Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank the Minister for her answer and look forward to receiving further information if she sends it to me. I am reassured by her answer, so beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 25:

( ) to establish a complaints procedure by which the appropriate body for a maintained school or the proprietor of a non-maintained school may complain about the conduct of any section 5 inspection or the findings of the report of a section 5 inspection"

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 25, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 51, 59, 73 and 86.

All the amendments deal with establishing a complaints procedure in relation to inspection reports. There are two different sets of amendments. Amendment No. 25 and its two consequential amendments—Amendments Nos. 59 and 73—were suggested by the National Association of Head Teachers to provide a more generalised complaints procedure. The main aim is to establish some form of complaints procedure. The more specific proposals in Amendments Nos. 51 and 86, which duplicate the system in Wales, come from the National Union of Teachers and are more detailed. Both sets of amendments establish the principle that there should be a complaints procedure, and both would establish a less cumbersome and fairer complaints procedure than currently exists.

It is worth reflecting on the present procedures. The Ofsted guidance on complaints procedure is as follows:

that is by the inspectors themselves—

13 Jan 2005 : Column 388

An Ofsted complaints adjudicator does not deal with judgments nor with the inspection outcomes. He or she investigates not the complaint but how the complaint was handled. Even when the Ofsted complaints adjudicator produces a report, it is discussed with Ofsted, rather than the school itself.

In October 1999, Elaine Rassaby, the then complaints adjudicator, stated publicly that the process of complaining was so burdensome that many teachers simply gave up and did not bother. She also described how the office was not truly independent. She was appointed and funded by Ofsted itself.

To some extent, one of the complaints is that Ofsted is both judge and jury. The issue of complaints was raised on Second Reading by a number of people, including the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who I regret is not here today. He was anxious that a form of complaints procedure should be established. On Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said:

If that is the case, it is welcome, but the amendment would be a further guarantee. The noble Lord went on to say:

By that, the Minister appeared to imply that it was a new initiative. As there is already an independent complaints adjudicator for Ofsted and the adult learning inspector, it would be interesting to know precisely what is intended. We question why there is nothing in the Bill to guarantee the continued existence of the complaints adjudicator if such a role is to continue.

Our main concern is with the current role of the adjudicator. It is extremely limited, and nothing in the Minister's statement suggests that that will change. Apparently the adjudicator investigates complaints that Ofsted has failed to resolve using its internal complaints procedure. There are about 20 of those a year. Will the Minister say how the complaints procedure that is currently being developed will shape up? What ideas are there? What will be the role of the independent adjudicator? Will it remain as at present, or will it be expanded? Will there be slightly less of Ofsted being both judge and jury? Will the complaints procedure really be independent? That is what we hope for.

The amendments have come from the head teachers' union and the National Union of Teachers, who are concerned that under present procedures there is not a fair method of appeal.

Given that we are in a new era and these new inspections will be short and sharp, at the moment the assumption is that the report will be published within three weeks. Yet, schools and teachers can be damned
13 Jan 2005 : Column 389
by those reports. It is vital that there is a fair complaints procedure. These amendments aim to achieve that. I beg to move.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I support the amendment and shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 46, 60, 74, 84, 89 and 90. I note with interest that the intention of Amendment No. 46 is similar to a number of amendments tabled by noble Lords from all opposition Benches. I shall own up now to say that our amendment is undoubtedly the weakest in drafting terms.

With tongue firmly in cheek, perhaps I may suggest to the Minister that before we reach the next stage of the Bill, he, too, might attempt to draft his own version of the amendment. It would complete not only a full set from all sides of the House, but, given the evident strength of feeling, I suspect that we shall return to this issue throughout the passage of the Bill.

I have had a number of meetings with interested parties in which a common concern emerged that, under the reform system, there is an inadequate appeals process. The Government intend to speed up the inspection process and we welcome that. However, it should not be at the cost of putting into the public domain any reports that are manifestly inaccurate or unduly misleading. In speeding up the inspection process, there must be suitable safeguards to ensure that the school has a reasonable opportunity to comment on the draft report before wider publication. Careers of staff and, particularly, head teachers can be changed for ever with the publication of an Ofsted report—not to mention the impact upon the morale, and the entire future of, a school. That aspect should not be rushed.

Amendment No. 46 would therefore ensure that the chief inspector could not publish an inspection report unless its contents had been agreed with the education establishment in question. We are trying to achieve a difficult balance, and, perhaps, that amendment would not quite address the issue, as it should. We are trying not to hamper the chief inspector in passing a suitable judgment on a school, but merely to ensure that inaccuracies are corrected. Equally, the school should have the right to appeal when it believes that the inspection has been conducted in a less than professional manner. Maybe that could be achieved by a longer interval between inspection and publication, to allow time for appeals to be conducted more discretely.

Our amendment would allow the Secretary of State to create by regulation an independent adjudicator who could examine any difference of opinion between the chief inspector and the education establishment regarding contested reports and would report on that, as necessary. The chief inspector would then have to take note and act upon any pronouncements from the adjudicator before publishing the final version of the report. We believe that this amendment would create an important appeal system that would help to guarantee the accuracy and fairness of inspection reports.
13 Jan 2005 : Column 390

Amendments Nos. 60 and 74 are consequential to Amendment No. 46 and ensure that neither the relevant LEA nor proprietor of a school were able to make available to the general public, as specified under Clauses 13 and 15, a copy of the report if there was disagreement between the school and chief inspector before the adjudicator had reported and his remarks had been acted upon.

Finally, Amendments Nos. 84, 89 and 90 would have exactly the same effect as the amendments that I have described, but in relation to Wales and to the Welsh Assembly.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page