'.—(l) Her Majesty's Chief Inspectors of Schools may cause any institution which provides initial training for school teachers to be inspected, as regards the provision of such training, by one or more of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools (in this section referred to as "Inspectors").
(2) An Inspector shall for the purpose of inspecting an institution under this section have at all reasonable times—
- (a) a right of entry to the premises of the institution;
- (b) a right to inspect, and take copies of, any records kept by the institution, and any other documents containing information relating to the institution, which he considers relevant to the discharge of his function.
(3) It is an offence wilfully to obstruct an Inspector in the exercise of any of his functions under this section.
(4) A person guilty of such an offence is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.'.—[Mr. Pawsey.]348
§ Brought up, and read the First time.5.30 pm
§ Mr. Pawsey
Let me immediately declare an interest: I am an adviser to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
This is principally a probing new clause, designed to develop the case made in Committee for inspection of colleges providing initial teacher training. Those who served on the Committee will recall that I tabled amendments that would have given OFSTED a prominent role in the control of such training. Sadly, when the lead amendment was called I was taking a delegation to meet my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside; as I obviously could not be in two places at once, I was unable to move the amendment. I am therefore anxious to raise the important issue of quality assessment in ITT and HMI's role in its improvement.
I was pleased that the amendments that I tabled in Committee received some support, and I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his courtesy in responding so fully and agreeing to consider them further. I note that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has tabled amendments to clause 5 which deal with the first point that I made in Committee, and I am grateful to him. I believe that my right hon. Friend is a listening Secretary of State—[Interruption.] It is no good Opposition Members making funny noises. My right hon. Friend listens to arguments, and if they have substance he acts.
HMI's role should be clearly specified in the Bill. It has an important part to play in the work of the Teacher Training Agency, and no one would dispute that an objective and professional assessment of training would greatly assist decisions about the way in which money should be allocated. If the concept of "to the best, the most" is too elitist, at least we can ensure that colleges whose standards are lower receive less money.
In a newsletter dated April 1994, the Campaign for Real Education states:Educational reform will never succeed without radical improvements to the cultural attitudes prevalent in the teaching profession… Perhaps the first priority of the new agency should be an urgent review of the way trainee teachers are taught to teach reading? Improvements to this crucial part of teacher training could raise national standards more quickly than anything else. And may we look forward"—this is the nub of the new clause—to careful checks on all teacher training courses, coupled with the withdrawal of funding for those where 'good practice' based on ideological beliefs takes precedence over proven teaching methods supported by research?The new clause will allow discussion about whether teacher training should be more closely associated with HMI's statutory duties. It may be considered slightly outside the mainstream of OFSTED's functions as set out in the Education (Schools) Act 1992, but we are now establishing a new statutory basis for initial teacher training, and I consider it entirely logical to set out a new statutory basis for its inspection.
I understand that HMI currently has the right to inspect schools, but—and it is an important but—no right to inspect higher education and teacher training. The new 349 clause takes a slightly different tack from the amendments tabled in Committee; I am trying to stress the need for HMI to inspect institutions—and, if it is given such a right, it will also need absolute rights of entry and access.
I realise that my suggestion may be considered slightly controversial, and may not be entirely to the liking of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. It may be seen as a direct challenge of the committee's autonomy, or even as a challenge to academic freedom. Like all Conservative Members, I give way to no one in my belief that academic freedom is a pillar of our democracy: it is of the utmost importance. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, East—[HON. MEMBERS: "Blackpool, South."] I am sorry; I meant my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins). He stressed the importance of parents in this connection; he also referred to the importance of teachers, and I was interested by Opposition Members' reaction to that. He is right: there should be a partnership between children, parents and teachers.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his geography, but he seems to be moving away from his central argument. The principle that he advocates—proper inspection of the new scheme—is admirable. Does he envisage on-the-spot, unannounced visits, longer inspections over a set period or a combination of the two?
§ Mr. Pawsey
I thank my hon. Friend for supporting the general principle. He asks whether inspections should be unannounced, or whether HMI's descent should be clearly advertised. I subscribe to the former. I should like inspections to be carried out without notice.
I want to achieve a high standard of teacher training, which, in turn, will ensure a high standard of teaching. In its turn, that will ensure a high standard of education for the nation's children. High standards can be guaranteed only if there is some right of independent inspection. The new clause seeks to remedy what I regard as a defect in the Bill and underline the importance of proper inspections for, without them, the quality of teacher training cannot and will not be guaranteed. If rigorous inspections of schools are necessary, why should they be any less necessary in the training of teachers?
A leading article in The Sunday Times of 10 April said:On the eve of the NUT conference, a report from the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit should have sent a shudder through the nation…It discovered that the number of young people who have serious problems with literacy and numeracy has risen in recent years from one in eight to one in five.That quotation shows the whole justification for the Bill and the need substantially to change how teachers are trained.
§ Mr. Hawkins
Does my hon. Friend agree that the only negative thing that one could say about this reform is that it should have been done in 1979? It is long overdue, but I am delighted that it is happening at long last.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I accept what my hon. Friend has said.
I disagree with mixed-ability teaching. I am convinced that it is one of the fashionable panaceas that existed during the 1960s and 1970s. I have the utmost doubts about its effectiveness. I hope that I may be able to persuade my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to mention the matter, because it is outdated and should be dropped.
§ Mr. Enright
Will the hon. Gentleman define what he means by "mixed-ability teaching"? How would he organise it, for example, in religious or physical education?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman answers, it would help the debate and be correct if he would return to the subject of Her Majesty's inspectors of schools.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. While I should have liked to have responded to the question of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), perhaps I shall see him in his usual place in the Library in the fulness of time.
One of the issues that prompted me to table new clause 2 is the decline in the standard of English teaching. There is substantial evidence from Ofsted of particularly weak performance in that subject. For example, the new "Teacher in School" survey says that some 46 per cent. of new primary teachers do not feel adequately prepared to teach reading. That is a damning indictment of the present system and it underlines yet again the need for change and for a proper and adequate system of teacher training—and the need for its inspection. [Interruption.] I regret the fact that Labour Members seem to think that teacher training is a laughable matter. I believe that initial teacher training is a serious issue that should be given the consideration that it deserves. I am delighted that at least Conservative Members are treating it in a sober way.
I was about to compliment Opposition Members by saying that hon. Members on both sides of the House are anxious to improve the quality and standard of state education, where the overwhelming majority of the nation's children are educated. The Bill will do much to advance that laudable objective, but it will do so that much more easily if an adequate system of inspection is in place.
The new clause not only ensures that institutions providing initial teacher training will be inspected, but that inspectors—
§ Mr. Pawsey
No, I shall not give way.
It ensures that inspectors have a right of entry to inspect and take copies of any records that are maintained by those institutions.
I have also built into the new clause penalties for failing to provide inspectors with the co-operation which they will require in exercising their duties. I suspect that my right hon. Friend may have some modest difficulty in accepting that part of the new clause, yet unless a penalty exists, the rigorous inspection that is required will not take place.
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
Naturally, I sympathise with the passions that drive my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) in proposing the new clause. I hope that he will forgive me for sounding a little cynical in what I am about to say.
One of the problems which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education faces is that he can work only with the material available, whether that be children whose parents cannot even talk because they spend their time watching television at home; whether it be children from hopelessly deregulated families; or whether it be 351 children who are subjected to an old-fashioned system of education, based on a defunct philosophy. I am talking about John Dewey's philosophy—the rot set in during the 1890s, not the 1960s, with phoney theories that have gripped the minds of generations of well-meaning, not always very bright, members of the profession.
What worries me about my hon. Friend's proposal is that I cannot see how we shall find inspectors to go into those institutions and root out the philosophical addiction that lies deep in the minds—worse, in the souls—of people who are often not at all left-wing. Worse, they are deeply sentimental people who have, deep in their souls, a mistaken philosophy of education, which it will be impossible to eradicate by inspectors, not least because we shall be unable to find inspectors who are free from the same virus—unless we use some form of thought police.
I confess to being a little surprised by the phrasing of the new clause, which says:A person guilty of such an offence is liable on summary conviction"—that sounds a little Stalinist—to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.That conjures up the idea of some sort of right-wing thought police going into those establishments, complete with manacles and scales of fines, who would try to constrain those people financially or even physically. The Chinese communists would call it "thought reform", which is what is needed because nothing short of thought reform à la Chinoise—if we are still allowed to use French—will change those people's minds. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would not want to be associated with that.
§ Mr. Pawsey
May I respectfully remind my hon. Friend that one of the quotations that I used was drawn from the Campaign for Real Education. As it seems that he may have inadvertently forgotten, I said:Educational reform will never succeed without radical improvements to the cultural attitudes prevalent in the teaching profession.I do not believe that there is so much of a gulf between us.
§ Mr. Walden
I did notice that phrase, with mental approval. However, the second part of my argument, which I shall now develop, is that one will not be able to find the inspectors to do that job, and to change the culture of the people inside the institutions, because they themselves are the product of those institutions.
I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State what he makes of a detailed, and I think responsible, report in The Daily Telegraph today by John Clare, one of the most distinguished and seriously engaged people in the field, which enunciates some of my private misgivings, which perhaps I should have voiced at the time—mea culpa on that—about the new inspection arrangements.
My misgivings were based precisely on the fear that one will not be able to find people to do a better job at inspecting schools in the private sector, when inevitably they come from the same stable as existed in the public sector. Mr. Clare's report shows, in its detailed accounts of what appear to be serious failings in individual schools, that those inspectors, who cost a lot of money, incidentally, are using the same wily, evasive phrases as were, and I imagine still are, current among Her Majesty's official inspectors, such as, "the lessons seem to me to be"—what is that terrible phrase ?—"satisfactory or better". It seems 352 awfully low on the scale to me to have a "satisfactory" level of teaching, and "better" is slightly woolly, to say the least.
§ Mr. Walden
I see that my hon. Friend is about to get up, and I will give way, but I shall finish this thought while it remains a coherent one.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth is proposing a new clause for more inspection by Ofsted, and I am pointing out that, according to that evidence and other anecdotal evidence that I have heard, the new system is not working brilliantly in schools, so why should it work well in those heartlands of education, the teacher training establishments?
§ Mr. Howarth
My hon. Friend is waxing deeply melancholic. On the logic of his position—that those people who are products of a system can never improve it—and given his view that the system is unspeakably awful, should we not give up education altogether?
§ Mr. Walden
That would be an option, and in a sense it is one that I have taken, by withdrawing my three children from the state education system, at colossal cost to myself over the years. I begrudge every penny of that, because my friends in France, who have a rather elitist form of state education—and often turn out to have more money than I do—send their children to state schools where they very often receive a good, demanding education, which is so difficult to find in this country, as the putative Leader of the Opposition is about to discover. I am not being vindictive, but I attach a lot of importance to education, and I think that the press will be justified in watching very closely the personal judgments made by the putative Leader of the Opposition when it comes to his own children.
I am not being negative about that; in a way I am being more positive, by pointing up the question, than people who evade it by—
§ Mr. Walden
Let me finish the thought, and then I will certainly give way. I am being more positive than people who evade it by proposing solutions that I consider unworkable.
§ Mr. Enright
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that it is wrong for the putative Leader of the Opposition to send his children to a Catholic school?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. What has that to do with the inspectors of schools? [Interruption.] Order. Wherever anyone wants to send their children to school, it is nothing to do with the new clause before us, which is about the inspectors of schools.
§ Mr. Walden
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had a good answer to that intervention, but I now feel prohibited from giving it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) posed the real question, which is that if I believe that we are caught in a vicious circle, which we are, and he accuses me of being—I forget how he put it—negative—
§ Mr. Walden
I once wrote a pamphlet on that very subject, called "The Blocked Society". It was a melancholy analysis. The new clause is a perfect example, which is why I rise to speak to it, of the nature of the blockage in this country. It is "Quis custodiet custodes?" My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth is asking people to go into those establishments when they have not—obviously it is only my view—the necessary critical approach to those philosophies, which date back to the early part of this century, to John Dewey and so on, and are deeply ingrained, and have been enormously damaging to this country for many decades.
I must come up with a solution, because it is no good simply stating that there is a blockage. The first part of the solution is to state the blockage and not evade it, as I am afraid that my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth may be in danger of doing.
The second thing to do, which may sound slightly idealistic although I can think of no other solution, is to try to get people—I admit that it is difficult—who are not tainted by what I call "conventional thinking" in those matters, and who are capable of taking an international view and considering what goes on in France, in Germany and even in Russia. One of the few things on which the Soviet regime made progress, although it did not get it right, was education. Those people should consider other countries and ask why we all have such a fundamental problem about education in this country. Even Opposition Members, in their quieter moments, know that we have a fundamental problem—a "blockage", in my terms—about education.
Those people should try to bring together two or three authoritative people—I dare even use the word "intellectuals"—thinking people, respected people, and obviously not all Tories because this is something that is so much more important than politics. They should commission those people to take a hard look at educational establishments, from the point of view of the philosophy that is obviously prevalent in all of them as far as I can see, because all the people I meet say the same thing, and to ask themselves what good that way of thinking has done our country, whether they consider that it is still the right way of thinking, and if not—as seems to me self-evident, but they may reach another conclusion—what can be done to change, in a non-party way, the text books that are used in those establishments.
To return to the new clause of the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, which I support, they should decide what intellectual guidance can be given to inspectors to update their thinking when it comes to inspecting those establishments.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
I am following my hon. Friend's argument with great care and deep interest, and I think that the House is. I hope I do not belittle him—that is the last thing that I intend to do or have the right to do—but does he not seem to assume intellectual sterility in the generation about which he worries so much, and assume that there is no dynamic about the thinking, even though they have been badly educated? If he does think that, I think that he is mistaken. If he does not think that, why does he not think that they can break out of their weak education by the natural dynamic that is in every human being?
§ Mr. Walden
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and perhaps I am in danger of sounding as though nothing has happened. Obviously a lot has happened, especially on the Conservative Benches, in that field. Even reading the speeches of the putative Leader of the Opposition on education and educational philosophy, which is so closely linked to the new clause of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, one senses a certain edginess about what is going on in education, together with a resolute desire not to offend the educational clientele of the Labour party. That sort of edginess, which can even be seen in the speeches of the putative Leader of the Opposition, comes from the dynamic thinking on education that has taken place—among Conservative Members rather than Opposition Members—over all these years. Therefore, it is correct to say that things have moved on.
However, the point that I am making is still correct. How does one implement the new clause with the thinking in the army out there without changing that thinking? We know that that problem has always been the bugbear ever since we started the reforms—we started late, in 1983–84 rather than 1979. We have not cracked the nut. The solution to the problem is not to try to crack it by party-political, ideological heavy-handedness. We must obtain—I hate to use the phrase, but it is the only one that I can think of—a national consensus that there is something gravely and philosophically amiss in our teacher training colleges.
I agree with the new clause, but I should like it to be accompanied by an extremely serious, high-level and possibly bipartisan proposal for the appointment of, perhaps a trio, of nationally respected people. Those appointees should not necessarily come from the educational sphere, but they must ask the question: something is deeply wrong—what can be done about it?
§ 6 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten)
I have been allowed by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, who bore the heat in Committee, to have a brief airing today to reply to new clause 2.
I welcome the opportunity to have a brief discussion on issues of quality that are of central importance to the success of our reforms in this as in all other sectors. Labour members of the Committee offered no suggestions on this subject in Committee. They were not concerned with quality and it was left to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) to raise that issue and to gain an assurance then that we would return to the subject on Report. The Labour party was not interested in quality. My hon. Friend has also, in a probing spirit, as he has emphasised, tabled new clause 2 to stimulate further brief debate.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
The Secretary of State did not choose to serve on the Committee of the Bill. Had he done so, he would have been familiar with the amendments tabled in Committee, including the one dealing with quality that was similar to the new clause that we are 355 discussing today, although it related to another clause. I hope that, in view of that, the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw his comments.
§ Mr. Patten
If one looks at the account of the Committee's debate in Hansard, one sees that there was very little, if any, concern for quality shown by the official Opposition. It was the issue of quality that brought my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) to his feet. He made some interesting suggestions, with one of which I shall begin my comments and one of which I shall use to end them.
My hon. Friend's first suggestion was that I should, in a Brezhnevian way, introduce some thought police to go round teacher training colleges to take a close look. I had never thought of that idea, but as it has been suggested by my hon. Friend I shall ponder it.
My hon. Friend was saddened and felt that state schools were inadequate for some children in this country. I visited a couple of good state schools—both grant-maintained—in his constituency of Buckingham last month, shortly before I was egged in Buckingham marketplace—not by my hon. Friend. The egger was much more accurate than the National Union of Students has ever been and destroyed my suit in the process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham referred to the quality of inspection. The House knows that Professor Sutherland, the chief inspector, takes seriously, and will investigate, any allegation that registered inspectors are not being rigorous enough in their reports on schools. It is clear that the inspectors are being tough. Already, 10 schools have been declared to require special attention as failing schools.
That was thought to be an outrageous concept two years ago when I introduced it in the Education Act 1993. It is now part of the warp and weft of the way that we look at schools in difficulty. Local authorities are learning that they must co-operate to turn such schools round. Where necessary, we shall ensure that such schools are transferred to an educational association. A new and strengthened framework for inspection was issued last month. It takes account of the experiences of the first year of inspection and strengthens the criteria against which inspectors must report.
My hon. Friend made the important suggestion that we should consider bringing in international expertise. That is not a matter for me; it is for the chief inspector. I shall draw my hon. Friend's proposal to the attention of Professor Sutherland. I shall draw to the attention of everyone in the Department for Education the fact that we in the Department must do all that we can to ensure that we never indulge in politically correct language and encourage a degree of approval in national life for intellectualism. One of the great barriers to national advance has been that for most of this century there has been such a strong anti-intellectual streak in British culture. That has not done us any good.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham feels that there are some difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) said that it was important that we got going and regretted the fact that we did not begin the reforms of teacher training 15 years ago. That may be a fair comment, but I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham that we must start somewhere, and we must do so with the tools that we have to hand. I prefer to start as we are doing now rather than do nothing. 356 Improving quality in teacher training is extremely important. We have taken the first steps towards ensuring quality by setting out the necessary knowledge and skills that all new teachers need. Teachers and their trainers now know what is expected of them. I believe that that step has been welcomed on both sides of the House, but it is not enough. To find out where the best initial teacher training is taking place—to promote best practice and help it to drive out outdated and ineffective approaches—we need good first-hand evidence about quality and the way in which different courses are succeeding or failing. It is critical that we do that.
I think that we are all alarmed—my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth certainly expressed alarm in his notable speech when he moved the new clause—at the evidence that almost half of all recently qualified primary school teachers reported that after four years in college they felt ill equipped to teach the reading of English. If that is not a matter for alarm, I shall be very surprised. I hope that it is taken as seriously by Opposition Members as by Conservative Members.
We read in the recent, hard-hitting OFSTED report of the need for primary teachers to use a range of teaching styles, including whole-class teaching and grouping by ability. I understand that the Select Committee on Education, on which a number of right hon. and hon. Members serve, has been hearing from some eminent teacher trainers—not men and women of the left or right in conventional terms, but people who a few years ago might have been characterised as part of the education establishment—about the extreme difficulties of mixed ability teaching. If they had talked five years ago in the terms that they used in Committee only two or three weeks ago, there would have been a fatwah against them—I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who serves with distinction on that Committee. is nodding in assent.
Teacher training institutions must urgently address those key issues and the inspectorate must judge how effective they are in tackling them. It is to stress our commitment to quality and to the inspection of teacher training that I have tabled amendment No. 1. Clause 5 already requires the agency to have regard to assessment of quality when making its funding decisions. I made it clear from the time of our initial consultation paper that I intended Her Majesty's inspectorate to be the main source of such assessments. But there will be other sources of quality assessment, such as the Higher Education Funding Council.
Amendment No. 1 reflects the position on the face of the Bill. It adds a reference to any assessments of quality made by either of Her Majesty's chief inspectors of schools—in England or across Offa's Dyke in Wales—to which the agency must have regard. The amendment leaves intact as a second limb the reference to any other quality assessments to which the agency thinks that it would be appropriate to have regard or to which the Secretary of State requires it to have regard.
HMI assessments are, quite properly, set apart as the first and most essential evidence for the agency. The amendments tabled in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth and his new clause today go further than that, as he has explained. His earlier amendments would have added the assessment of quality in initial teacher training to the general duties of HMI under the Education (Schools) Act 1992. That Act 357 mentions functions with respect to school teacher training as being among those which may be assigned to HMI. However, we could not at that time include those functions within the full framework of the Act because of its limited scope.
It was suggested by my hon. Friend in his notable speech—which both sides of the House listened to with great care and attention—that it would be timely to put teacher training inspection on a firmer footing. I have much sympathy with that view. However, for all the reasons that I set out at the start of my remarks, it is essential that we secure equal inspection treatment for schools and higher education so that all providers of teacher training and teacher education can be assessed on exactly the same basis.
In effect, for many years HMI has had the de facto right of entry to inspect teacher training in universities. The holder of my office would not otherwise have approved the course. That was achieved by agreement with the institutions. As my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary stressed during the passage of both parts of the Bill, we set store by academic freedom—of course we do—and we have no wish to intervene under statute except where necessary—of course we have not. We want to leave as much freedom as possible to higher education institutions.
In reflecting on the new clause, I have given careful consideration to all the options. My hon. Friend said that it was a probing new clause, so I ask him to give careful thought to the following way of proceeding. While not quite as straightforward as amending the Bill, nor as satisfactory in terms of putting HMI's own duties in this area on a par with its duties in respect of schools, I assure my hon. Friend that I intend to secure exactly what he wishes by another route. In other words, I intend to ensure that HMI carries out its important role by means of terms and conditions of grant. Put simply, but not crudely, the bottom line will be no inspection, no funding. That will achieve the end that my hon. Friend wants.
I can tell the House tonight that I propose to make it a condition of my grant to the Teacher Training Agency—[Interruption.] I hope that one day the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) will regret the fact that she has never apologised for the disagreeable personal attack on the distinguished high master of Manchester grammar school, who is assuming the chairmanship of the agency. It was a disgraceful attack on one of the best head teachers not only in this country but in the world.
It will be a condition of my grant to the agency under clause 7 that, in turn, it should impose as a condition of its grant to all higher education institutions under clause 5 a requirement that they must allow HMI unrestricted right to inspect activities on which the agency's funds are spent. I believe that that will meet the need to secure for OFSTED the unequivocal right of access to universities and colleges, but it does not raise any theoretical issues of academic freedom. It ensures that high quality can be rewarded while ensuring that action can be taken where less than satisfactory courses are found.
I hope that that proposal meets with a general welcome and that, in the light of this explanation of our further 358 intentions, the House will join me in welcoming amendment No. 1. I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw new clause 2.
§ Ms Estelle Morris
I want to deal with some of the issues that have been raised and to speak in this important debate about monitoring standards. I do not wish in general to refer to what individual hon. Members have said, other than to say that I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) was very sad. It is dangerous when someone reaches the opinion that no one else is right and loses the knack of recognising the strengths in a whole range of views and opinions. My view on politics and education is that we should take the best of all the ideas. No one person has a monopoly on ideas. "Commissar Walden" spoke of thought police and gave the impression that, unless people agreed with him, they had nothing to offer.
§ Mr. Walden
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would not usually resort to this rather cumbersome way of intervening. The hon. Lady is so lacking in any sense of irony or humour that she took my remarks about thought police seriously.
§ Mr. Walden
The hon. Lady, having no sense of irony, is suffering under the misconception that I was advocating thought police, when in fact I said that I was against that—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) is responsible for her own speech.
§ Ms Morris
I have never thought of the hon. Member for Buckingham as someone who could teach humour, let alone irony.
It does the Secretary of State no good to pretend that the Conservative party is the only party interested in standards. No one would believe that. However, I believe that Conservatives do have a wish to raise and maintain standards, but they are wrong in the way that they have set about doing so. It does politics and education no good to reduce the debate and to accuse one's opponents of not caring about standards. None of us who has been involved in education has spent years working for and thinking about education, working with children and teachers, for any reason other than to raise standards. We may not always get it right, we may not always agree, but we share that aim. As soon as we take that as our common starting point, we will further the cause of raising standards of education.
Whatever new structure is introduced, monitoring and maintaining standards must be an integral part. Without that, we could fail to meet the original purpose of any legislation. Previously, OFSTED has had only an inspection and quality assessment role in so far as the Secretary of State has determined that, not by statute but by other means.
Therefore, I welcome two developments that the Bill will facilitate. First, following Opposition amendments in 359 the other place, there will be liaison between OFSTED and the Teacher Training Agency. Baroness Blatch introduced that amendment following pressure from the Opposition. Secondly, Government amendment No. 1 will ensure that HMI reports are consulted when funding decisions are made. I welcome that.
However, standards will be raised only if there are organised and thorough inspections after the accreditation of courses, rather than in order for a course to become accredited. There is little in the Bill about that. Baroness Blatch drew attention to OFSTED' s role in inspecting and monitoring standards as courses continue, but prior to this evening the Secretary of State has been strangely silent on that matter.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) had that in mind when he tabled new clause 2. I appreciate the worries about that, but I am worried that more than half of the lines deal with disciplining people who break the law. I suppose that, from the "cane 'em and hang 'em high" Member, that was only to be expected.
The Secretary of State has just announced that he would sooner tie the pressure to carry out OFSTED reports to funding than to statute. The Front-Bench Labour team will speak for itself, but I would prefer there to be a statutory function. I worry when one ties funding, which is crucial, to making people behave in a certain way. There is a need for strict criteria against which to distribute funds. That is different from saying, "You might meet the criteria, but you cannot have the funds because you have not had an inspection." I would prefer there to be a statutory duty.
I want to raise some important queries that have not yet been answered. We need a cycle of continuing inspections after accreditation. In school-centred courses, they should be separate from the four-yearly cycles of inspections. They have a separate purpose.
I am concerned about whether OFSTED has sufficient resources to carry out the extra tasks. As the Minister will know, the Higher Education Funding Council for England was concerned that evidence from OFSTED was not sufficiently comprehensive to enable reliable judgments to be made about the quality of initial teacher-training courses. There is now no incentive for the HEFCE to continue to give OFSTED the extra staffing and help to carry out inspections. What will happen if the HEFCE withdraws that support? Will the Government give an assurance that OFSTED will be given the resources that it needs to carry out extra inspections at the quality level that is required?
Understandably, the criteria for inspection of school-centred courses have not yet been released. Opposition Members seek an assurance that the criteria and the standards for those courses will be as rigorous as those for initial teacher training institutions.
§ Mr. Pawsey
Given the extremely helpful and categorical assurances of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that, if there is no inspection, there is no funding, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.