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In essence, the subsection is not new but a re-enactment. It establishes that the chief inspector is a Crown appointee. This effectively has benefits. It provides society with a very powerful toola truly independent chief inspector who is able to operate within government and yet is able to criticise the policies of the day if they are not contributing to the ambitions we all share for good education.
In conducting his inspections the chief inspector makes judgments, as we know, upon the school and how it meets the criteria that the chief inspector must report against. A truly independent inspector reports without fear or favour on the evidence as he sees it. He provides opportunities for the school to have causes of concern considered and he drafts inspection reports in a way to avoid identifying individuals in any negative statements within reports.
Inevitably there will be cases where the school is not satisfied with the judgment, but being able to publish reports that are critical of a school's performance is necessary and has contributed greatly to the improvement across the system over the past 12 years.
Of course, the chief inspector is a Crown servant who must adhere to the seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. He must present his findings as he sees them. To remove the protection afforded by the clause that has existed since 1992 would
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undermine his independence. Schools can challenge the findings. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was clear that a welter of litigation would not be beneficial, so I shall not labour the point.
We talked about the complaints procedure earlier. To pile on the agony further, the chief inspector is an appointee of the Crown and is liable to legal proceedings in tort, which would include an action for defamation by virtue of the Crown Proceedings Act. While it may be that the defence of qualified privilege would apply to reports published by the chief inspector in any event, Clause 10(3) clarifies the legal position where there might otherwise be some doubt.
Under the common law, the publication of inspection reports may be subject to the defence of qualified privilege in any event. However, since the common law doctrine of qualified privilege may be applied on a case by case basis, it is not possible to say with certainty that qualified privilege will attach to the publication of inspection reports for all purposes. Clause 10(3) removes doubt about that. I hope that that is helpful.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: Before the Minister sits down, I want to add that as a former chief inspector I have much sympathy with the Government's position. The reservations expressed would be more easily allayed if a strong appeals procedure were established.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am grateful to the Minister for his response and for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. We had a lengthy discussion this morning on complaints and appeals procedures. It is right that we have an acceptable form of complaints procedure within the framework of the inspection regime. Clearly, as a Crown appointee Her Majesty's Chief Inspector is covered by the defence of qualified privilege. As the Minister said, the clause reinforces that, and it was helpful to have his explanation. I had not realised that it was a straight re-enactment, so I am grateful to the Minister for his elucidation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"PROVISION OF INSPECTION SERVICES BY LEAs IN ENGLAND
(1) Any local education authority in England may provide a school inspection service for schools within their area.
(2) In this section "school inspection service", in relation to any local education authority in England, means a service providing for the inspection of schools (other than Academies, city technology colleges and city technology colleges for the technology of the arts) under section 5 by officers of the authority.
(3) Any school inspection service provided by a local education authority in England may, in addition to providing for the inspection of schools which are maintained by them, provide for the inspection of schools which are not maintained by them.
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(4) Any school inspection service provided by a local education authority in England must be operated by the authority in such a way as can reasonably be expected to ensure that the full cost of providing the service is recovered by way of charges made by the authority to those using the service.
(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations
(a) make provision as to the making of tenders by local education authorities in England,
(b) make provision with respect to the accounts to be kept by local education authorities in connection with any school inspection services provided by them, and
(c) make such incidental and supplemental provision with respect to school inspection services provided by local education authorities as the Secretary of State considers appropriate."
The noble Baroness said: The purpose of Amendment No. 52 is to ensure a greater role for LEAs in England with respect to school improvement by allowing them to provide inspection services. If, as the Government state, inspections are to be a lever for school improvement, there is no reason why LEAs, who have the responsibility for school improvement, should not have their hands on that lever.
In line with the provision under Clause 51 in Wales, the amendment would enable a local authority to provide a school inspection service for schools within its area. It allows the service to be provided for both maintained and non-maintained schools and requires the local authority to recover the costs through charges made to those using the service. It provides that the Secretary of State may by regulation make provision on the making of tenders and the keeping of accounts by local education authorities. Under the proposals for joint area reviews local authorities will be accountable for the performance of schools, and yet under the new relationship proposals their influence on the operations of schools is limited. This proposal would extend that influence.
In addition, we spoke on Tuesday about the benefits of regional arrangements for inspectionsin particular, the benefits in Wales being a small country. Those benefits would apply here, too, where the local knowledge of the LEA about the ethos of local schools and the context in which they operate would be very helpful background to the inspection process. I beg to move.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: I have brief points to make. First, none of us is unaware of the importance of the work of LEAs. On the other hand, some of us are a little cautious about going back on what seems to be an admirable policy in lightening the burden of the bureaucracythat much used wordin inspections.
I wonder whether the amendment would effectively go back on restrictions on the powers of Ofsted to inspect worship and religious education in voluntary-aided schools. It does not have that power at the moment, and the inspection is done competently and properly by various denominational authorities. I speaking not just for the Church of England. Sometimes we have to
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apologise for that these days. I think that the Roman Catholics would be even more sensitive about this, so I need to ask the noble Baroness that question now.
Baroness Walmsley: I shall certainly attempt to answer the question, although if I am wrong, I shall write to the right reverend Prelate about it. I do not think that the amendment would restrict that. Religious education is inspected by appropriate people, and I do not think that my amendment would get in the way of that.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. The last thing that I want to be seen to be standing for is a ghetto mentality for voluntary-aided schools. I want to be clear on that question, and I speak for other groups as well.
Lord Dearing: While the noble Baroness is still in action, perhaps she can clarify something for me. I read her amendment as a service rather than an imposition. Therefore, it is an offer that may or may not be accepted. My experience is that there are times when it is useful for schools to look to the LEA for advice. They may say, "You have the expertise. It may cost a few pounds, but we will pay you.". On that basis, I can say yes.
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