|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank the Minister for that reply. If, under the clause, the Secretary of State is to be given absolute discretion about the contents of
24 Jan 2005 : Column 1108
the profile, where is the deregulation, unless there are clear limits to that discretion? We have to trust the governing bodies to govern. The profile should go to parents. After all, if it does not go to them, what is the point of it? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: I say at the outset that I welcome the opportunity that this part of the Bill gives schools to extend their provision towards higher and further education. However, if the provision to be made is genuinely at the higher and possibly tertiary level, the patterns of inspection should be appropriate to that. Thus, I believe that there is a need to seek an agreement between HMCI and the Quality Assurance Agency, which is responsible for the quality assurance of education at tertiary level.
I am not asking for a separate inspection. That would be against the spirit of the Bill and would overburden schools with an additional inspection. However, there ought to be consultation and, ideally, agreement between the two bodies. I believe that the current incumbents are quite capable of reaching that agreement.
There would be two advantages. The first is that it would help the quality of the courses offered in this provision to be seen to be credibly at a higher and tertiary level. Secondly, it would help colleges in the higher and tertiary area to give due credit for such courses, where that was appropriate. Those would be the specific benefits of a clear inspection system involving the agreement of the QAA.
Initially, there will be limited take-up of the option. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. Do the Government expect many schools to take it up? However, its perceived value will grow. Schools with ambition, of which there are an increasing number, will begin to seize the opportunity, especially, I expect, city academies, whose inspection is our business, but also some private schools that have a good record of following HMCI protocols in inspection. It would be an encouragement to them to ensure that the inspection of such courses, which may well flourish in private schools and city academies, is appropriate.
Lastly, the option to extend the range of school education into this area will be increasingly attractive, as university fees begin to bite. It could become a de facto extension of the number of places offering some form of tertiary education, albeit within the school sector.
24 Jan 2005 : Column 1109
Although it will not happen immediately or quickly, people will see it as an opportunity. Private schools, city academies and others will follow that route, hence the need now to make adequate provision for the proper type of inspection. I beg to move.
Lord Dearing: I added my name to the amendment. I warmly support the clause, but I think that it would be greatly improved by the amendment. The time being what it is, I shall say no more, unless provoked.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I apologise: I was not quick enough to my feet. In speaking to Clause 102 stand part, I shall speak also in support of Amendment No. 147, which is tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Sutherland. I wish to associate these Benches with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said.
Shocking as it might seem, I find myself in one of those rare positions where I can support a government proposalin this case, the concept of a school being able to offer its pupils courses in higher education. However, we have questioned that Clause 102 stand part of the Bill because there are a number of important questions that need to be answered.
This is a sensible step forward, which will allow head teachers the freedom to provide a greater variety of education in their schools that will act as a stepping stone from school to university. We are also pleased that such courses should not be offered if they would have a detrimental impact on the provision of other education offered in a school. Teachers are already under immense pressure simply coping with their existing duties. We would not want them swamped by additional responsibilities.
I would like briefly to outline our support for Amendment No. 147. As the Bill stands there exists no mechanism for either inspecting or assessing how effective such courses would be. I have seven practical questions. Going through them now would require a detailed analysis. If the Minister does not mind, I am happy to let her have the questions, to which she can reply in writing. I hope that she will be able to provide the assurances that we seek.
Baroness Andrews: The volume of correspondence that the noble Baroness and I will have in the next week will, I think, reach mega proportions. If she has detailed questions, we will be delighted to answer them.
Perhaps I may reiterate my thanks to the two noble Lords who have welcomed this clause. It is a very exciting development to offer courses at a level higher than A-level as an enrichment activity alongside the main course of study. That shows what we are beginning to achieve in terms of stretching not just the most able students, because these courses could come
24 Jan 2005 : Column 1110
from different directions. The courses would meet the needs of individual students as well as raising their aspirations.
As regards take-up, at present there are a small number of innovative maintained schools working to stretch their most able students with vocational and professional qualifications and modules of Open University courses, which lend themselves very well. This clause would ensure that all schools which consider such high-level provision would be of benefit are able to develop similar enrichment programmes. It is hard to tell what the take-up will be. My feeling is that it presents a wonderful opportunity for many good schools. I hope that we will be surprised by the take-up.
However, this clause will not enable schools to offer full degrees or full first years of degrees. It will not and must not displace the statutory learning of 14 to 19 year-olds, but it will offer an opportunity to develop independent learning skills for those students going on to higher education, which will be very useful.
Amendment No. 147 focuses on quality assurance. I was glad to hear the noble Lord say that he did not think that an independent inspection was appropriate. We are clear that the Ofsted inspection framework will be quite adequate. Perhaps I may explain why. I would hazard that it is not in the Bill because it does not need to be in order to be included.
Under the current school framework and the proposed new inspection arrangements such provision can be assessed by Ofsted as part of its assessment of enrichment activities provided for pupils. That will be appropriate and consistent with the small proportion of students likely to be involved. Estyn in Wales can also assess such provision.
The QAA has a role as part of its broader responsibilities to ensure that higher education institutions have systems in place to assure quality and standards wherever it is delivered. Ofsted and Estyn will need to consult and agree with the QAA the most appropriate way of inspecting such provision.
Our view is that those arrangements are best left flexible, reflecting the varying nature and style of delivery of such provision locally in schools. Clearly, we are in a moving situation, which we will keep under review. We will work together to address any changes necessary to take account of future developments. That may not be quite the answer that the noble Lord wanted, but I hope he will be content to let us keep watching the situation for a while.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: I thank the noble Baroness for her helpful reply, although there is still a question of quite how the QAA will be involved. I would hate a situation to develop where personalities made it difficult. At the moment that would not be the case, and the advantage of having something either
24 Jan 2005 : Column 1111
written down or on the record is that personalities would have to overcome any such risks. However, I shall think about it. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|