HC Deb 29 January 1992 vol 202 cc1009-29 'The Chief Inspector for England may, with the consent of the Audit Commission for Local Authorities in England and Wales, promote or undertake studies in connection with his functions designed to improve efficiency, economy and effectiveness in the management of schools in England.'.—[Mr. Straw.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Straw

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following: New Clause 4—Power of Chief Inspector for Wales to promote studies for improving efficiency etc.'The Chief Inspector for Wales may, with the consent of the Audit Commission for Local Authorities in England and Wales, promote or undertake studies in connection with his functions designed to improve efficiency, economy and effectiveness in the management of schools in Wales.'. Government amendments Nos. 26, 27, 48 and 49.

Mr. Straw

I am sure that the House is pleased that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon), is to answer the debate. It may explain why scores of hon. Members are trying to get into the Chamber.

Mr. George Howarth

It is the other way round.

Mr. Straw

One of the problems with the Official Report is that heavy irony usually fails to come off, and it certainly did on that occasion.

New clause 3 proposes to add to the Bill the following: The Chief Inspector for England may, with the consent of the Audit Commission for Local Authorities in England and Wales, promote or undertake studies in connection with his functions designed to improve efficiency, economy and effectiveness in the management of schools in England. Clause 4 has the same wording, except that it applies to the chief inspector for Wales.

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Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 appear on page 412 of the amendment sheet. We need not worry about No. 26 because it simply deletes the word "and". Amendment No. 27 proposes to insert in clause 16, at the end of the two sets of criteria, the words: assist in assessing the degree of efficiency with which the financial resources of those schools are managed. Government amendments Nos. 48 and 49, which can be found on page 413, do the same in respect of clause 17 and the exercise of functions in Scotland.

In Committee there were substantial debates about how far the effectiveness of schools could fairly be judged simply by the publication of crude raw data on their results. We shall deal with that later.

New clause 3 touches on those issues because it proposes that, after consultation with the Audit Commission, the chief inspector ought to be able to undertake studies in connection with his functions…to improve efficiency, economy and effectiveness in the management of schools". It would be difficult for us to object to Government amendments Nos. 26 and 27 since, as I recall, they arose from amendments that we tabled in Committee. Thus, we do not object—it would be churlish to do so.

Amendment No. 27 is concerned only with assessing the degree of efficiency with which a school's financial resources are managed. The Chief Inspector ought to be able to study wider criteria. Obviously efficiency is important, but he should also consider economy and effectiveness.

The Audit Commission provides an important model of how Government institutions, which are there to monitor the work of public services, should work. I pay tribute to the Audit Commission's work in the 10 years or so since it was first established. Under the leadership of the first controller, John Banham, and more recently under the leadership of the present controller, Howard Davies, the Audit Commission has achieved the enviable position of being respected by both central and local government, by the health authorities and by the public, who view it as a body which will rigorously assess, scrutinise and seek to monitor the effectiveness of public services on their behalf. Interestingly, the model offered by the Audit Commission in respect of auditing the accounts of local authorities and health authorities is wholly at variance with the scheme of the Bill.

My hon. Friends will recall that I asked the Secretary of State, not once but three times, if he could name one area of public services where such a crackpot scheme had been introduced as the privatisation of the schools inspectorate and allowing the provider to pick and pay the regulator.

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) in the Chamber. He is the only Conservative member of the Standing Committee—apart from the hired hands on the second row—in his place. Indeed, he is the only Conservative member of the Standing Committee who has taken any part in the debate. Although he is not a hired hand—in the sense that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) is—he holds the esteemed position of chairman of the parliamentary Conservative party education committee, so it is his duty to be here. The fact that the other Conservative members of the Committee listened to the debates hour after hour but cannot bring themselves to come into the Chamber today, let alone speak in support of the measure, shows how bankrupt their argument is.

Mr. Pawsey

It is not duty which brings me here, but pleasure—the pleasure of hearing my right hon. and hon. Friends demolishing the Opposition's arguments.

Mr. Straw

I suspect that that pleasure will be long delayed.

Mr. Pawsey

Yes, I suspect that it will be.

Mr. Straw

The curiosity of the Bill is that it has no parallel in public administration here or elsewhere in the world. I do not think that anyone in the western industrialised world or the developing world has ever dreamed up such a madcap scheme as allowing schools to pick and pay inspectors. At least the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth has the good grace to smile—perhaps with some acquiescence—at what I am saying.

The interesting thing about the Audit Commission is that its method of operation is different from that proposed in the Bill. It is fascinating that the Audit Commission was established by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) when he was last Secretary of State for the Environment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Michael Fallon)


Mr. Straw

Yes, it was when he was first Secretary of State for the Environment. Now he is their last Secretary of State for the Environment.

The Audit Commission was established in 1981–82 because of worries about inconsistent standards in the inspection of local authorities' accounts. One of the main concerns of the Government and the public at that stage was that local authorities were allowed to pick and pay their auditors. It was the main objection to that system of inspection. The right hon. Member for Henley said in the House at the time that it was crucially important that not only should the auditing of local authorities be independent, but that it should be seen to be independent. Rather than allow local authorities to decide, the Audit Commission was given powers, under its enabling legislation, to determine who should audit their accounts. Some local authorities objected to the fact that their right to decide was to be taken away.

I happen to think that that was the correct decision. It was also entirely consistent with the Conservative Administration's approach of the past 13 years to the auditing and regulation of public services. However, the Secretary of State for Education and Science had a brainstorm in the summer after reading the draft pamphlet produced by the Wandsworth chief inspector and immediately introduced the Bill. I believe that he did so in the hope, if not the expectation, of an October election so that the Bill would never see the light of legislative day. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has had to rue the fact that we prevented the Government from calling an election in November. Now he must deliver the Bill.

Mr. Fallon

We could have the election now.

Mr. Straw

We would be delighted, but the last person who would want an election now must be the hon. Gentleman as one of the certainties of that election is that he will not represent Darlington after it, especially in view of the way in which he has so gratuitously offended Catholics in his constituency.

Mr. Fallon

I have not offended anyone in my constituency. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recall that, in the past, the Labour party underestimated the Darlington electorate.

Mr. Straw

Once bitten, twice shy. I am sorry to say that it is a racing certainty—

Mr. Fatchett

Do not apologise for it.

Mr. Straw

Again, that remark is full of deep irony. It is a racing certainty that the Under-Secretary of State will not represent Darlington after the election.

Some of us believe that the hon. Gentleman's approach to politics in the past year has been dictated by a desire to secure a safe seat somewhere else rather than by concern for his constituents in Darlington. Only someone who had already decided to abandon his constituents would so offend a large number of them, the Catholic population. The hon. Gentleman has thrown his seat away.

Mr. Fatchett

What has he done?

Mr. Straw

I do not believe that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as a stickler for order, would wish me to pursue that. I must relate my remarks to the Audit Commission.

Mr. Fatchett

It might be a serious matter.

Mr. Straw

It might indeed, but it has nothing to do with the Audit Commission. I know that the Under-Secretary of State has offended a lot of people, but I am not aware, as yet, that he has offended the Audit Commission. In any case the commission has a broader back and no votes—unlike the Catholic population of Darlington.

As a result of the local government legislation of 1982, the Audit Commission and not the local authorities appoints the auditors to local authorities. The Audit Commission also appoints the auditors for the health authorities and even the opt-out hospital trusts. Earlier, the Secretary of State wriggled and wriggled on that parallel, but it is well known that those trusts sought to argue that, as they were semi-privatised. they should have the right to appoint their own auditors, as though they were the shareholders of their trusts' property. One can appreciate the argument, given how detached they are from the health service. However, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was Secretary of State for Health, he insisted that the Audit Commission should appoint the auditors to the opt-out trusts.

It is true that for the audit of local authorities the Audit Commission uses not only the district auditor service but a number of private audit companies. Conservative Members could have used that fact as an argument for saying that, with the system of audit of local authority accounts, the Audit Commission offers a parallel to the proposed privatised inspection regime.

The important difference is that the Audit Commission uses only seven or eight firms of auditors. Those firms are carefully controlled and regulated by the commission, not by the local authorities. The crucial difference between the scheme proposed in the Bill and that operated by the Audit Commission is that it is the Audit Commission which pays the fees of those firms. The Audit Commission chooses those firms and, on behalf of the public, ensures that they do the job.

Mr. George Howarth

He who pays the piper.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend with his usual sagacity—I could have used other words—has put his finger on it; he who pays the piper calls the tune.

I believe that the Bill will be defeated by the fact that the Government and the Opposition will run out of time—

Mr. Fatchett

And by the electorate.

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Mr. Straw

That goes without saying, including the electorate of Darlington.

Part of the Opposition's function is to try to improve legislation even if we do not agree with the principles behind it. In the unlikely event of the scheme coming into effect, I hope that the senior chief inspector would be able to draw upon the experience of the Audit Commission by seeking to judge in a wider sense the effectiveness, efficiency and economy of the management of schools.

The Audit Commission began the serious scrutiny of the work of the local inspectorate with its excellent report, "Assuring Quality of Education", published in 1989. The Secretary of State flies so many canards that it is difficult to know where to start in terms of correcting him. However, one of the many inaccuracies that he has uttered—he usually does so when he has nothing better to say—is to suggest that our proposals for an education standards commission were hastily put together when we heard about the citizens charter.

I am glad to note that the Secretary of State has now taken his place on the Front Bench. I accept that it is a well-known political truth that if one side of the House finds out what the other side is doing it sometimes tries to take pre-emptive action. However, our discussions about the education standards commission predate any hint or suggestion of a parents charter or a citizens charter.

We proposed an education standards council, as it was first called, as policy to the Labour party conference in 1988. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that that predates the parents charter. We published a document on our proposals in May 1989, which predated the Audit Commission proposal. However, when that proposal was published, we studied it in detail.

The Audit Commission has an obvious interest in the running of the local inspectorate. Although the Audit Commission report spelled out the steps that local authorities needed to take, it did not, at any stage, suggest that the inspectorate should be privatised.

Recently the Audit Commission published a working paper entitled "Two Bs or not…", which is an important study of the performance of schools and colleges at A-level. We shall consider some of the main conclusions of that report when we discuss school effectiveness. However, that report revealed that it is silly to seek to judge institutions simply on the absolute level of results that they achieve. They are an important starting point for judging how schools and colleges are proceeding, but they cannot be the finishing point, any more than, as any accountant knows, the only basis for judging the financial soundness of a company is the total amount of its sales. That is a received wisdom among Conservative Members, but we have moved on from that method of judging the effectiveness of companies to much more sophisticated techniques that tell us how much value added they produce and how much work they do.

Similarly, the Audit Commission, a number of whose officers work in education, decided to look not just at crude results but at the attainment of young people in sixth forms, sixth form further education and tertiary colleges, and private schools. It compared their GCSE attainment when they entered those institutions with their A-level attainment when they left and sought to judge from those results the effectiveness of those institutions.

I am glad to welcome to the Government Front Bench the Minister of State, Welsh Office, the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts), who is the longest serving Minister in the same post in this Parliament and whose record can scarcely be exceeded by anyone this century. I hope that I shall not ruin his chances at the general election by saying that I have always had considerable affection for him. I am glad to see that he is here, because the debate also concerns Wales.

The results that the Audit Commission found were interesting. They showed that the GCSE results of young people in the middle of the range were better in independent schools but that independent schools did worse in terms of those with a lower attainment and, at the top, had average results. Those results were important in focusing on what makes institutions effective and in debunking some of the myths about the performance of such institutions.

I hope that, in explaining the background to the proposal and the Audit Commission's work, I may have persuaded the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) that he could easily accept the amendment. It would help to strengthen the work of the chief inspector of schools, as the Government wish.

New clause 3 says that the chief inspector should, with the consent of the Audit Commission, be able to undertake studies. It is important tht he should be able to carry out research into what is going on because the difficulty of the Government's scheme is that the main source of data on what happens in schools would come from inspections carried out by privatised inspectors.

May I put on record the fact that there is now no Conservative Member left in the Chamber apart from Ministers? Although this is supposed to be a flagship policy, no Conservative Member is here to support the Government—[Interruption.] A Conservative Member is now scampering on to the Benches. We look forward to her contribution to the debate. The Bill is a Government measure and it is for Conservative Members to argue in favour of it. It is noteworthy that Conservative Members have not volunteered press statements or speeches in support of the privatisation of the inspectorate. Their silence is deafening.

When the Prime Minister was trying to relaunch the beached citizens charter the other day, as to how central the privatised, pick-and-pay, pick-your-own inspectorate would be within the parents charter or the citizens charter, there was virtual silence. The Prime Minister's apparent scepticism and distaste for the measure is plainly shared by most Conservative Members, who have shown their unhappiness about the measure by leaving the Chamber.

Mr. McFall

To add substance to my hon. Friend's remarks, early-day motion 574, signed by six Conservative Members, deplores the action of Labour Members and asks them to clarify their position during the Report stage of the Bill. Where are those six Conservative Members? The fact that they are not here illustrates the vacuousness of their position and the fact that they are not interested in the Bill. Those interested in the rights of parents are the Labour Members who are present to debate the issue.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is right. One or two Conservative Members are interested in those issues. The Secretary of State dealt neither fairly nor with the respect that they deserved with the points raised by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and the hon. Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern), who made an important contribution to the debate on the rights of local authorities. One can never accuse those Conservative Members of being in the pocket of the left-wing educational establishment. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Darlington, may do so, but I certainly would not.

Those Conservative Members are concerned with ensuring that consistent standards of education are maintained in their constituencies. They know that removing a local authority's power to inspect schools in the period between the privatised inspections that will take place evry four years and refusing to provide the local authority with the money to pay for inspectors will mean that schools that fall below standard between inspections—arithmetically, schools will probably not fall below standard exactly at the point of inspection, but problems will arise at other times—will go unmonitored and standards will fall further under the so-called parents charter, which represents declining standards and mediocrity.

The Government claim that the main data that will flow to Her Majesty's chief inspector, from which he will judge the state of the education service, will be derived from individual inspections.

Mr. Fallon

The hon. Gentleman is filibustering.

Mr. Straw

I am not filibustering. This debate is raising important issues. In the previous debate, many Conservative Members were as unhappy with the Government's proposals as we were. They were certainly unconvinced by the Secretary of State.

The Government claim that the main source of data will be individual reports from the privatised inspectorates. We believe that those individual reports are bound to be of an inconsistent standard, for the reasons that the Minister of State admitted in the Standing Committee. Governing bodies will be able to pick and choose inspectors who follow their approach.

The Minister of State also made the damaging admission that, if a school was following an integrationist approach, for example on special needs, it could appoint inspectors without expertise in that subject. Therefore, there will be no consistency in the standard of information and, even if there were, it would still need to be backed up by nationwide studies such as those undertaken until now by the Audit Commission in its relatively narrow field and which HMI and organisations such as the Assessment of Performance Unit used to undertake until it was abolished.

Mr. George Howarth

I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend and it is clear from his detailed analysis of all the implications of the process that it will be disastrous. In Committee the Government heard all the criticisms being made. In my hon. Friend's opinion, why are the Government carrying on with the Bill? Are there sinister reasons for it?

Mr. Straw

I think that the Government have got themselves stuck. I believe that Conservative Members wish for an early election if only to see the end of the Bill.

The Secretary of State has a history of introducing measures and then changing his mind. He did so with the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill that he brought before the House in November 1990. He commended it in fulsome terms and said that he agreed not only with the Bill but with his hon. Friend's comments. Then, hey hoe, about two months later the matter is turned on its head and the Secretary of State says that he does not agree with a word of it and introduces a different measure. That is on the record and the Secretary of State had clearly not thought his position through and so had to change his mind. He could easily do the same on this Bill; if he did, we would applaud his action.

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Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

We spent about 300 hours discussing the so-called Education Reform Bill. I alluded to it as a "deform" Bill. The Government thought through that Bill with such urgency that it was almost doubled in size by Government amendments. Endless Government amendments had to be introduced before the Bill could be made to work. The present Education (Schools) Bill is also being rushed through at such a rate that people are not conversant with what is happening. However, the Government will not accept one Opposition amendment out of hundreds, but every now and then Ministers say that there is not much difference between the views of the parties.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend brings experience and wisdom on educational matters to the House. It is no good the Secretary of State going on about the need to keep the pace of change going. Change is in the nature of life, but our charge against the Government is that they have failed to think through their changes and have then mismanaged them.

It is known—perhaps the Secretary of State will wake up to this fact at some stage—that our 1987 manifesto contained a proposal for a national core curriculum which we would have introduced had we won the election. We did not oppose the principle of a national curriculum in 1987 and we are not undergoing a latter-day conversion, but we certainly depart from the way in which the Government have put the national curriculum into practice. They have failed to think the matter through, and consequently one change after another has been imposed on schools. Some 165 separate documents have been sent to schools—more than one for each week of every term since the Education Reform Act 1988 has been in force.

Before I was interrupted, I was saying that we believe that—[Interruption.] Sometimes one feels bound, out of deference to colleagues to allow interventions from hon. Friends. We think that there is a strong case for studies, as well as receiving information and making judgments on the basis of the local inspection reports.

Mr. Fallon

The House will have listened to the most extraordinarily discursive speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) which started with mention of Darlington. I must correct what he said—I have provided £243,000 for Church schools in Darlington but the Labour-controlled Durham county council is threatening to refuse to spend any of that money on Catholic schools there, and I shall hold the council to account.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

The Minister has just given the House—I shall not say "deliberately"—some misinformation. Durham county council, in consultation with the Department of Education and Science, proposed extra accommodation for Catholic schools. The Minister turned it down—the people of Darlington know that and the Catholics will remember it at the general election.

Mr. Fallon

I have made it clear that I provided £250,000 for Church schools in Darlington—[Interruption.]—personally. Durham county council is threatening to withhold that money from schools in Darlington—I think that the people of Darlington will clearly understand that.

The hon. Member for Blackburn attempted to explain the Government amendments in this group, but I shall do that myself later. New clauses 3 and 4 are wholly inappropriate. They would not add anything to the powers of the chief inspectors. Instead, the amendments would reduce their ability to act as they see fit. The clauses may appear to give a function to the chief inspector. They state that he may, in connection with his functions, arrange studies into how schools might be more efficiently, economically and effectively managed. However, nothing in the Bill as drafted would prevent him from doing this, if he so chose.

The clauses add nothing to the powers of the HMCIs for England and Wales in this respect. The clauses would reduce the ability of the HMCIs to follow their own independent judgment in carrying out such studies. They would be required to obtain the consent of the Audit Commission before they could act as laid down. That is unacceptable, and quite out of keeping with the increased independence we are seeking for the HMCI.

I expect that in practice HMCI and the Audit Commission will carry on and develop the relationship which HMI and the commission have already established. The House may not fully appreciate that there is already considerable co-operation between the Audit Commission and HMI. A number of HMIs have been seconded to the commission's staff in recent years, and such individuals have been involved in several published reports on educational matters, including that on local authority inspection and, more recently, on management in primary schools. At present, the commission and HMI are carrying out joint exercises looking at 16-to-19 education and special educational needs. They are co-operating on work in performance indicators which will be relevant for the implementation of both this and the Local Government Bill.

I fully accept that the Audit Commission's experience and expertise are relevant to those parts of HMI's functions which have to do with efficiency and value for money in schools. It is equally true that HMI's experience and expertise are relevant to that part of the Audit Commission's work which has to do with education. I am sure that co-operation will increase under the new legislation. I am sure, for example, that HMCI will want to talk to the Commission about relevant aspects of his guidance to registered inspectors. But I am sure we can rely on HMCI and the Audit Commission to achieve that, and do not need to give their relationship the backing of statute.

I do not see any difficulty in the two bodies continuing to work alongside each other as now, both with their separate remits. The Local Government Bill now before Parliament gives the Audit Commission new powers to require the publication of performance information covering local authority services including education. The Education (Schools) Bill gives a formal basis for HMI's increasing interest in the efficiency with which resources are used in schools. It will be essential, as now, for the two bodies to co-operate and consult as they carry out their duties. But I see no reason for that to be set out in law—and certainly not for HMCI to be made subordinate to the Audit Commission in that respect.

That must have been the original view of the hon. Member for Blackburn. Paragraph 64 of his document "Raising the Standard" states: There should be consultation between the ESC and the Audit Commission about the transfer of appropriate staff and about where the dividing line between the work of the two Commissions should be precisely drawn. That is a far cry from new clause 3, which would impose in statute the subordination of the HMI to the Audit Commission.

It is clear that the hon. Gentleman is making this up as he goes along. It seems that he drafted the new clause on the back of an envelope during a delayed railway journey between Blackburn and London when he had forgotten what was set out in "Raising the Standard". It is not often that we praise "Raising the Standard", but we think that he had it right before he scribbled new clause 3.

There will, of course, be consultation between the two bodies. They will work out between them precisely where the dividing line should lie.

To show that we are not opposed to improvements to the Bill in the cause of encouraging efficiency, I commend Government amendments Nos. 26 and 27 and the corresponding amendments, Nos. 48 and 49, for Scotland. These amendments meet a point that was urged upon us by Opposition Members in Committee, which we undertook to consider further. It appears that the powers in clauses 16 and 17 do not extend to the collection and publication of information about efficiency in schools. That is a gap. When indicators are available through the work of HMI and the commission, we want to be able to include them in relevant publications. Inspection reports will cover quality, standards and efficiency, and so, as far as possible, should other publications.

I hope that the Opposition, on reconsidering the merits of their new clauses, will be able to give their full support to the Government amendments, which are designed to bridge a gap in the Bill to which they, the Opposition, drew our attention in Committee. Accordingly, I hope that new clauses 3 and 4 will be withdrawn and that Government amendments Nos. 26, 27, 48 and 49 will be accepted.

Mr. Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley, North)

I listened with interest to the Minister's response. It astounds me that the Government still do not understand, after the decade of disturbance that they have caused within the education system, that they are responsible for a veritable blizzard of "innovation". Whenever I speak on this subject I find myself searching for new and more adequate ways of describing what the Government have done. I have used various words, such as storm, wave and carousel, and tonight I have opted for blizzard. I feel for our hard-pressed teachers, who have the unenviable task of delivering education to our children in the face of the blizzard of "innovation".

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has said, the pace of change is astounding. There is at least an administrative circular each day. One can imagine the amount of time that head teachers and teachers must spend reading the literature that is produced by the Government. It is no wonder that they have not caught up with one change before they are overtaken by the next. It is not surprising that there is a crisis of morale in the teaching profession. The Government have failed to recognise the crisis but it has been researched. Warwick university undertook a study and concentrated especially on those who teach pupils of seven years and over.

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Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I regret that the hon. Member is straying and I must draw his attention to the new clauses that we are considering. I invite him to address his remarks more specifically to them.

Mr. O'Hara

I shall do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am setting out the background to the new clauses. I have drawn attention to the crisis of morale among those who deliver education to our children. It has arisen because of the constant disturbance that they suffer in undertaking their task.

In deference to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall refer more briefly to the difficulties that face local authorities in managing their budgets as a result of the changes that the Government are introducing and the cuts that are being inflicted on local authority spending. The problems that are experienced in the local management of schools are shared by the schools themselves and local authorities. They are trying to share a cake that is too small to meet demand.

Surely the most pressing need is a period of consultation within the education system. We need a period of review and overview. We need to stand back and assess whether we are moving forward or merely spinning round and getting nowhere fast. We must determine whether we are moving fast but ineffectively.

For example, how much time are teachers able to devote to teaching? I have referred to the time that they must spend reading Government circulars. They have to spend time preparing and testing. Studies have shown that teachers of seven-year-olds are spending only about 42 per cent. of their time teaching. The rest of their time is devoted to other duties.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I regret having again to call the hon. Member's attention to the new clauses that are before us. The hon. Member has excellent parliamentary manners and I have never known him attempt to abuse the House in any way. I must ask him to convince me that he is speaking to the clauses, which relate to the powers of the chief inspectors for England and for Wales. He must address himself to the substantive matters that are set out in the new clauses.

Mr. O'Hara

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I assure you that all my remarks are relevant to the new clauses. New clause 3 states: The Chief Inspector for England may, with the consent of the Audit Commission for Local Authorities in England and Wales, promote or undertake studies in connection with his functions designed to improve efficiency, economy and effectiveness in the management of schools in England. If an overview, initiated by HMI in consultation with the Audit Commission, of the way in which teachers are spending their time in schools is not an examination of efficiency, economy and effectiveness in the management of schools in England", I do not know what is. What more expensive resource is there in this context than staffing costs? I am sure that we all want as much as possible of the money that is allocated to be spent on the teaching of children. There has been some limited research, but there is a crying need for the sort of study to which HMI has drawn attention repeatedly during its distinguished history. It is surely the best-equipped organisation to carry out that study.

We are told repeatedly when we complain about the allocation of resources to local authorities that they have surplus places in their schools and that if they were more efficient in eliminating them they would be able to allocate their resources more efficiently. Surplus places are not just a matter of space, not just a matter of square metres. There can be many reasons why surplus places cannot be taken out. For example, they may be on the wrong side of the main road. In the case of Church schools, of which I have a large number in my constituency, surplus places do not match conveniently the parish boundaries.

There is an educational as well as a financial dimension to the problem of surplus places. I hope that I have convinced you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that new clause 3 would enable the chief inspector for England, in consultation with the Audit Commission for Local Authorities in England and Wales, to carry out such a study. Therefore, the two new clauses should be accepted so that tasks that Her Majesty's inspectorate are well suited to carry out can be carried out in the interests of good and efficiently provided education.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

The two new clauses are particularly to be welcomed, not least at a time when entirely misconceived proposals are being considered by the Conservative-controlled Brent borough council. They seem to be designed to close down schools in the southern part of the borough. I congratulate my Front-Bench colleagues on introducing the two new clauses. Some of my constituents have written to me only recently. One of those letters was written by Mr. Peter Herson of 73 Fortune Gate road, Harlesden, NW10. He writes with good cause about his concern, and that of many other parents who are in a similar position, about the public consultation document "Primary School Provision in Brent" that was recently published by the council.

If new clause 3 were to be given a Second Reading by the House, it would be possible to have an independent audit. Newfield school, like similar schools, is delivering the goods in terms of the quality of the education that it provides to pupils in my constituency. It has won praise from the inspectorate. It is geared to achieving the highest standards while at the same time ensuring efficient and cost-effective use of resources. That school is now threatened with closure.

I am opposed to the closure of Newfield school. The overwhelming majority of parents in my constituency who send their children to that threatened school are also opposed to its closure. They would welcome an independent report that would show just how well resources are being used in that school and just how well the needs and concerns of parents about the educational welfare of their children are being met.

It does not end there. The consultation document is misconceived. The Conservative chairman of the education committee, Mrs. Elisabeth Ormiston, has acted not like a bull in a china shop—

Mr. Pawsey

A heifer?

Mr. Paul Boateng

No. I do not intend to go down the road that the hon. Gentleman urges me to go down. However, that lady acts like someone who has not considered the consequences of her actions. She has shown a singular lack of sensitivity in her approach to her job and in her willingness to close schools, regardless of the quality of education that they provide.

My borough is particularly proud of its standards of primary school education. They are being achieved despite the lamentable lack of financial support, at times, from the Department of Education and Science and the Department of the Environment, and despite the lamentable politicisation of education, spearheaded by the Conservative group on Brent borough council which is determined to take its lead from Conservative Members of Parliament and to engage in an absolutely deplorable form of social experimentation when it comes to the education of my constituents' children. We are sick and tired of—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not seek to breach our procedures or our Standing Orders. What he says is very interesting, but as far as I can see it does not relate to the new clauses that we are considering. May I ask him to relate what he has to say to the two new clauses, which I know he is interested in? Furthermore, we want to hear his views on them.

Mr. Boateng

Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was seeking to address my remarks precisely to new clause 3. Its value to the pupils and parents of Newfield school and Chamberlayne Wood school—also threatened with closure, which will be overwhelmingly opposed by the majority of parents in the borough who, particularly in the southern part, seek to exercise the widest possible choice and to make wise choices for their children—is that it would then be possible for an independent review to be carried out of the education provided for those children.

Mr. Fallon

I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument on new clause 3. Is it his position, and that of the Opposition generally, that the chief inspector for England, as proposed in the Bill—or his equivalent, as proposed by the Opposition—should have the power to intervene over the provision of school places and the proposal to remove surplus places? Does he want the chief inspector to have the power to challenge the decision of local education authorities?

Mr. Boateng

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) has made it clear that that is not the case.

Mr. Pawsey

The hon. Lady has not spoken yet on this new clause.

Mr. Boateng

If my hon. Friend has not yet made that clear, I am sure that she will do so shortly, which will allay any suspicion that may linger in the mind of the hon. Gentleman as to our intentions.

Ms. Armstrong

I am amazed by the Minister's intervention. The Government's proposals for opting out have distorted the surplus places issue. What has happened in Brent is partly due to the idiotic policies that the Government have pursued. There are far more surplus places now than at any other time. That has come about specifically because of the way that the Government have frozen proper reorganisation. We want a reorganisation that will provide parents with proper rights of consultation and independent rights of consultation. Again he cannot read. We produced another document on this last year and I invite him to read that. It deals specifically with the reorganisation of schools.

Mr. Pawsey

What is it called?

Ms. Armstrong

Off the top of my head, I cannot remember. [Interruption.] I do not understand why that should be an issue for derision. I cannot remember the name of every document. The document deals with reorganising schools properly in a way that would give an independent right of appeal to anyone with an interest in the school, be that person a parent, a governor or any member of the community.

Mr. Boateng


Madam Deputy Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will now relate his remarks to the new clause.

8.30 pm
Mr. Boateng

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for her helpful intervention. The Minister mentioned surplus places and I am only too happy to respond. I am concerned particularly about Newfield school. The position there emphasises the point made by my hon. Friend about the importance of consultation.

Newfield school's actual capacity is 201. In the consultation document issued recently in my borough its capacity is determined, wrongly, by the architects as 243. At present the school has 173 pupils in six classes, which leaves just one surplus place per class. Should a new family move into the area, with three children all of primary age, without the spare capacity Newfield school could not offer them all places. That is why we welcome the new clause.

Mr. Fallon


Mr. Boateng

The Minister will have his opportunity in a moment.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to eat his dinner while sitting on the Front Bench?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I do not see any hon. Members having dinner or any form of refreshment. If they were, perhaps they would offer some to me.

Mr. Boateng

Whatever the Minister is chewing, it is as indigestible as the Bill that we are considering.

Mr. Fallon


Mr. Boateng

In due course, please.

What I and my constituents are concerned about is that the chief inspector for England may promote studies to improve efficiency. With the consent of the Audit Commission he should be able to undertake studies in connection with his functions designed to improve efficiency, economy and effectiveness in the management of schools in England. Such studies would be welcomed warmly by the governors and teachers of Newfield junior, middle, and infant school which is threatened with closure. They would also be welcomed by the parents, governors and staff of Chamberlayne Wood school, another school threatened with closure.

It does not end there. In being able to exercise those functions, the chief inspector could also draw the attention not only of my local authority but of local authorities throughout the country to the good work being done in William Gladstone school, yet another school in the London borough of Brent, under Conservative control, which is threatened with closure. Overwhelmingly among staff, parents and in the constituency there is opposition to closure.

Before sitting down, I invite the Minister to meet me and other hon. Members who are concerned about the reorganisation of primary education in my borough and about the closure of William Gladstone school. Excellent work is being done in primary schools in the borough of Brent and in William Gladstone school. That work would contribute to the study which the chief inspector would have power to make under new clause 3. We should like the opportunity to make representations to the Minister. Will he meet us to discuss the problems of primary schools in Brent and of William Gladstone school, which is also facing closure? That is a challenge to the Minister; I look forward to him taking it up.

Mr. Flannery

New clause 3 is the same as new clause 4 except that it applies to England while new clause 4 applies to Wales. We have all met chief inspectors at various times. At that level the inspectorate is very much an independent body. Anything that would destroy its independence is alien to education. The inspectorate can say whatever it wishes, in an honourable way, to try to bring about changes not only in schools but in the organisational groupings which deal with schools.

Independent reports began only a few years ago. To his credit, it was a Conservative Minister who introduced them. Those reports can be uncomfortable for a Government and for an Opposition. We want enough money for the inspectorate to promote or undertake studies. What does that mean? It means that the inspectorate could initiate courses to try to do something about what is happening in schools. When we want the chief inspector to undertake work in connection with his functions designed to improve efficiency, economy and effectiveness", we mean that schools should be used at weekends to provide in-service training.

In our city we had a teachers' centre. Not as an architect, but as a teacher, I was one of the people who planned it. It was one of the first. Some of us travelled the country to try to find out about it. It was in Melbourne house. In fact, it was outside there that the ripper was caught. We were very worried because many women teachers went along a rather dark road to the teachers' centre.

That teachers' centre has gone. it is now part of the girls' high school, a private school. The school has enough money to keep it going, but we had not. As a result we have lost the in-service training and teachers' meetings which took place there. I hope that, as a result of inspections and discussions, an inspector, independent of the Government, would be disturbed about that. I hope that, if that were brought to the notice of a chief inspector, he would want to initiate studies into what was happening to teachers' centres throughout Britain. Such studies would induce efficiency and promote economy. It is necessary for us to have teachers who are surplus to immediate requirements in schools to free other teachers to go to the teachers' centres and similar places to study education further.

The Scottish system of education is wholly different from ours. It is a very fine system and I hope that one day the two systems will come much closer together. The National Union of Teachers in England and the Educational Institute of Scotland are close to each other already.

Mr. O'Hara

Does my hon. Friend agree that another study might concern a subject of topical interest—the seven-plus test? HMI would be well placed to carry out a long-term study of the experience of nursery education and its effect on children's progress to assessment at age seven and further up the age range.

Mr. Flannery

I am sure that such a study would be one of many that would improve "efficiency, economy and effectiveness" in the education system. During my lifetime in teaching, the task of the inspectorate has been to bring to the notice of Governments in a civilised way how they can promote efficiency in the schools by whatever methods, and how they can initiate methods, including the teacher at the chalk face, to make our system better. That is why we tabled new clauses 3 and 4.

The new clauses would give the chief inspector himself or herself—I hope that one day it will be herself—the power to initiate research on aspects of education which he or she deems to be worthy of such attention. Although the aim is to promote economy, such research requires money. Education cannot be done on the cheap, and nobody knows that better than HM inspectorate.

I have met HM inspectors on many occasions and have found them a most civilised group. Teachers have found that the breadth of their approach to education has often contrasted with that of the local inspectors who, no matter how willing and able, do not have the knowledge of HM inspectors who travel round the whole country. Inspection must be intended primarily to assist the development of education institutions, whether primary and nursery schools or in the secondary sector, and to dispense information on policy decisions for effectiveness in the management of schools.

The Secretary of State is not an educationist and he needs advice. That advice will come from an independent inspectorate. It may sometimes be unpalatable to the Secretary of State, whoever he is. From my experience on the Select Committee on Education, Science and the Arts, I know that Secretaries of State—not just the present Secretary of State—often lack knowledge of education, no matter how high-powered they may be. The chief inspector, his inspectorate and the teachers will not lack knowledge of education. We want the inspectorate to convey to the Secretary of State and to others involved in education the fact that they have noticed aspects in schools that need attention. There should be gatherings of teachers or those who run the education system to consider what has gone wrong.

The inspectorate put out a document entitled, "The Implementation of the Curriculum Requirements of ERA". It stated that in primary schools, there were too few micro-computers, inadequate or outdated library collections, a lack of good quality books and shortages of some items of basic equipment for mathematics and physical science. One would expect Government action to flow from such a report when such criticism had been made by the inspectorate. We want the chief inspector to have the right to make such reports. The document said of secondary schools: about three-quarters of the schools visited expected problems in staffing Key Stage 4. Shortages were predicted in a significant number of schools for every national curriculum subject except PE". Such reports go to the Government and we want the chief inspector to be able to promote efficiency and economy, as we have said in the new clauses.

8.45 pm

The annual report of HM senior chief inspector of schools for 1989–90 stated: In many primary schools, the lack of non-teaching time for class teachers remains a serious obstacle to effective planning and preparation of work. The report pointed out that inefficiency flows from certain matters in school. The inspectors have also said that schools are crumbling and that buckets wait for the water. I should expect the inspectorate to convey such information to a Secretary of State—especially this one. Until recently, he had not even visited a school in his constituency, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has often said.

The chief inspector must have a broader brief than that determined by the political interests of the Secretary of State. He must be able to stand up to a Secretary of State and to initiate developments without being dominated by him. Valuable comments such as those I quoted will not be forthcoming unless the inspectorate is independent and can initiate studies, as we have suggested in new clauses 3 and 4. We have made serious points, yet the Government take no notice of what is happening in schools. We are trying to get them to take notice.

Ms. Armstrong

I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). Manoeuvrings are going on among the usual channels and my hon. Friend is continually called out to take part. I suspect that that is why the Secretary of State is also absent.

We are debating a critical aspect of the Bill, and I listened with care to the Minister. I was far from convinced that he had understood what we are trying to achieve through new clauses 3 and 4. I was also far from convinced that he had taken on board the issue of school effectiveness which we pushed in Committee.

The Minister continues to assert that the issue of how the national inspectorate will undertake its duties is being stirred up by the Opposition. He believes that quality is not an issue. We are very concerned that the method of inspection, other than through HMI, will be substantially flawed. We are also concerned by the severity with which HMI is to be cut down. The number of inspectors will be considerably fewer than at present.

We want a national inspection of schools, with an ability to enforce recommendations. We want to know whether what an inspection team says about a school in Northumberland, for example, being effective cart be compared with a report of a similar inspection in, say, Norfolk or West Sussex. We hope that this aim is al the heart of the Bill and that the Government want to introduce a system that will allow it, but we feel that the Bill will not achieve that. In the new clause, we seek to insert conditions which would enable the chief inspector to undertake comparable studies in different parts of the country; this would lead to the national protection of standards that we feel is absolutely critical.

When I worked in a polytechnic, HMI inspected the course on a regular basis and worked with it, and I was able to talk to individual inspectors over many years. They felt that a critical part of their expertise was their knowledge of what went on in different parts of the country. Although individuals inspected individual institutions, the inspectorate as a whole covered the country. Inspectors discussed their findings and no report was written on any institution without the involvement of other members of the inspectorate. One of our concerns is that, under the proposed system of inspection, that would not happen.

There is another aspect. Under the proposed system, school inspections will take place in a well-heralded way. They will take place when the school asks for them to take place, and they will be well organised beforehand. While most of HMI's inspections are of that regular nature, one of its important methods of operation has come from its power to drop in when it wants to and not when an institution invites it. In this way, inspectors sometimes see things that they would not see if they announced their visits well beforehand or were invited to come.

That is what gives us confidence that at present HMI can maintain a national perspective and acquire wide experience which enables its members to judge whether something is working well. The new clause would enable the inspectorate to promote and undertake studies of efficiency, economy and effectiveness in the management of schools in both England and Wales. We are critically concerned with school effectiveness, how a school enables a child to progress. It is the way in which the school ensures that every child makes progress that is the measure of its effectiveness. It is not simply an outcome, it is the progress that a child makes in the school. W e particularly want HMI to be able to consider and monitor that.

Mr. Steinberg

My hon. Friend will be aware of the report commissioned by the National Union of Teachers from Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte—"The Cost of Implementing the National Curriculum in Primary Schools". The report, from what no one can deny are leading management consultants, estimated that the average recurrent costs of the national curriculum would be something like £671 million per annum over the first five years, plus start-up costs of £1,263 million. If the new clause were accepted, inspectors could, on the basis of such information, examine schools to see where resources were necessary, what schools were missing out on and what was needed in the way of extra teachers, equipment and so on. The report, which is a wide-ranging one, gives that information, and this is the type of information that the new clause would allow the inspectors to encourage in schools.

Ms. Armstrong

My hon. Friend makes a telling point.

We must know the effect of legislation not just on an individual school but across the educational system. The inspectorate has been severely pared, yet it has been given new powers so that its work load will increase rather than decrease. Training is very much in my thoughts and is important to me. I should have thought that training alone would make sufficient work for the number of people that the inspectorate will have to train, yet training will be only a small part of HMI's functions. The new clause would give the inspectorate, through the chief inspector, the right to look at school effectiveness, and to commission from others studies that would allow it to look at effectiveness across the system.

The Minister failed to recognise that earlier when he tried to rubbish the clause. It is precisely because the Bill fails to cover this point and is weak on monitoring standards across the system that we want the new clause accepted. I constantly live in hope. I live in hope as regards the Government and look to whatever better feelings they may have. While not being too optimistic, therefore, I hope that the Minister will reconsider and accept the new clause and the one relating to Wales, as we accept the amendments that the Minister tabled in respect of the other clauses. We do not object to them.

Mr. Steinberg

The introduction of the Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte report states: The National Curriculum, introduced by the 1988 Education Reform Act and progressively implemented by Statutory Order from the date of the Act, is having wide-ranging consequences for the way in which schools structure the educational experience of their pupils. These consequences are widely perceived to include: increased demands on teachers' time, which must be addressed either by appointing further staff or by informally expecting staff in post to work longer hours changes in maximum class sizes, particularly for practical work, which again has implications for teaching staff increased resource expenditure as heads and governors equip [or re-equip] their schools to meet the curriculum demands increased staff training for teachers and possibly new training needs for Governors also, changes to the balance of the curriculum between different subjects and activities. That is a grand assessment of what the national curriculum has meant since it was introduced by the Education Reform Act 1988. New clauses 3 and 4 would give the chief inspector the power to initiate research into aspects of education deemed by him or her to be worthy of that study. They would allow chief inspectors to investigate the problems highlighted by the independent report carried out by Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte

. If the national curriculum is to be successful, we should know what resources are needed. My colleagues and I fully support the national curriculum, but if it is not resourced, it will be of no value to the educational system.

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If HMI cannot initiate research into aspects of the national curriculum and its resources, we will not know whether the curriculum is working. I hope that the Minister will consider the new clauses seriously and not rubbish them as he did earlier.

If new clauses 3 and 4 are accepted, we should be able to discover, over several years, whether the national curriculum was working and whether more resources were needed. The Government always shudder when they hear the word "resources". They believe that the schools and education are being resourced. However, over the past few years, education spending, in real terms and as a proportion of GNP, has decreased. If the national curriculum is not being implemented, we should be aware of that fact. The new clauses would allow the chief inspector and the staff to carry out research to find out what is happening.

I hope that the Minister will take note of what my colleagues and I have said and consider seriously the implications of the new clauses so that we can discover whether the national curriculum is a success.

Mr. Fallon

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate.

We have had what I suppose I can describe as an interesting debate. A number of points have been raised, several of which were more oblique to the new clauses than others. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not comment in detail on the speeches of the hon. Members for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara), for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) and for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery).

The hon. Member for Brent, South specifically asked whether I would receive a delegation at the Department of Education and Science. Ministers are well known for their courtesy in receiving delegations where there is a reorganisation. I do not know the details of the Brent reorganisation or whether it is within time, but I would be only too delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and to hear his views and those of his constituents about any particular proposals in his constituency.

However, I must reply to the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong). I am grateful for her welcome to the Government amendments. I hope that we can put them to one side and, when the time comes a little later this evening, they can be written into the Bill without further ado.

I had already explained at some length to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) that it is not necessary to define in statute either the relationship between the two bodies—a point accepted in "Raising the Standard"—or the particular function of the chief inspector. The hon. Member for Durham, North-West did not explain why the Labour party now suddenly wants to define that relationship precisely and make HMCI subordinate to the Audit Commission and why new clause 3 is inconsistent with "Raising the Standard."

Leaving that aside, I assure the hon. Lady that HMCI will not need the new clause to perform the studies and research work about which she was worried. Those powers are in the Bill. The hon. Lady thinks that the Bill does not cover that point. I draw her attention and that of the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) to clause 2(1), which states: The Chief Inspector for England shall have the general duty of keeping the Secretary of State informed about—

  1. (a) the quality of the education provided by schools in England;
  2. (b) the educational standards achieved in those schools; and
  3. (c) whether the financial resources made available to those schools are managed efficiently."
It is our contention, therefore, that the chief inspector already has all the powers that he needs to carry out the studies that are suggested in the new clause.

With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Lady will finally be satisfied that she does not need the new clause to give HMCI the power to undertake the studies that she wants. We think that he already has that power in the Bill. We think also that it would be introduce the subordinate relationship with the Audit Commission. We would much rather see those two bodies work in happy consultation with each other.

Mr. Straw

As I moved the new clause, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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