Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for his reply. I am delighted that 1,200 schools in special measures have turned around, but I do not believe that it is necessarily down to the term "special measures". On the contrary, I believe that it is down to the big package of support that they receive.

To some extent, I take the Minister's point that one category will cover an enormous spectrum of what some may call failure. I may perhaps come back on Report with two categories, if I decide to pursue the matter.

I do not find myself agreeing with the Minister's suggestion that only negative language will spur people on to greater things. One of the most difficult things that I have done recently was in the Antarctic last January, almost to the day one year ago, when I was with the Science and Technology Select Committee. We were asked to abseil down into a crevasse, which was not so difficult, but climbing up the rope to get out was extremely difficult. If the trainers had shouted at me, "Baroness Walmsley, you are failing, you are terrible, you are weak, why are you not doing it?" instead of saying, "You can do it, you
13 Jan 2005 : Column 427
are really doing well, come on, just a little more", I do not think that I would ever have made it to the top and would still be down below in the ice.

I shall consider carefully whether or not I want to return to this matter at the next stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Morris of Bolton moved Amendment No. 54:

(c) that the school is likely to fail,"

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 54 in relation to England and Amendments Nos. 87 and 88 in relation to Wales would allow the respective chief inspector in each country to take action to notify the Secretary of State, the LEA or the proprietor of a school whether in his opinion the school was likely to fail.

We are concerned that, as the Bill currently stands, the chief inspector can recommend that action be taken only if special measures are required or, under the new phraseology, if the school requires significant improvement. That suggests that action to improve a school could be taken only once the school was already in difficulty. Our amendments would therefore introduce the category "likely to fail", allowing the inspector to recommend action if he believed that the school was likely to encounter serious concerns at a future date.

We cannot afford to jeopardise the future or the education of a single child. Action to improve a school may take a number of months to implement, with results taking even longer to come to fruition. All the time, the educational attainments and life chances of the pupils will suffer. The introduction of this new category would allow action to be taken before the problem worsened. We should allow the inspector to decide whether he or she believes that there is a serious enough problem just around the corner to merit immediate action, thereby nipping in the bud any concerns.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 93 and 95 in this group. As the Bill currently stands in relation to Wales, a school would require significant improvement only if it had already been deemed to be performing significantly less well than it might in all the circumstances reasonably be expected to perform. This suggests that action to improve a school could be taken only once the school was already in difficulties.

Our amendment would therefore introduce the category, "likely to perform significantly less well", allowing the inspector to recommend action if, in his view, he believed the school was likely to encounter serious concerns at a future date and was likely to perform significantly less well. I beg to move.

Lord Filkin: The Bill provides two categorise of schools that cause concern, as defined in Clause 43—special measures or significant improvement. Amendments Nos. 54, 87, 88 and 93, would add an additional category of school causing concern—a school likely to fail.
13 Jan 2005 : Column 428

We will reflect on that but do not think that it is appropriate. We appreciate that the current definition of special measures refers to a school likely to fail to provide a satisfactory standard of education. We propose to move way from that. Under the revised definition in Clause 43, a school's capacity to improve will be taken into account, which is an important shift, because it makes a judgment as to whether that school is likely to move from its position of weakness as a consequence of the leadership, the commitment and the honesty of the self-evaluation and so on.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and I agree that this is a more positive approach, because it recognises the capacity to move forward. This will be welcomed by schools which have made good progress and can show they have the capacity to improve further.

Amendment No. 95 would mean a school would also require significant improvement if it was likely to perform significantly less well than might reasonably be expected. Again, we do not believe that this would be appropriate, as it would introduce a negative element into a judgment, which would be unhelpful to schools. The focus of inspectors will be on the progress being made by schools. In making the significant improvement judgment, inspectors will give specific attention to the progress of pupils and the value added by a school. They will consider how a school's performance compares with other schools in similar contexts. This will ensure that schools that are not doing as well as they should, are identified and, given additional support and challenges, can raise their performance.

The Bill's arrangements provide the necessary framework for accountability and intervention to tackle failure and drive up standards.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank the Minister for his reply. I am not unsympathetic to his comments, the proposals in the Bill, or, indeed, the previous amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I am mindful how positive language can help enormously in a paradigm shift. However, I am concerned that warmer language should not simply be an excuse for inaction. We need to examine this again and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Morris of Bolton moved Amendment No. 55:

The noble Baroness said: This series of amendments would reintroduce the requirement on the inspector to produce a summary of his report and to send it to the appropriate authority when he was informing them of his particular decision.

Again, I stress that we support the intent to speed up the inspection process, but what advantage is there to be gained from ending the requirement to produce a summary in time, cost or quality of information? Can the Minister explain how he believes ending this process will assist and speed up the present arrangements?
13 Jan 2005 : Column 429

Surely, in the case of the chief inspector informing the Secretary of State or relevant LEA that a school was to be placed in special measures, a full report would already have been produced. Therefore condensing this information into a summary would require minimal additional effort and time.

Our other concern is that communicating such a decision in the first instance would be based on the opinion of the chief inspector without any accompanying documents or evidence. Surely the Secretary of State and her officials would at least like to see a summary of the report before the main report arrives. We believe that the summary report is a useful document which, at the outset, informs all interested parties of the key findings of an inspector's report. It is also likely to be more attractive to parents and pupils in a more reader-friendly and lighter format.

We are not convinced that abolishing such a requirement is either a sensible move or likely to bring substantial benefits in speeding up the process. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 61 and 63 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. These minor amendments seek to clarify the wording of the Bill and to extend its provisions to pupils.

Amendment No. 61 would replace the current wording, which is slightly obscure. Clause 13(4)(c) refers to taking,

I do not believe that there is such a thing as a registered parent. It also refers to receiving a copy of the report. At the moment, parents receive only a copy of the summary of the report and it seems absurd that they should have to receive and that the school should have to duplicate the report and send a full copy to every parent, many of whom will not wish to read it. They would prefer to receive a summary.

So the purpose of our amendment is to replace that wording and to do away with the concept of the registered parent so that the parents of pupils registered at the school receive a summary of the report and may request a copy of the full report. That would be sensible. If they wish to receive the full report, they can have a copy. Most parents would not want a full report and would be perfectly happy to receive the summary.

Amendment No. 63 takes up the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, this morning, regarding treating pupils as full stakeholders within the school. That amendment seeks to clarify that pupils should know about the report and, if they wish to see it, they should have access, either to the summary or to the full report, if they wish and as is appropriate. Clearly most pupils in a primary school would not be involved, but some senior pupils might wish to see it. Certainly some pupils in a secondary school might wish to see a copy of a full report.
13 Jan 2005 : Column 430

So, the purpose of these two amendments is, first, to make clear that the school does not have to go to the length of producing the report in full and circulating it to all parents, and, secondly, to extend access to the report to pupils.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page