Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Roberts of Conway : I am very grateful to the Minister for her justification of this clause. Nevertheless, I am far from convinced of the necessity for this particular panel. I turn to the three functions which the noble Baroness described, the first of which is the advice on the inspector's remit. I would have thought it is very much a matter for the education committee of the Assembly. There is a statutory education committee and it is a matter for that committee and the Minister as to what the inspectorate's remit should be. Similarly, as regards the inspectorate's annual plan, that is surely a matter for the Minister to approve. It is not a matter on which to seek advice from a body of practitioners.

If the advisory panel is there to examine complaints against the chief inspector, that is a role, as we heard this morning, which can also be played by the public services' ombudsman who is about to be created under another Bill which is coming before this House.

I am sure that it will be costly. The noble Baroness referred to allowances, but she did not refer to the other related item—remuneration. Therefore, these advisors will be paid. There is not much doubt that they will find something to do. I shall certainly seek to inquire into the matter further.

Baroness Andrews: Perhaps I may have the last word. As regards who sets the remit, it is advice which
13 Jan 2005 : Column 441
is required by the Minister for Education. One of the points I hoped to get across to Members of the Committee is that it is an independent group providing advice which the Minister and the Assembly will be unable to obtain anywhere else. That will be extremely important. I reiterate that the costs are limited because the panel members will be covered for travel and subsistence. I have no further advice as regards remuneration.

Lord Hanningfield: I thank the noble Baroness for her replies. She will realise that we still have some concerns, although she has undertaken to write to us, in particular on the point about remuneration. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clauses 22 to 26 agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 82 not moved.]

Clause 27 [Duty to arrange regular inspections of certain schools]:

[Amendments Nos. 83 and 84 not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 85:

The Chief Inspector may inspect any school in Wales, in circumstances where he is not required by section 19(2)(b) or 27, where he may have cause for concern arising from his duty under section 19."

The noble Lord said: This amendment would allow the chief inspector in Wales the same power as his counterpart in England to inspect schools at his discretion where, under his duties outlined in Clause 19, he has cause for concern.

The particular merit of this clause is that it would allow the chief inspector to inspect any school at any time if he had cause for concern. He would not necessarily have to wait for the usual and planned range of inspections. This is a step we can support in relation to England, and is why we thought it would be a useful addition to the powers available to the chief inspector in Wales. We are in favour of any measures that bring greater flexibility and responsiveness to the position.

Perhaps the Minister could explain why such a power is to be granted to the inspector in England, but not in Wales. I beg to move.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: This is a valuable new clause in that it would give the chief inspector the right to inspect any school in Wales, whether required to do so or not by the Assembly or under Clause 27, if he has cause for concern arising from his general duty under Clause 19.

I assume that the clause would allow a snap inspection when a school suddenly comes into the news and allegations fly—such a situation is not unknown in Wales. I am reminded of an occasion not
13 Jan 2005 : Column 442
so long ago in a rural area of Wales when some trouble arose. A school and its teacher were in the news, which occasioned a visit by a television camera crew. I recall the interviewer asking one of the mothers of a pupil at the school whether she had, "something against Miss Jones"—or whatever was the teacher's name. The mother replied, "Oh, goodness me, no. Only what I've heard". Clearly she knew something, but there was no way in which the interviewer could elicit what it was.

That kind of situation does boil up from time to time and might require a snap inspection. I am not sure that it is the kind of circumstance that any HMI would like to step into, but at least they would not be debarred from doing so. Indeed, the inspectorate might be positively encouraged by the presence of such a provision. Moreover, public pressure often calls for a snap inspection, which might ease pressure on the Minister in the Assembly.

Baroness Walmsley: Although just a few minutes ago I said that England and Wales do not always have to be the same because they are very different countries, particularly in size, on this occasion I think there is merit in the proposed new clause. The reason I say that is that to a great extent children have only one chance at their education, although there are reparatory mechanisms available—sometimes, sadly, in the education department of a young offender's institution. We all know how difficult that can be. So if there is a need to get in quickly if there is immediate cause for concern and the chief inspector believes that an inspector will be able to identify clearly what the problems are and kick into place mechanisms to help put things right then there is no reason why that should not be as valid in Wales as in England. I support this amendment.

Baroness Andrews: I can give the noble Lords the assurances they seek. They have sought to bring forward a power for the chief inspector to inspect any school in Wales irrespective of whether such an inspection had been specifically requested by the Assembly under the powers in Clause 19(20)(b) or was part of the cycle of regular school inspection provided for in Clause 27.

We talked a bit about Estyn and its functions in the previous debate. I agree with everything noble Lords have said about how essential it is for the inspectorate in discharging its remit to have unfettered access to schools and to be able to have the freedom to disseminate good practice without fear or favour. It should be able to identify shortfalls and be able to praise success. In the new inspection arrangements in both England and Wales we are trying to maximise the access that is vital to raising quality and standards.

It is for this very reason that Clause 23 enables the chief inspector to arrange for any school in Wales to be inspected by an HMI. It also provides for an HMI to monitor school inspection being carried out by a registered inspector under Clause 27 and makes provision for right of entry and a right to inspect documents for the purposes of inspection.
13 Jan 2005 : Column 443

Inspection plays a key part in school improvement. The chief inspector must have the flexibility to arrange inspection and to monitor as and where necessary. That is the basis for open and fair reporting, and without that the integrity of the inspection system could be seriously impaired. Clause 23 ensures that is provided for Wales. On the basis that Estyn can inspect at the chief inspector's discretion at any time and at any school in Wales I hope that this amendment will be withdrawn.

Lord Hanningfield: I thank the Minister for those comments. As she gives us an assurance that this is available we shall read the Bill again. Meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 28 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 86 not moved.]

Clauses 29 to 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Duty to notify where inspection shows maintained school causing concern]:

[Amendments Nos. 87 and 88 not moved.]

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 [Destination of reports: maintained schools]:

[Amendment No. 89 not moved.]

Clause 37 agreed to.

Clauses 38 and 39 agreed to.

Clause 40 [Destination of reports: non-maintained schools]:

[Amendment No. 90 not moved.]

Clause 40 agreed to.

Clauses 41 and 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 [Categories of schools causing concern]:

[Amendment No. 91 not moved.]

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page