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The noble Lord said: This amendment is designed to probe the Minister on those circumstances where the chief inspector wishes to inspect a school at his discretion as distinct from the usual round of normal inspections. There are a number of short questions that I should like to ask. I hope that the Minister can provide the Committee with satisfactory assurances so that we do not have to return to this amendment at a later stage.
Under what other criteria, apart from that outlined in Clause 5(5), does the Minister envisage the chief inspector might wish to inspect a school? Perhaps he could also provide us with some practical scenarios of when this power could be used. Furthermore, how often does the Minister envisage the chief inspector using this power? For example, could it be used more than once on the same school in a short period of time? I beg to move.
The discretion given under Clause 7 is not newthe 1996 Act had an equivalent provisionand will be used for a range of purposes, including in relation to
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monitoring visits which are conducted for schools in special measures. It would also be used on the rare occasion where a school is causing serious concern.
However, the power should not be limited to these purposes. The chief inspector will want to use this power to inspect single subjects and other matters which have come to his attention, where the breadth of a Clause 5 inspection is not necessary or appropriate but nevertheless the inspector feels it is desirable to go in and assess the situation.
The inspection must also, of course, serve to identify good practice, an important aspect of how it can contribute to improvement. The consequence of this amendment would be that the inspector could not gather in evidence about good practice in that respect.
As to more than once per school, no, we do not expect that to happen. Although, if one thought hard enough one could clearly envisage extreme circumstances, but that is not the expectation. We do not want to, and the inspector would not want us to, add unnecessary burdens. I am certain that there will be good, strong and pressing reasons for an inspection to be carried out under these powers.
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 47 is similar to one of my previous amendments and it would perhaps have been better had it been grouped with it. However, I should like to return to the issue and perhaps have another go.
This is a simple probing amendment. As the Bill currently stands, it seems to imply that the chief inspector has to publish inspection reports only by electronic meansthat is, presumably, on the Ofsted website. In his answer to my previous amendment, the Minister said that the Ofsted website had had a record number of hits. It may be that that was because Members of the Committee were preparing for the Bill.
I am pleased about that. It is a step that we can all support. However, is there not a danger that in doing so we could, in effect, withhold vital information from those people and parents of pupils at the school in question who do not have access to the Internet?
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Surely it would be sensible to ensure that copies are available in both electronic and hard copy to allow as many people as possible to access these reports. I beg to move.
Lord Filkin: The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is right in that respect but, in practice, that is what the Bill as crafted does. It does so in a careful way. It requires not that absolutely everything has to be both electronically published and printed at the same time but that the inspector has to use his judgment as to how it is published according to the circumstances. Therefore one could imagine a situation where a parent who, for some reason, had not been sent a copy of a report, or wanted a copy of a report but did not have access to the web, would write to the chief inspector saying "I would like a copy of this report about the school", or whatever. In a situation like that, it is hard to envisage that the inspector would write back saying "No, you cannot have it. Go to the website". You would expect, as a good public servant, that he would send a copy. He has got the power to do it either way without essentially forcing him to have a large warehouse where everything is stocked just in case someone asks for it.
With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, will feel that the Bill addresses the position correctly. It does not expect the website to be the only means because, as the noble Baroness said, there will be some people who cannot make use of it.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank the Minister for that reply. I hope that the chief inspector will be mindful that this issue has been the subject of debate. The Internet is not all singing and dancing. If we believe that that is the only means of communicating we will not ensure that everyone who has a right to read the reports has access to them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage, but I may well return to it.
This would appear to be a new protection which does not reflect the potential for real damage to a school's reputation arising from an inaccurate report. While it is obviously important to discourage court action being taken against individual inspectors, there is a need for a robust complaints procedure, as we debated this morning. Given the limitations of the
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inspection complaint process, this could effectively cut off the last possible course of redress that a school could pursue.
One of the reasons we have brought forward the amendment is that we wonder what are the reasons for, and the purpose of, the clause within the Bill. Does it reflect a report in the Observer last November? The article stated:
"Lordswood Girls' Schooljudged in government league tables to be the best in the country for improving pupil performanceis planning to sue Ofsted after discovering that two pages of a critical review were identical to an earlier report on Parkside School in Bradford.
"Ofsted admitted this weekend that the inspection team for Lordswood failed to give an accurate and fair portrayal in the section relating to leadership and management of the school. It has promised to amend the report and add an addendum on its website about the school".
"who has been head of the 900-pupil school in Harborne for 15 years, and who launched a high-profile complaint against the Ofsted inspection system in February, plans to take her concerns to an independent adjudicator. 'I have no confidence in the system', she said. 'I would advise anyone with concerns who is going through the complaints procedure to keep on going because they need to be challenged'".
Clearly it is not a good idea to encourage schools to pursue the inspectors through the courtswe are very sympathetic with thatbut we should like to know a little more of the background as to why the Government have felt it necessary to include in the Bill what is, in effect, a privilege clause. I beg to move.
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