Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: I wish to comment briefly on the process and then on the amendments. In listening to this and to Tuesday's debates, I have constantly been struck by the difficulty that we face. I know that it is not the first time where one is trying to legislate in a simplifying way in the context of something that is much more complex. Many of the amendments fall in a sort of "no-person's land" between a legislative process which is about freeing up and simplifying in a context in which people say, "Ah, but might there be problems and do we entirely trust each other?". The amendment is another example of that.

My comments may betray that I am a devil's advocate or that I am even more cynical than everyone else. But might there not be an unintended consequence of the summary, in that the report itself will go back to being long? In the academic world it is now common to have English-speaking summaries at the end of articles of immense complexity, which allows the articles to become even more complex. That probably means that the scholars read the summaries rather than the articles.

In making that somewhat whimsical remark, perhaps I may ask whether the amendments might produce the opposite of what is intended. I speak as a parent as well as a cleric.

Lord Filkin: Not for the first time, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth has put his finger on the kind of dilemma that governments face and that we are facing in this debate. One is trying to simplify and yet, within government, there is always a tension between that and seeking to move to less regulation, less specification and less dirigisme. At the same time, there are always one or two in the corner who will say, "Well, that's all right for you but we must have X, Y or Z". That is a characteristic of government and we are part of that tension.

What is different here is that one of the key features of the new inspection arrangements is that the inspection report is meant to be much more focused. Secondly, it is an inspection report that sits on the self-evaluation. So, whereas at present Ofsted goes in and almost measures, evaluates, quantifies and describes everything for itself and writes up the basis on which it comes to its conclusions, the process that we are now talking about is very different.

In a sense, through the inspection process and the report, Ofsted is commenting on the self-evaluation of the school and on the enormously powerful set of data that has been built up over 12 years of the process showing objectively how the school is performing. There is no need for all that information to be put into the report because, effectively, it is a commentary on the inspectorate's judgment on the performance data
 
13 Jan 2005 : Column 431
 
which are accessible, and on the school's evaluation and therefore its judgment on what is really important about the school's performance and its capacity to improve.

As a consequence, while current reports are 40 or more pages in length, under the new system they will drop to around six pages because they will focus on the key essentials that need to change. I think that it may be helpful to the Committee if I send examples of those to all Front-Benchers and to all who have taken part. They will give a flavour of the fundamental difference in the process.

It is not a matter of seeking to quantify and define absolutely everything and then, from that mass of documented detail, come to a conclusion. It is basically a case of taking two foundation sources—the evaluation and the data—and then, through the process of inspection and the interactions that go with it, coming to judgments which focus on what matters most. From our previous debates, I think that what matters most in inspections is being clear about what matters most. It is not a description of the 75 things that it would be nice to change but about the five or six things that really must change. Focusing in that way is crucial and that is why the report can be completed in six pages.

While parents currently receive only the summary and have to ask for the full report if they want it, in future they will receive the full report as a matter of course. They will have the whole job because parents are seen as the prime audience for the report. Ofsted is currently using focus groups of parents to check that the new style reports meet their needs, and that will be an ongoing process. So far, the early feedback is that parents have been extremely positive about the change.

In terms of the amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, I have said that a summary does not need to be sent because parents will receive the full report. I have also spoken about the arrangements for involving pupils in inspection and reporting to pupils on the outcomes.

The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, to Clause 12, which sets out the inspector's duties where a school causes concern, include a requirement to send a summary of the report to the Secretary of State, local authority or proprietor when giving notice that the school has been identified as causing concern.

I am not trying to tease the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, but I should also mention that all the reports will be available on the website and the full report will be sent to the appropriate authorities. The chief inspector already has a duty to send the reports to the local authority or proprietor, and therefore there is no need to increase burdens by requiring each report to be sent to the Secretary of State when he is notified that a school causes concern.

Replacing the current lengthy report and separate summary with the new style report will therefore not place additional burdens on schools or governing bodies. But it will mean that parents and others have direct access to the full outcome of the inspection.
 
13 Jan 2005 : Column 432
 

I think that by far the most useful thing that I can say is that I shall send Members of the Committee examples of the summaries so that they can get a flavour of why we think this is both possible and highly desirable as a different form of outcome for the inspection process. I hope that that has been helpful.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank the Minister for his reply and I am very glad that he said he will send us some examples. I was going to ask whether such examples existed. We shall look at them with interest and, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 56 not moved.]

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Destination of reports: maintained schools]:

[Amendments Nos. 57 to 63 not moved.]

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 [Measures to be taken by local education authority]:

[Amendment No. 64 not moved.]

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 65:

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 65, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 66 to 70 and 76. The purpose of this set of amendments is to ensure that the action statement prepared by the local authority where a school is deemed to be in need of significant improvement or special measures is produced in consultation with the school concerned and, in particular, with the head teacher and the governing body of that school.

When a school is in special measures or requires significant improvement, the Bill places sole responsibility for action on the local education authority without mention of the contribution that the school, or any other body with a key part to play in the school's performance, is expected to make. LEAs cannot be expected to improve a school's performance without there being a legal requirement for the school and the other relevant bodies also to contribute. This is of particular concern as, under the new relationship with schools, it is proposed that a school improvement partner will work primarily with the school, although it will be managed by the LEA.

The limited number of days available to the school improvement partner is likely to result in a disconnection between the school and the LEA. The LEA has had little or no involvement with the school. It is not reasonable for the LEA to find itself responsible for a school when it goes into special measures. Again, it is not reasonable for local authorities to be judged against the performance of schools in their area if they have direct involvement with a school only once it is in special measures and then cannot guarantee the support of the school and other bodies in trying to secure its improvement.
 
13 Jan 2005 : Column 433
 

Another issue that concerns us is leaving out the responsibilities of governing bodies. Under the new arrangements the proposed reduction of involvement in inspection by governors is disappointing and surprising. The important role played by governors in school improvement was first highlighted by Ofsted itself in 1994. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the Education Act 2002 set out ways in which governing bodies should contribute to school improvement. Subsequently, that was used to underpin successive inspection frameworks relating to the leadership and management of schools.

The current inspection framework indicates clearly that governors are expected to have a significant leadership role. That role is not intended to be performed in isolation, but in conjunction with the head teacher and other school staff as part of the corporate team. However, the proposed marginalisation of the governing body in inspection would not support such strategic involvement in the school. Such an approach seems to us to contradict the research evidence that has found a very strong association between the inspectors' judgment of a school's effectiveness and their judgment of its governing body. That finding is supported by evidence from Ofsted, which similarly reported a clear association between effective schools and effective governing bodies.

In conclusion, in moving the amendment and in speaking to the series of amendments grouped with it, we feel that, where a school needs to be turned around, the team element involved has proved to be significant. It is wrong to move away from that team element, back to placing the sole responsibility on the local education authority when often the local education authority will have but a minimal role. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page