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Lord Triesman: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 2.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 2.25 to 2.40 p.m.]

Education Bill [HL]

House again in Committee on Clause 5.

[Amendments Nos. 26 to 32 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Lucas: Perhaps I may use this opportunity to raise a perhaps rather esoteric point. From conversations outside this House, my understanding is that the new inspection regime will not involve contact between the inspector and the heads of department in a school, which used to be the case. I want to establish that that is true. The consequence I am aware of is that it seems possible that it will lead to the collapse of the present inspection system for independent schools. When Ofsted was set up, the ISCis swung in behind the system in the end. The argument which persuaded them to do that was that the benefit which would arise would be contact between the inspection team and the heads of subjects and departments and the way in which that would be used to spread good practice and improve the way in which all schools deal with it.

If ISCis is to swing behind the new system, as I understand is proposed, there seems to be a very substantial body of opinion that under those circumstances the inspections are not worth having at all. Without requiring an answer now, and I would appreciate a letter, I would very much like to know whether my understanding about subject inspections is right.

I would also like to know whether the Government are aware of the position being taken by HMCI and ISCis on the subject and whether they are content with that position. If not, I would like to know what they are going to do about it.

Lord Filkin: I am very happy to give the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, an undertaking that I shall reply to him on all three points and on anything else which is germane.

Clause 5 agreed to.
 
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Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 33:


"REDUCING BURDEN OF INSPECTION ON SCHOOLS
The Chief Inspector when conducting an inspection under section 5 shall exercise his functions with regard to the desirability of avoiding excessive administrative burdens being placed on governing bodies and head teachers of maintained schools."

The noble Lord said: The intent of this Bill is to introduce a far lighter touch, quicker and rationalised inspection regime and one that places greater emphasis on school self-evaluation. That is a desire that we can all support.

The need for such reform is evident. We are all aware of the pressures—they have been debated several times already—that an inspection places on a school from the headmaster downwards. It is often a nerve-racking, fraught and an exceptionally busy couple of weeks with a lot of preparation beforehand. The danger of the reforms outlined in this legislation is that the pressures will simply be concentrated not over a matter of weeks, as now, but with a reduced time-frame and notification period over a few days. Therefore, the level of stress and work is not reduced during that time but heightened. This could be a disturbing development.

However, I must share with the Committee a suspicion that the legislation, although it does much to reduce the bureaucracy on the inspectors themselves, does little to reduce the bureaucracy and the need to perform on the schools. The most important part of the education system is the teachers and they will have more work to do in self-assessment. They will have to collate it.

We on these Benches believe that the teachers' first priority must be to deliver quality education and not to please an official from Whitehall. Perhaps the Minister can explain to us how these reforms will reduce the levels of bureaucracy placed on our teachers by inspection. There is nothing whatsoever on the face of the Bill which addresses this key issue. We all know that one of the single biggest reasons why teachers are disillusioned with their jobs and are leaving the profession is because they often face too much red tape.

Therefore, Amendment No. 33 will place on the chief inspector a duty to exercise his functions with regard to the desirability of avoiding excessive administrative burdens being placed on governing bodies and head teachers. I expect that we shall return to this amendment at a later date, but I would like to hear the Minister's views on it now. I beg to move.

Lord Filkin: This is an important probing amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, because if we can obtain the same or better benefits with less bureaucracy, pain and even stress, then clearly we have advanced, and that is clearly one of the aims of the Bill. We are clear that an excessive burden should not be placed on the schools. That is one of the purposes of the revised inspection system and one which is sure to be more focused with far fewer inspectors, albeit at short notice. I do not agree with the noble Lord. I believe that stress compressed over a
 
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few days in response to a short notice inspection has to be less in aggregate than an inspection over a period of months, but be that as it may.

The regulatory impact assessment that was published to support the Bill, which has been made available to the House, highlights the benefits to the schools which will be brought about by the inspection process on exactly the issue the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has spoken of.

For example, it is anticipated that savings in schools, not to Ofsted, will be equivalent to at least £40 million a year as a result of these changes. I shall be happy to send a note to the Front Benches summarising that regulatory impact assessment, if that were to be of use.

The process will mean less preparation by schools. The self-evaluation form, which is the only form that will need to be available prior to inspection, will be used not only for inspection, but it will form part of the school's own self-review. It is important to see the self-evaluation form and process as not a burden of compliance with an inspection system, but a responsibility of management and leadership in the institution itself. That is part of doing the job properly even if an inspector was not about to arrive. It is different from the current procedure where schools require four pre-inspection forms, which are solely for the purpose of the inspection itself.

The basis on which inspections will be covered in the future will be the school's own self-evaluation evidence. We are also not being prescriptive about how schools self-evaluate, as we have said previously.

We have also tested this process through consulting with the Implementation Review Unit, which is a panel of 12 head teachers and senior school practitioners who have a function specifically to cut bureaucracy across schools. They have been closely involved in the new arrangements. They will continue to monitor, through visits to schools and meetings, with Ofsted and departmental officials.

Perhaps I may quote from its review and annual report of 2003–04, which states:

Therefore, I believe that we have strong grounds for the expectation that this will not only reduce costs to Ofsted but perhaps, more importantly, reduce costs to schools. That has to be a continuing ambition and we intend it to be so. I hope that in view of what I have said, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is not minded to press his amendment.

Lord Hanningfield: I thank the Minister for that response. This is a difficult issue in many walks of life. As I have said before, I am the leader of a large council. The Audit Commission has asked for an assessment, but it has cut its staff and is now asking us to do a lot
 
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of the self-assessment. We have had to ask a very senior government officer who works part-time to spend all their time collating all the self-assessment processes operating within the authority. While I accept that we should take it on, it amounts to reams of paperwork.

Moreover, as a school governor I know that a great deal of self-assessment is going on there. Although there may not be quite so much on the PE and arts side at the moment as there will have to be in the future, someone will still have to collate all the data and, I hope, present it more frequently to the governing body so that it, too, can become more closely involved in the school's self-assessment processes.

If we are not careful, more work will be created for schools. Also, whenever money is saved by one person, it inevitably seems to cost someone else more. I fear that if Ofsted saves money, this will cost schools more.

The level of bureaucracy in schools is such an important issue that I should like to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 33) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 126.


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