have a meeting.

For those various reasons, we need to legislate because of the change in the inspection regime. We need to make it very clear how important we think it is that all the various stakeholder groups are consulted and that the inspectors have regard to their views.

I shall not press the amendment but, as the feeling of the Committee is so strong, we may well return to the matter on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


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