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Lord Roberts of Conwy: I, too, find it difficult to see why the Assembly requires a panel to advise it on matters relating to the inspectorate, bearing in mind that it has a Minister in the Assembly Government and a committee of Assembly Members dedicated to education. They also have Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), a Crown appointment, on which the Assembly is to be consulted.
One would have thought that the chief inspector and the education committee would provide sufficient advice. It might be argued that further advice from a panel, presumably consisting largely of professionals, would be superfluous and could even cause confusion in decision-making. On reading the clause it is noticeable that the Bill is uncertain on the functions of the advisory panel, other than its own appointment, fixing remuneration and allowances, ensuring co-operation with HMCI and making reports to the Assembly. The proposed panel gives the impression of being superfluous from its inception. There is little that it can do that HMCI cannot do better or more authoritatively.
"the Assembly discharges a range of responsibilities with regard to Estyn (the Chief Inspector's Office) related to appointments, agreement of terms and conditions and funding. Currently, there are no mechanisms to provide the Assembly with independent advice on such matters".
Is a special panel really necessary for those functions? I doubt it very much. Surely, they are matters for the Minister and civil servants. The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, who covers a far wider spectrum of services and is also a Crown appointment, does not require a special panel attached to him and his office to advise the Assembly. I am not aware of any other similar case. This panel is an Assembly quango by another name and I am surprised to see the proposal in the Bill bearing in mind that the Assembly Government are currently setting alight the long-promised bonfire of Welsh quangos.
In fairness, I should point out that the NUT believes that the panel will be welcomed by teachers in Wales, but that welcome was extended in the context of the inspectorate's increased accountability to the Assembly after a period when the NUT endured what it described as a punitive system of inspections. It is not at all clear that the panel can have a role in changing perceived attitudes on the part of the inspectorate. I do not think that the panel will be able to change the inspectorate's functions at all. Any change of that nature in the style of the inspectorate, and so on, will have to come from the inspectorate itself or from the Bill.
Like my noble friend, I do not find the case for the proposed panel at all compelling; quite the reverse. It is an unnecessary addition to the bureaucratic burden
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on the education budget. Admittedly it is a permissive clause; it is a "may" clause; but that is no reason for us to allow it to proceed in the Bill.
Baroness Walmsley: On these Benches we do not support the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. We feel that the Assembly might perhaps be somewhat undermined. It should be allowed to keep its panel. The situation in Wales, as people often say, is somewhat different. In England we have the Education Select Committee in another place; they do not have that in Wales, therefore an advisory panel of experts may very well be most useful in advising the Assembly on inspection matters. Wales is different and I would like to see Clause 21 left in the Bill.
Baroness Andrews: I am grateful for the support of one part of the Opposition. I hope to bring the other part round to my way of thinking by the time I have explained in a bit more detail what the panel is supposed to do. I take on board the specific questions asked by both noble Lords; if I cannot answer them all then I will write.
Clause 21 provides the Assembly with a new and necessary power to establish through regulations a panel to advise the Assembly on any matter relating to the functions of the chief inspector. It might be worth stating the role of Estyn in relation to the Assembly. Estyn is independent of but funded by the National Assembly for Wales under Section 104 of the Government of Wales Act. It is accountable to the Assembly in relation to financial matters and to the audit committee. It has a key role in raising standards in quality of education and training across Wales in all areas through inspection and advice. Although the management of the inspectorate is a matter for the chief inspector, the Assembly is required to discharge a range of responsibilities with regard to Estyn. It is in relation to those other responsibilities that we seek to enable the Assembly to discharge its duties with a little more dialogue and enrichment, without imposing any new duties or any new bureaucracy.
Clause 21 allows the Assembly to make provision for the appointment of members of the panel, remuneration and allowances, and the preparation of reports. It requires the chief inspector to co-operate, for example, by providing the panel with access to staff and papers.
We fully recognise that the management of the inspectorate is clearly a matter for the chief inspector. However, the new panel will provide what has been felt lacking for some timeit will fill a gap with an informed and independent view on the range of duties and responsibilities the Assembly is required to discharge with regard to EstynHer Majesty's Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales. There is no mechanism for providing the Assembly with independent advice, and it is the independence of the advice that concerns us particularly.
It might make sense to noble Lords if we consider what the panel might do. It will have three potential tasks. It will be able to advise the Assembly on the
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annual remit issued to the chief inspector by the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning. The chief inspector can devote 20 per cent of inspectorate time to strategic issues and development. That might go across a range of educational issues; it might relate to primary education, curriculum development or whatever. The inspector has the right to request that but, to date, has had no mechanism to obtain or commission advice for that purpose. So we look to the panel to provide an expert and informed view on the development of such a programme that would identify and address key issues consistent with policy objectives and priorities throughout Wales. It will bring a new strength to the inspectorate's arm and to the Assembly's arm and would draw them closer together into that dialogue. The panel will be able to advise on that range of issues.
The panel will also be able to provide advice to Ministers in meeting the Assembly's statutory obligation to approve Estyn's annual plan. It will be able to advise the Assembly on the extent to which it believes that the plan will provide an effective platform for raising standards and quality in education and training to support the vision. It will be a critical friend to the Assembly in assessing how effective education and training in Wales has been, as mediated through Estyn's annual plan. I would have thought that that would be an extremely helpful new resource for the Assembly.
The panel will also advise Ministers on the handling of any complaint against the chief inspector. There is no current mechanism for the consideration of such complaints, if they do not fall within the remit of the Welsh Administration Ombudsman. Therefore, it will be in the interests of all parties to ensure that the panel has unfettered access to papers and is in a position to provide such an informed and full opinion on the subject matter.
The panel is essentially advisory. It will not have executive powers. It will be for Ministers to determine whether to accept or act on the advice, but it will be new advice that will be useful to the Assembly.
Who will be on the panel? The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, asked me how many members the panel would have, who they would be and how they would be appointed. Much of that detail will be subject to consultation by the Assembly as part of the framing of the regulations, but I can tell the Committee that the panel will provide an informed, independent view on the role and contribution of inspection in raising standards. Essentially, it will be composed of practitioners. They will be people with wide experience in education. There will be representation from the business sector. We expect the membership to be no more than six, and the appointments will be made through the established Assembly procedures. I can write to the noble Lord with more detail about that. The clause sets out the basic principles, and the detail will be subject to consultation, as we frame the regulations.
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The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, asked what the panel would cost. The costs will be limited to travel and subsistence for panel members, and we expect Assembly officials to provide support for the panel. It will not be expensive.
There is no duplication of roles and responsibilities in that there are no executive powers. It is not adding to the bureaucratic burden, but is added value. We believe that it is an important development. There can be no assumption that the panel will be an advisory, Assembly-sponsored public body. When it is established decisions on its status will be taken as part of the process to establish the panel itself. We believe it unlikely that the panel would draw one-third of its membership from outside the public sector, for example. It will be based in Cardiff. I do not have any other information available to me so I make that assumption.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, concluded by asking why it is unnecessary in England. Part of the answer was given by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. We have the education committee in England which provides advice. In addition, we have mechanisms in England: there is the body which enables a chief inspector to be called to account. We have independent adjudicators available to deal with complaints against a chief inspector. We have a different system.
We are trying to create something which we have been advised is needed and will be welcome. It is very good to know that the NUT in Wales has welcomed it. It will be limited, advisory, modest and effective as regards what it is intended to do. I hope that reassures Members of the Committee. I shall certainly write if we can provide any further details.
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