HC Deb 12 July 1999 vol 335 cc61-94

[Relevant documents: The Fourth Report from the Education and Employment Committee, on The Work of Ofsted, HC 62-I; Department for Education and Employment and Office for Standards in Education Departmental Report: The Government's Expenditure Plans 1999–2000 to 2000–01, (Cm 4202.)]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a further sum not exceeding £59,500,000 be granted to her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to complete or defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 2000 for expenditure by the Office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England on administration and inspection, including the inspection of schools and other educational institutions, funded nursery providers and local education authorities—[Jane Kennedy.]

5.54 pm
Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North)

We move rapidly from Sierra Leone to Ofsted—one of these subjects is controversial.

As Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment I am pleased to report to the House on our inquiry into Ofsted. On 14 June, we published a unanimous report following a 10-month inquiry. We heard extensive evidence. We received written evidence and heard oral evidence and—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan haselhurst)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but far too many conversations are going on. This is an important debate.

Mr. Wicks

We heard oral evidence from many people, including union and professional associations, Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools in England, and the Minister for School Standards. For comparative purposes, we also heard evidence from the chief inspector of further education and Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools in Wales. Obviously, we are grateful to all our witnesses.

Many members of the Committee and our staff also had the opportunity to visit schools that were undergoing an inspection. I suppose that, on occasion, that created a slightly comic spectacle. I was in a class in a school in greater London where the Ofsted inspector was inspecting the teacher, Her Majesty's inspector was observing the Ofsted inspector and I, as Chairman of the Select Committee, was observing everyone, I suppose. In practice, it was a most valuable facility and we are grateful for it. I thank all those who helped us with our inquiry, in particular the chief inspector of the Office for Standards in Education and his staff.

Interestingly, Parliament first granted public funds to schools in 1833 and inspection followed quickly thereafter, in 1839. There has more or less always been a link between state education and the inspection of schools. By the 1960s, there were about 500 HMIs.

Ofsted was established under the previous Government by the Education (Schools) Act 1992. The office of Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools was then created. Although we focused chiefly in our report on schools inspection, and I will mainly focus on that today, HMCI also has responsibility for inspecting local education authorities, initial and in-service teacher training, nursery education, youth services and further education provided by local education authorities. I understand that the Government will shortly be extending the powers of the chief inspector.

Ofsted was created by the previous Government as part of a drive to raise education standards. Other developments of the time were the national curriculum, national testing and the publication of school results. We can see the work of Ofsted in the context of education standards, but also perhaps in terms of the "audit society", as some people have described it. The provision of information to parents is crucial, but we see the growth of regulation and inspectorates in other areas of public policy. For example, there are developments in social services and health—the National Institute for Clinical Excellence is an interesting example of that. It is all about consumer perspectives and the accountability of public services.

The main emphasis that I want to bring to the debate is that the Committee fully endorses the principle of external inspection of our schools and other education institutions. That is a most important conclusion in the report.

Schools are inspected by teams, which are led by a registered inspector. The contracts are awarded by Ofsted. Inspection takes place within a framework that is drawn up by Ofsted. We found when taking evidence that the framework was widely praised. For example, Professor Michael Barber, who now heads the Department's standards effectiveness unit, says that it was very strongly based on education research, school effectiveness and school improvement". It is also interesting that the National Union of Teachers found that the framework provided a valuable check list for school improvement, not least for schools to use themselves". There is thus much support for the framework.

We questioned two aspects of the framework and made recommendations, one of which related to special schools. We noted that more special schools than other schools are judged to be under-performing, and made comments and recommendations accordingly. In particular, we said: Given the importance of this issue, we recommend that Ofsted keep under review the way in which the Framework is used in the inspection of special schools. We also recommend that the DfEE keep under review the way the National Curriculum is applied in special schools. We also made comments about pupil mobility and the need for Ofsted to take more account of that when making judgments about inspection. Clearly, if there is a great deal of pupil mobility, as there is in many of our schools, that will inevitably affect school performance, and Ofsted must keep that under review.

In general, we recognise that any inspection can be stressful—we have just been discussing the inspection of MPs—but the majority of schools found inspection teams professional and courteous. Undoubtedly, however, there is stress. Many of our witnesses highlighted the negative impact of inspections on teachers. For example, the report states: A GP wrote to us highlighting the 'significant symptoms of stress' suffered by three teachers at a local primary school, which were directly related to an impending inspection in the second cycle of inspections. The GP noted that this had happened despite the fact that the school had performed 'extremely well' in its inspection. When we considered reform, we examined particularly critically the period of notice that a school can be given. In the past, some schools have known that they are to be inspected two terms ahead of the inspection. We believe that such notice had a distorting impact on the school and its work. We note that, following consultation, Ofsted is considering giving notice of between six and 10 weeks, but the Committee feels that four weeks would be more appropriate.

We recognise the argument that if a longer period of notice is given, much good work can be done within the school as it prepares for the inspection, and that the period of notice, rather than the inspection, may be what has a good impact on the school. However, we believe that now that there is a history of inspections, and schools are used to them, four weeks' notice is about right. That may reassure parents that a school stands more chance of being inspected as it is on a normal day.

We believe also that there is a role for snap inspections, not as an alternative to ordinary inspections, but a complementary process. Snap inspections would be carried out not by the mainstream Ofsted teams, but by Her Majesty's inspectors or local education authorities.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

Do the hon. Gentleman and his Committee view snap inspections as one way to tackle the problem of over-preparation, which is referred to in a different part of the report, in that schools get keyed up about an inspection because they know that it is coming, but if the inspection is done on a spot basis, that problem does not arise?

Mr. Wicks

That could be one use for snap inspections. If, for example, the Secretary of State wanted a snap look at a particular subject or issue, such inspections could be used. We also had in mind the concern of parents with children at a particular school or in a particular area about problems such as school bullying. They might be worried that the school's regime was allowing pupils to get away with bullying. There is no point in inspectors telling the bullies and the teachers, "We shall be coming in eight weeks." They should turn up on a Monday morning and have a look. There is, therefore, a role for the snap inspection.

Alongside our proposal for a period of notice of only four weeks, we made recommendations to end the paper chase. At the moment, many schools over-prepare documentation for the inspection. That is only human, and one can understand that. We were struck, however, by one example of a school that had prepared so much documentation that it filled six large boxes and the registered inspector had to hire a man with a small van to cart it away. We never found out where he carted it off to, but we hope that it was recycled. We therefore recommend that Ofsted or the Department draw up a good practice guide—that will hopefully be a short document—to enable schools to end this devastation of our forests.

We believe that there should be a greater sense of ownership by schools of the inspection process. We want schools to view inspection as a valuable mechanism, not an external threat. We therefore suggested that it would be helpful if a school governing body were able to have an observer—not a member—on the Ofsted team that is inspecting the school.

I stress again that the evidence demonstrates that, in the great majority of cases, inspections are conducted in a fit and proper manner; and the inspectors are, in the main, courteous and professional in their dealings with pupils, staff, parents and governors. However, there are exceptions. We hear, for example, of inspection teams sometimes claiming to have inspected classes where there is evidence that they did not enter those classes. Ofsted should therefore continue its efforts to deal with poor inspection practice.

There is an issue to do with whether the inspection should be a clinical audit or whether it should develop into advice for schools. In considering that issue, we certainly welcomed the move towards greater feedback. In the school that I observed being inspected, I was impressed by the way in which inspectors would, whenever possible, give feedback to the teachers immediately after the lesson. We also observed feedback sessions with heads of department. All that is helpful, and we would encourage it. We want a process of professional dialogue, not clinical audit, to develop in Ofsted. Things are moving in the right direction.

Some argue that self-evaluation could replace external inspection. The Committee does not agree. There is an important role for self-evaluation, but it should be complementary to external inspection. We therefore recommend that Ofsted should include an assessment of self-evaluation within schools. That would be helpful.

We make recommendations about the membership of Ofsted teams. We heard a criticism that, too often, Ofsted teams are drawn from older members of the profession. That criticism can be exaggerated, but we certainly want to ensure that members of the Ofsted team have direct, current experience of teaching. We therefore recommend that more serving teachers and head teachers should be members of Ofsted teams. We would argue that if younger members of a team, who were teaching the literacy hour the week before the inspection, helped out for a few weeks a year as part of their professional development, they might be in a better position to judge the literacy hour during the school inspection. There are other arguments to support that recommendation.

We are also interested in the role of the lay inspector. Every team has a non-teaching professional, and we thought that that was a useful development. We saw that policy in operation. However, we think that it would be a good idea if more of the lay inspectors were young parents with school-age children. There are many ways to judge a school, but if the team contained a mother or father who was asking the simple question, "Is this school good enough for my child?", that would bring some reality into the inspection system from the parental point of view.

We considered the role of the Ofsted complaints adjudicator, which is clearly important. Currently, the complaints adjudicator is appointed by Ofsted. We do not believe that this is right; the appointment should be made elsewhere, either by the Secretary of State within the Department or by a board of commissioners for Ofsted—a recommendation to which I shall turn in a moment.

We also considered the accountability of Ofsted, which is important to the house. Ofsted is a non-ministerial Department, headed by Her Majesty's chief inspector. It is appointed by the Crown, and therefore has unique status in the education world. There are other non-ministerial Departments, but no clear analogies among them on reporting and accountability. We therefore conclude that accountability mechanisms for Ofsted are not sufficiently robust". We recognise that the independence of Ofsted is crucial, but we do not think that that precludes effective and transparent accountability. We therefore recommend that there should be, among other things, a regular House of Commons debate on Her Majesty's chief inspector's annual report. In assessing education standards, that could be an important occasion for the house.

We recommend to ourselves as a Select Committee that we should hold annual meetings with the chief inspector on both his annual report and, more generally, the work of Ofsted. We also suggest that, before the appointment or reappointment of the chief inspector is confirmed, the Select Committee should receive evidence from the nominee and report to Parliament. A debate on the Committee's report could then follow. We also discuss the need for a board of commissioners for Ofsted. We looked at the pros and cons of such a board, and conclude that a case for it should be considered very carefully.

There was a sense in which we were reluctant to investigate the role of Her Majesty's chief inspector and his style because we were interested in policy and practice rather than personality, but to undertake work into Ofsted without saying something about Mr. Chris Woodhead would be rather like discussing the Victorian era without mentioning good Queen Victoria.

As the report states, The purpose of our inquiry has been to consider the work of Ofsted itself: the principle and practice of inspection. Based on the evidence we received, however, we realised that any such study would be difficult to divorce from the style adopted by Mr. Chris Woodhead". Several witnesses commented on it. We heard from critics of the chief inspector, although some witnesses took a much more supportive view of his style.

It has not been possible for us to make a judgment about the successes or failures of Mr. Woodhead's style, although we note that when he came before us he defended it vigorously. He said: It is very necessary … for messages that emerge from inspections to be communicated with absolute clarity to everybody who is interested in education. That, in a nutshell, is what I have tried to do. The issue of polemic; the issue of being excessively confrontational, I think is very much a matter of subjective judgment. I can only say to you that I think I have tried to speak plainly and, on occasion, bluntly and, on occasion, my attempts to do that have obviously provoked a pretty strong reaction". We found it difficult, as a Committee, to make a judgment on whether such a style was necessary, although we note that many are critical of it.

We were concerned about the way Ofsted's work sometimes tended to focus on the negative. The day before we heard from the chief inspector, the annual report was published. The launch of the report was accompanied by a media focus on 15,000 failing teachers. We cross-examined Mr. Woodhead about that, and he told us that he knew no reason for such focus, given that the report was generally rather upbeat and optimistic. He subsequently wrote to us—I think that it was the next day—to point out that, at the press conference to launch his annual report, Ofsted officials responded helpfully to "persistent requests" to provide the number of weak teachers.

We are concerned not so much with looking back at the role of the chief inspector and his style but with pointing the way forward. Ofsted has been in existence for some time; we have a good deal of experience. We therefore feel that several principles should guide the chief inspector's work in future. First, the report states: the role of the Chief Inspector should include encouraging the formation of a consensus about the importance of Ofsted's work across a wide field. Second. we support the view that HM Chief Inspector should, where appropriate, speak out on education issues. That obviously helps to stimulate a wider public debate. The major interests must be those of children and their parents, although, as the report says, we feel strongly that such public expression of views should be based firmly on clear and scientific evidence emerging from inspections undertaken by Ofsted's inspectors and other reputable sources. There is a considerable danger that if this principle is not adhered to, the Chief Inspector will be seen simply as a pundit or polemicist". Thirdly, the report concludes: in carrying out his or her role the Chief Inspector should be concerned to improve morale and promote confidence in the teaching profession. Hence the importance of fulfilling the role of Chief Inspector in a way that promotes wide acceptance of Ofsted's role and positive impact. We feel strongly that low morale among teachers inhibits the drive to raise standards". having—I hope—faithfully reported the Committee's conclusions, I must add that all of us in the House recognise the vital importance of education and the need to improve standards. The Committee recommends, as I suspect most of us present would, that external inspection of schools is vital. That should not be controversial. However, there is a strong case for reform, and our report presents arguments for it. We look forward in due course to the Government's full response to our report.

In practice, inspections are usually professional and well regarded. The great majority of our teachers undertake their work, often in very arduous circumstances, in the most professional way. Alongside such day-to-day work, however, there has been an over-excited public debate about Ofsted's role. Such over-excitement damages parents and children. We must pull down the Berlin wall that sometimes seems to separate Ofsted and teachers' representatives. That is the challenge for both the chief inspector and professional organisations.

6.17 pm
Mr. Phil Willis (harrogate and Knaresborough)

I echo the comments of many hon. Members who have praised the quality of the Select Committee's report on Ofsted. Although the area is contentious, such a unanimous report speaks volumes for the gifted leadership of its co-Chairman, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks).

The report makes more than 65 recommendations, the vast majority of which have been welcomed by teacher unions, governor and parent associations, the Local Government Association and most hon. Members. It is a positive and balanced report, seeking to find common ground between often differing views. It is important that it be acted on. Hopefully, in replying to the debate, the Minister will describe how the Department for Education and Employment intends to deal with each of the recommendations.

The Minister will be aware that the Liberal Democrats supported the Labour party in opposition in calling for a full governmental review of Ofsted. We had hoped that, as the Government, they would fulfil that pledge. The Select Committee inquiry may be seen by some as second best, but that would be extremely unfair. None the less, we would of course have liked more details and more debate on some areas.

The jury is still out on the appropriateness of the framework for inspecting special schools, especially those that deal with children who have severe learning and behavioural difficulties. Detailed research on the impact of mobility on school performance is necessary in order to come up with conclusions. More particularly, the pre-inspection context and school indicator—PICSI—data on which the background to school inspections in based clearly requires far greater attention. In work that is going on in Leeds at the moment, Benefits Agency data are being used as the basis for looking at a school's profile—instead of the pre-inspection context and school indicators, which are currently used.

Despite these criticisms, I believe that we should see the report as a starting point in the continuous public review and scrutiny of the Ofsted process. In particular, the Government should take heed of the uncertainty that surrounds the accountability of Ofsted to Parliament. The conclusion of the Select Committee at paragraph 196— we conclude that the accountability mechanisms for Ofsted are not sufficiently robust. Nor do they demonstrate that Ofsted is fully accountable for its work"— is extremely important. It goes right to the heart of much of the public and professional criticism of Ofsted and of the chief inspector of schools.

The recommendations of a regular debate in Parliament on the annual report and the scrutiny of the work of Ofsted by the Select Committee are both welcome. I remain to be convinced—although my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is entirely convinced—that a board of commissioners would significantly improve accountability, although I agree with the Committee that the Government should keep an open mind on that issue. No doubt if my hon. Friend catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will lucidly explain why he believes that a board of commissioners is needed.

The introduction of a quinquennial review is perhaps the most important recommendation. The review would not only enhance public accountability but ensure that Ofsted remained a dynamic organisation, responsive to an ever changing educational world. On 17 February, in evidence to the Select Committee, the Minister said no to a quinquennial review. We trust that she may have reconsidered that position and may change her mind when she responds.

Such a review would, too, help to address the issue of the accountability of the chief inspector of schools, which I suspect for many is the key issue at the heart of the accountability debate. The appointment of the chief inspector and, more specifically, any re-appointment, should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and review, and the Minister will be failing to catch the mood of the report—and of the profession—if she does not respond positively.

In our view, it would have been wrong for any chief inspector, let alone the present controversial incumbent, to be reappointed to his post without being subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Ofsted's work has changed considerably since 1992. The chief inspector now reports on the inspection of initial training and local education authorities. Yet his suitability for the enhanced role and his massive increase in salary were never publicly evaluated. If public inspection and review is good enough for our teachers, it should be good enough for the chief inspector.

Try as we may, it is difficult to talk about Ofsted without discussing the role of Chris Woodhead. They go together like strawberries and cream—or some might say sour cream.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bath and I have been among the strongest critics of Mr. Woodhead's style of leadership. We do not accept that his confrontational style was either necessary or desirable. Much of the demonisation of Ofsted has arisen from his public utterances, and the style of the early inspections took their lead from what he said in public.

The Select Committee report is masterly in its criticism. It condemns Mr. Woodhead's penchant for self-publicity and his use of intemperate language to make unsubstantiated criticisms of the teaching profession. The message to him from the Select Committee is clear: he has a duty to promote debate on education issues, but the debate should arise from evidence-based conclusions, not personal prejudice. In short, his style must change.

I am one of the very few Members present who, as a serving head teacher, experienced an Ofsted inspection before entering the House.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

Did the hon. Gentleman fail it?

Mr. Willis

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I did not. I thank him, however, for his concern.

In view of my previous comments, the House may be surprised to hear that, for me, the experience of the inspection was very positive. It was very positive for many of my colleagues who, sometimes for the first time, had the quality of their work independently recognised. It was very positive for the governors, who all too often spent their time dealing with the problems caused by social, economic and educational exclusion. It was very positive for our youngsters, who genuinely enjoyed meeting these strange, oft-talked-about beings called inspectors—especially the two youngsters who persuaded one of the inspectors that they had lost their dinner money on Monday and then again on Tuesday.

The inspection was a rewarding experience for the inspectors, one of whom I met last night at the teaching awards ceremony. I should add that one of them nearly benefited from the free can of Coke that he was offered to give his form teacher a good mark but, to his eternal credit, turned it down.

The Ofsted inspection of John Smeaton community high school was stressful, but it was a success because of the quality of the registered inspector—an outstanding man called Champak Chauhan. The way in which he prepared for the inspection with the school, and the way he dealt with the school community during the visit, were both thoroughly professional. His team was experienced and thus had the confidence of the staff. The inspection balanced audit with advice; it left the school community feeling proud of its achievements and aware of its failings but, above all, with a clear direction in which to move. That should be the experience of every single school community—but we know that it is not.

Liberal Democrats have always supported a strong, vigorous and independent inspection system for our schools. However, we believe that Ofsted inspections should be part of a wider process, and that audit by itself will not raise standards. The two elements of external inspection and continuous internal review, although distinct, must be linked. Ofsted should be charged with inspecting a school's internal review process, which should be rigorous and focused. By placing an emphasis on continuous review, as complementary to formal inspection, we could ensure that quality assurance comes not once every six years, but in every single year of a school's life.

No one seriously suggests that Ofsted should be responsible for supplying support to schools, but it is in a unique position in having observed a wealth of outstanding practice in our schools, and it should make that experience available. We would like the Government to consider how the good practice assembled by Ofsted could be disseminated to schools.

Of course, although we seek an enhanced role for Ofsted, schools must be confident that they are being inspected by competent inspectors with relevant current experience. The Select Committee was not able to form a conclusion on that matter, but we strongly believe that the cause of quality is not served by the present contracting system and the status of registered inspectors. We believe that, as costs are driven down, quality will fall further. A profession for which the Government are currently trying to produce a new career structure, in order to attract the brightest and the best, is entitled to an inspection system that is not based on a part-time force of casual workers—a "Dad's Army" of retired teachers and inspectors.

As the Committee Chairman said, we must have more serving teachers and head teachers on inspection teams, but to do so we must provide an appropriate pay scale that reflects the serious job of work that needs to be done. That should not be subject to the whims of the market.

The registered inspector is crucial to the inspection process. We believe that the inspectors should be HMIs—Her Majesty's inspectors—and should have permanent salaried status. We cannot accept that such a crucial role should be subject to the vagaries of who wins the contract.

Last night, the Minister and I attended, with others, a celebration of excellence in our schools at the national teaching awards celebration. It was probably the first time in my lifetime—especially my professional lifetime—that such a celebration has taken place on such a scale. It was certainly the first time that prime-time television had presented such an overwhelmingly positive picture of teachers to the nation.

Chris Woodhead may have believed that by saying that there were 15,000 failing teachers he would improve standards in our schools. Last night, by celebrating the work of 450,000 teachers, the teaching awards trust and the BBC did exactly that.

6.30 pm
helen Jones (Warrington, North)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution to the debate. Like the Select Committee, I believe that a rigorous and independent inspection system is vital if we are to improve our children's education. However, I believe that any system of education inspection must be judged by how well it helps us to do that. For an inspection system to achieve that goal, it must do several things. It must be fair and consistent, provide solid evidence of what is happening in our schools and give feedback to teachers and parents. It must celebrate and spread good practice as well as pointing out failings. In other words, it must tell us clearly what works. We and the Select Committee have done an excellent job in these regards, but we must decide also what works in Ofsted, and what does not.

There have been some successes. The inspection system now focuses clearly on the process of teaching and learning in the classroom and on highlighting weaknesses in schools instead of focusing on structures. That is exactly how it should be. The Ofsted framework generally has been widely praised. It is true, as the Chairman of the Select Committee has said—my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks)—that most schools have found their inspectors to be professional and courteous, despite there being some problems with certain teams. Nevertheless, we must face the fact—I find this in schools in my constituency every week—that the mention of Ofsted still instils fear and loathing in classrooms.

The Select Committee has drawn attention to the negative effect that the inspection process can have. Worryingly, the evidence given to it shows a wide disparity between head teachers' appreciation of the inspection process and the views of classroom teachers. The inspection process will never be easy for anyone. No profession and no individual likes being inspected.

If we are to enhance the Ofsted process and ensure that it has credibility, we must tackle three issues. First, we must ensure that the inspection system is not so bureaucratic that it interferes with good teaching in the classroom. Secondly, we must ensure that parents and teachers have confidence in the quality and consistency of the inspection process. Thirdly, we must, regrettably, consider the role and profile adopted by the chief inspector.

I was pleased that, in his letter reappointing the chief inspector, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State called for a more flexible inspection style. I welcome also the move to a six-yearly cycle of inspections. It seems self-evident that schools that are failing or are not delivering improvements need more attention from inspectors than those that are succeeding, as, too, do those schools that on paper might be achieving good results, but in practice are coasting and not allowing their pupils to reach their full potential. The Government call that intervention in inverse proportion to success. Being a simple soul, I prefer to say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

As well as taking that approach, we must reduce the notice of inspections still further. I welcome the fact that it has now been reduced to between 10 and six weeks. I welcome also the chief inspector's assurance to the Select Committee that he did not need van-loads of paperwork. I agree with the Select Committee on reducing the notice still further, but I would like to see many more unannounced inspections. That would reduce the bureaucratic burden on teachers and provide us with a much more effective picture of what is happening in schools. I do not wish to overstate the case, but it is not unknown for schools to rehearse for inspection, and to do so does not give anyone a true picture of what is going on.

However, that will not be enough. Schools must have confidence in the consistency and quality of inspections. I agree that we need far more inspectors with recent experience of the classroom. I think that the average age of inspection teams is about 52. I do not wish to denigrate the members of those teams, but it is clear that most of them, like my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), the Government Whip, cannot have recent classroom experience. It is essential that serving teachers and head teachers are members of the inspection teams because of their experience and to increase the confidence of the profession in the inspection process.

When inspectors are inspecting schools, they should spend far more time in the classroom than they do now. Thirty or 40 minutes is not enough to grade a teacher. If that happened in any other profession there would be an outcry.

We need to examine carefully the quality assurance procedures that are adopted by Ofsted to ensure consistency between different inspection teams. Ofsted's research into the reliability and validity of its process was heavily criticised by one witness on the ground that it covered only volunteers who knew that they were being observed. I agree that that is not a particularly good method of research.

I was disturbed by the evidence of some chief education officers that there was as much as a 15 per cent. difference between how their inspectors saw schools and how Ofsted inspectors saw them. That in itself must give us cause for thought and make us question the figures. Knowing the chief inspector's views on education research, I am reluctant to recommend more. However, it is clear that some serious research is needed on how the inspection process functions. Ofsted's research should inform the comments that the chief inspector makes about schools. He has adopted a high public profile, unlike his colleague in Wales. Whether that improves children's education is debatable. It is right that any chief inspector should be able to comment on education issues and advise Ministers, but those comments and that advice must be based on sound evidence that has been gathered by inspection teams. They must not be personal prejudices and polemics, and they must highlight good practice.

I was pleased that my right hon. Friend's letter of appointment called for good practice to be highlighted. We do not improve teacher morale by constant denigration. Similarly, we do not attract good graduates into the profession by adopting that approach. It may be a truism, but we cannot have good schools without good teachers. The chief inspector and everyone else should bear that in mind.

I hope that we shall have no more incidents like the chief inspector's comment that 15,000 teachers should be removed, which was based solely on lesson observations in small primary schools. I have said previously that that sort of research would not pass muster with the supervisor of a first-year post-graduate. It is not good enough. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) might remember that in May 1996 the chief inspector, having made comments about achievements in standard assessment tests, gave evidence to the then Education and Employment Select Committee which seemed to indicate that he did not understand either a normal distribution curve or the concept of an average. I hope that we shall not have another incident such as that. More progress in English and maths is clearly to be expected.

Mr. Willis

Mr. Woodhead was an English teacher.

Helen Jones

The Chief Inspector was an English teacher and so was I, but at least I understand what an average is.

I want to see the chief inspector and Ofsted move forward and develop much more consensus about the work of the inspection service. I want to see him presiding over an inspection system which takes account of the context in which schools work, including factors such as pupil mobility and social deprivation. Those factors are not an excuse for failure, but we need to find the schools that have overcome such problems, in order that other schools can learn to overcome them as well. I hope that the chief inspector will develop much more of a professional dialogue with teachers, so that we can move forward together and see them as partners in raising standards in our schools, not as the enemy.

This is not, after all, a war. We are all on the same side—the side of raising standards. I hope that we move forward to a more consensual, collegiate approach that will benefit parents and teachers. Most of all, it will help to raise standards in our schools which, as the Select Committee rightly points out, is what our children deserve.

6.40 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

My attitude to the estimates is somewhat ambivalent. I am a great admirer of the inspectorate, by which I mean a great admirer of the chief inspector himself and of the system that has been put in place—which, incidentally, I regard as one of the great achievements of the education policies of the former Administration.

However, I am deeply concerned about the funding of former grant-maintained schools in Lincolnshire. Looking at the sum involved—£59.5 million—I am conscious that a small fraction of that would enable the Government to address the problems currently experienced by the former grant-maintained schools in the county that I represent.

On balance, my conclusion is that it is important that we approve the estimates so that the inspectorate can thoroughly examine the funding and the difficulties of former grant-maintained schools generally, and in particular in Lincolnshire.

To enable the inspectorate to perform the task that I hope it will perform as a result of the money that I anticipate the House will vote on the estimates, it may be helpful if I say a few brief words about the difficulties of the former grant-maintained schools in Lincolnshire, which are suffering underfunding as a direct consequence of the Government's policy.

Before I do that, there is a constitutional point worth making. The matter is relevant exclusively to England. Were there to be a vote on the matter—I do not suggest that there will be a vote—I feel fairly certain that Government Whips would call on their colleagues from Scottish constituencies to vote. That would be a bizarre proposition.

I see no reason why Scottish representatives in the House should vote on funds that are relevant exclusively to English education. It is worth identifying this issue as one of many that will arise, on which we hope that representatives of Scottish constituencies will disqualify themselves from participating in votes. That, I understand, is the intention of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whose courage is much to be commended in this regard.

I am anxious to stay fully in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I emphasise that I support the vote in favour of the Ofsted grant of £59.5 million, in the hope that part of the money will be used to look into the problems of the former grant-maintained schools in Lincolnshire. To enable the inspectorate to discharge the functions that I hope it will perform as a result of the decision of the house, I shall outline the difficulties in Lincolnshire.

The problem is that former grant-maintained schools were funded in three ways.

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg

Yes, of course.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. Before the hon. Lady intervenes, may I say that the report is about the work of Ofsted? I would not want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to dwell on the position of former grant-maintained schools in Lincolnshire. That is not relevant to the report before us.

Mr. Hogg

May I try to address the anxiety which I anticipated would be in your mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker? My purpose, obviously, is to highlight the problems of the former grant-maintained schools in Lincolnshire, because they are suffering from a deficit that is the direct and intended consequence of Government policy. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. All Members of Parliament have problems relating to their constituencies and their communities. Hon. Members know as well as I do that there are many avenues through which to highlight those problems, such as Adjournment debates and perhaps other education debates. However, in this debate the right hon. and learned Gentleman must stick to the terms of the report.

Mr. Hogg

I accept the rebuke, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am trying briefly to highlight the point, but to stay in order. You have kindly reminded us that there are many ways in which the point can be highlighted. May I suggest to you that this may be one such, because it is part of the function of the inspectorate to look into schools? I suggest to the house, through you, that there is a particular problem with former grant-maintained schools, which the inspectorate ought to address.

The estimates give to the inspectorate £59.5 million, so it should have ample opportunity to look into those specific problems. To enable the inspectorate more fully and effectively to confront that task, I suggest that it would be in order for me briefly to identify the problem. I think that that is in order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The right hon. and learned Gentleman should not dwell on the matter. If he wants to mention in passing the problems that might arise and which the inspectorate should examine, that is fine, but I am trying to say as bluntly as I can that he should not make a meal of it.

Mr. Hogg

You have put your ruling graciously, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That being so, I shall respond in precisely the way that you suggest—not by making a meal of it, but in broad terms. As you see, I have put aside my notes.

In broad terms, the problem confronting all grant-maintained schools is that in providing funding in the current year, the Government have ensured that the funding of former grant-maintained schools is being frozen at the cash level in 1998–99. That is resulted in Lincolnshire and no doubt in many other places—

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

What about Suffolk?

Mr. Hogg

The same may well be true of Suffolk. The Government's policy has resulted in redundancies—

Valerie Davey

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made his point. He has put the matter on record. He should leave it at that and concentrate on the report before us.

Mr. Hogg

You have put the ruling very clearly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Therefore I shall not go on challenging it. I have identified a serious problem with regard to former grant-maintained schools. The problem may well occur in Suffolk; it certainly occurs in Lincolnshire.

I hope that the estimates will enable the inspectorate to focus on the former grant-maintained schools, especially in Lincolnshire, and to ask itself whether Government policy is having a seriously damaging effect on the quality of education in those schools. That is my contention and I hope that, following the approval of the estimates, the inspectorate will tackle the task that I have outlined.

6.49 pm
Miss Melanie Johnson (Welwyn Hatfield)

I am minded to follow the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) by referring to "Inspection '98: the Supplement to the Inspection handbooks Containing New Requirements and Guidance". The annexe, which is headed "Seriously Misleading Reports", states: Procedures are established for dealing with reports which are judged to be seriously misleading". I introduce that reference to the debate so that hon. Members can reflect on it in the present context.

I have many interests to declare. I am still accredited to work as an Ofsted team inspector, which is my former occupation, and I declare that interest in case hon. Members believe it to be significant to the debate. I have further interests: my three children are in the schools system and my constituency is full of children. All of us in the Chamber have tremendous interest in that aspect of our provision.

I shall make a number of comments on the report, and I begin with a few on the efficiency of the system. I was a member of a county curriculum committee some years ago, when Her Majesty's inspectorate was responsible for reporting on schools. It is worth recalling that its reports often arrived with county councils and local education authorities as many as 12 months after the inspection. Although we are considering extending by a week or so the time that the inspector has to complete the report, one of the triumphs of the present system is they are completed to a tight schedule. As a result, there is a tremendously fast turnaround for schools.

I believe, as the report suggests, that it is better for schools to have less notice that the inspectors are going in. I have been on the opposite end of the process from the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis)—he was on the receiving end—and I agree with the report's comments about the anticipatory dread experienced by many schools as a result of the long lead-in times. It is better that they have less time to worry about the imminent visit of the inspectors, not least because less paperwork will be produced in some cases.

The report comments wisely that often too much paperwork is produced for inspectors. I remember inspecting a school at which 42 box files of paper were presented to us; the experience was similar to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), of the man with the van who had to collect the paperwork. Those masses of paper are often the result of nothing but panic in the school management team about the arrival of Ofsted. That does not help the team, the school, the staff or the system. I commend the suggestion that we give schools as little notice as is practicable for all sides.

On the question of the quality of the teams, there is always a danger with the present system—indeed, with any system—that the bad or the cynical will paint a picture of the system for everybody else. There has been too much of that in the present circumstances. Section 3.1 of the inspection framework for schools requires that the inspection reflects the nature of the school, which is important. It is important to remember that a report is a snapshot of a school during the inspection and inspectors in good teams always take into account the nature of the children, the school's circumstances and its recent history.

Although I have not checked this out recently, when I last spoke to colleagues I gathered that team members are no longer named on bids for Ofsted contracts. I am a little concerned about that. At one time, it was standard for Ofsted to require the team to be named on the bid for a school. In the light of the Select Committee's remark that it would be highly desirable to achieve a better match between experience and the school and to ensure that the quality of the team is good, it would be excellent if team members could be put forward as part of the contracting process in more cases, or at least in sensitive ones. The schools are not known by the contractors, which makes the process of contracting blind on both sides, and, although that situation will end in August, that does not help in respect of quality.

As different parties remarked in evidence to the Select Committee, larger contractors are not necessarily synonymous with higher quality. A message was left on my home answering machine only a few weeks ago by someone I had never heard of informing me that an inspection was taking place near my home and asking whether I would like to do it. I am obviously still on the list of inspectors and that person did not know that I was otherwise engaged in other places. Some of the smaller teams work closely together, and their members are used to doing that, so the problem of car park syndrome—teams were thought to have met in the car park—can be avoided. That was not my experience of working, and I played a part in inspecting about 50 schools in the four years before I was elected to the house.

Paragraph 69 discusses pre-Ofsted inspection and consultancies. It is worth remarking in this context that that highlights the need for the Government's proposals on appraisal and re-emphasises the importance of head teachers and leadership in schools. As we all know from our experience, a surprisingly large number of schools are going for pre-Ofsted consultancies. Making sure that the school is performing as it should be in the normal course of events, monitoring its work, reviewing its activities and appraising the performance of the staff and of the school as an organisation should be part of the normal work of managing the school and a normal activity for head teachers, heads of department and other senior managers in the school.

Quality depends in large part on the quality of the registered inspector. In this context, it is relevant to consider some of the financial issues on which the Select Committee took evidence. In my experience, a large number of such people have retired early. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (helen Jones) commented on age, to the discomfort of our Whip, but I should point out that some such people have retired only recently and may be younger than some of those still working in the service. A tranche of people retired early at about the time at which Ofsted was established and they are probably reaching the age at which they will retire from the system once and for all. As a result, a large number of people will leave the system in the not-too-distant future. Most inspectors work part-time. The occupation is not full-time and the financial aspects of the system require them to be dedicated to other things. People cannot work part-time—in part, that was my situation—or they have to have a pension or money coming in from elsewhere.

Although the quality of the registered inspector is important, there is a lot to be said about the quality of team members. As a number of hon. Members have commented, it would be highly desirable for serving heads, deputies and, possibly, even teachers to be on inspection teams, although that would have resource implications. For example, I served on a number of inspection teams with the head teacher of a special school. He was an invaluable member of those teams, but, because of the nature of the inspection process, he had to leave his own school for a week during the inspection and for a period either side of it. Schools have to be able to cope with such absence, which ought to be the case, and cover arrangements would have to be made. Those who currently serve in our schools are unable to be greatly involved in inspections, and they would have to be trained, but trying to increase participation in such positions would be worth while.

I have already mentioned the need to match the team to the school and we could be doing more on that. I do not think that shadowing is viable because it puts people in a difficult position. I have been a school governor for many years and, if I were invited to shadow the members of an inspection team, things would be difficult for them and difficult for me.

Paragraph 126 of the report showed that there was a reassuringly high correlation in the judgments made by inspectors on the same lesson. People have commented about the nature of inspectors' judgments and the discrepancies between local education authorities' inspections and the inspection reports that have been issued. Sometimes, the reports by Ofsted inspectors have been better than those by LEA inspectors, and sometimes the converse. It is important to recognise, however, that judgment is not a science but an art. People who are in a position to judge the performance of others bring only their own ability to look at them in that context and to make a human decision about how well they are doing. It will never be an exact science.

It is important to consider the issue of special schools. Inspecting a special school is very different from inspecting a primary or secondary school. Too much is made of whether special schools should be inspected, but such inspections are almost inevitable. The framework for them is now different: for the first two years, there was a common framework, but that was subsequently split into three separate sections—secondary, primary and special. Thus, to some degree, the framework has already been tailored and, more recently, moves have been made to ensure that it is more tailored. The advice given to inspectors reflects that.

Inspections place enormous pressure on small primary schools where it is difficult for the inspection team not to be a heavyweight presence. While it is there, it probably has to inspect most of the classes most of the time, whereas in a large secondary school many teachers are often not seen by team members. It is therefore important to look at how inspections work, particularly with small primary schools.

Two of the points made in the report are about the inspection of only parts of lessons. That occurs for a variety of practical reasons, not least because timetabling sometimes results in very long lessons. Another reason is that inspectors of particular subjects must see a mix of the year group, the teachers and the subjects within a particular department, such as modern languages, where more than one subject is taught. It is important to be aware that the only constraint on inspectors staying longer in a lesson is that of resources—the number of hours allocated to a team to cover a school inspection. Paragraph 92 on feedback also has resource implications as it relates to inspectors going straight into lessons. If one is following up in one lesson, one obviously cannot be there at the start of the next. Those two points need to be brought together.

Paragraph 90 deals with the grading of lessons and points out that it is not teachers who are being graded. It is important to realise that, in the original system, Ofsted inspectors graded not teachers but lessons. I am slightly uncomfortable about how, subsequently, teachers became the subject of grading. That was not necessarily constructive and did not help to reinforce the fact that the school and the teaching, rather than individual members of staff, were being inspected.

On accountability, I believe that the annual report that we are debating would be a constructive move. It would allow more public discussion of the report itself and would highlight the information in the report, which sometimes receives scant and, as others have said, fairly skewed coverage for a variety of reasons. We must be careful about how the information is presented. Last week's report on improvements in primary standards as a result of the national literacy and numeracy hours shows that we can either present the results nicely and say that four out of five lessons were satisfactory or better, or we can say that only one in five lessons was unsatisfactory. It is question of presentation, and we need to get that right.

Ofsted has done much that is good. Hon. Members might expect me to say that, but neither the local education authority inspectorates nor hMI ever had the same collection of evidence from across the entire education system as Ofsted now has. Last week's primary report is based on 1.25 million lessons, which is a phenomenal evidence base. Although it is better to target resources as we propose, because we have completed a full cycle in all cases, the collection of a large amount of evidence in the first place shows the vital role that Ofsted has played.

The value of the inspection framework has also been commented on. Parents are reassured to have their suspicions confirmed, whether about the good points or the weaknesses of a particular school.

I dare to say that the report is good, but as an inspector I must resist the temptation to grade it. Ofsted is very good, especially given the recent adaptation. I am sure that this report goes some way to improving it further, as it should.

7.7 pm

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute briefly to this important debate. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), who obviously speaks with a great deal of practical experience of Ofsted inspections. I also compliment the Select Committee and its Chairman, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks); they have done a workmanlike job in producing this report.

It is worth just noting that Ofsted was set up in 1992 and was very much a Conservative policy. I am delighted that, these days, there is a spirit of cross-party co-operation, both on the Committee and in the Chamber, about the importance of Ofsted. That view has not always characterised the attitude of the leaders of some teaching unions. All too often, the reservations, which have not abated in the intervening years, have been funnelled into personalised criticism of the chief inspector. With some of them, it is still a coded attack on the concept of inspections altogether.

As has already been mentioned by at least one other hon. Member this evening, Ofsted has now completed its first full cycle of inspections, having inspected all of the country's 24,000 schools over a four-year period. Under the old system, secondary schools were inspected on average once every 50 years and primary schools once every 200 years, which says something about the previous system.

What this is all about is helping the process of accountability in education. Ofsted has always had, and will continue to have, its critics, who do not want this level of inspection and accountability in our education system, but the great weight of serious opinion, both in this House and in the teaching profession, is now firmly behind the concept of Ofsted. I very much welcome that.

The concept of inspection has reached a high pitch of interest. In my constituency—I am sure that Eastbourne is not atypical in this respect—the local papers cover Ofsted reports, with detailed coverage of the results and much picking over of the recommendations and findings. There is a vigorous rebuttal process by teachers and governors if the school feels that it has been treated unfairly. That is extremely valuable, because it brings the inspection process into sharp focus as it affects individual schools and communities.

Bishop Bell secondary school in my constituency has been turned round in the past couple of years by a new head teacher, Mr. Terry Boatwright. There is now a completely new attitude. I cannot help feeling that much of that is due to the inspection process and the prospect of an Ofsted inspection. At this time of year, or a little earlier, my mail bag used to fill up with letters from parents whose children had been allocated to that school. They said that they would rather die than have their child sent to that school. It was a massive problem, because it put enormous pressure on the other secondary schools in the area. As a result, Bishop Bell school had falling rolls, poor buildings—which it had to start off with—a poor reputation and was unable to attract the support that a successful school should have attracted. The writing was on the wall when permission was given to build a brand new school, Causeway school, which is now open. It is an attractive school, and is not far from Bishop Bell school.

One envisaged the new school attracting children away from Bishop Bell school and sucking its support. The moment had come when it was either to succeed or to fail. The governors took that on board, and a new head teacher was recruited. The school has been turned round, and parents now write to me because they cannot get their children into Bishop Bell school and ask me what I can do about it. That is a tribute to the school and the commitment and dedication of the head teacher, teachers, governors and parents. It fits neatly into the whole picture of inspection and of encouraging and driving up standards in schools, which was a centrepiece of education policy under the previous Conservative Government, and which, at least in their rhetoric, the present Government have also taken on board.

The inspection system gives real backing to dedicated and determined teachers and head teachers, and can make all the difference. A former Conservative colleague, Rhodes Boyson, who was very much loved in the House, was a well-known head teacher. He had strong views about the teaching profession, and he once memorably said that some teachers could teach a class of 50 in a bus shelter without any difficulties, whereas some teachers could have a riot on their hands with one dead chicken. We have all met both categories of teacher.

The Ofsted process enhances and underpins the concept of parental choice. Parents must be able to make an informed choice. There is a report in today's Evening Standard about the remarks of Mr. Justice Kay in a case brought about the assisted places scheme in private schools. He severely criticised some of the undertakings that were given by the Prime Minister and Ministers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not talking about Ofsted, so he is straying from the subject of the debate.

Mr. Waterson

I am happy to take your guidance on that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was talking about parental choice, which is vital to our education system. The Conservative Government did much to breathe life into that concept. They did more than just pay lip service to the principle of parental choice.

With regard to the before and after effects on schools of an Ofsted inspection, the word "dread" may be slightly strong, but when I visit a school in my constituency that is preparing for an Ofsted report there is an air of constructive tension about the place. In some schools, people go to unnecessary lengths. That was dealt with in the report, which was right to talk about the dangers of over-preparation for an inspection. That is one reason why there is considerable support in the report and across the Chamber for unannounced, snap inspections. There is considerable scope for that, because if schools have a long notice period before an inspection, there is a genuine danger of over-preparation.

The report rightly refers to optimal tension between the inspectors and the inspected. That is important, because although the normal business of a school should not be brought to a grinding halt by the prospect of a looming inspection, it would be wrong and pointless if there were not an air of apprehension and worry about the effect of the inspection on the school. It is a tribute to those doing the inspecting—especially given what the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield said—that in the great majority of instances they manage to tread the narrow line between being over-officious and over-zealous and missing things that are important in any such inspection.

I should like to say a brief word about special schools, because the report dwells on them. It says: A rigorous and appropriate approach is needed to the inspection of special schools. That is absolutely right, but in paragraph 19 reference is made to the fact that the proportion of special schools judged to require special measures (that is, 'failed' their inspection) was far higher than the proportion of mainstream schools requiring special measures. I can testify to that problem by using an example in my constituency. Eastbourne has an excellent special school called hazel Court, which has tremendously dedicated staff and has many children who suffer from a variety of severe disabilities. Not long ago, it was inspected by Ofsted, which made serious criticisms of the school. At the time, there was strong feeling in the school and in the wider community that it was being tested against a wrong set of criteria, and was being treated unfairly. I am sure that that was not the intention of those involved in the inspection, and that no one in that school or in any other special school would argue that they should be given an easier ride than any other educational institutions.

I endorse paragraph 23 of the report, which recommends that, whenever possible, the team inspecting a special school should include members with relevant experience of special schools". It looks to Ofsted to monitor closely the composition of the teams that inspect special schools to determine the extent to which their experience reflects the particular challenges which special schools face. I could not have put it better. There is real concern about how special schools are inspected. I am sure that this recommendation will be taken up by the inspectorate, if it has not already been pursued, and that it will remove the problem that I described in the special school in my constituency.

I have tried—I hope that I have succeeded—to give two specific examples of Ofsted inspections and their effect in my constituency. The report contains much good sense and many practical proposals. If I had enough time, I could dwell on many more such proposals, but I have tried to identify those that have particular resonance in my constituency. I again commend the Committee's work.

7.20 pm
Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

As a member of the Select Committee, I endorse its recommendations.

I want briefly to consider three underlying features of Ofsted's work: its contribution to the raising of standards in schools, the nature of the inspection process, and Ofsted's role in encouraging the wider learning perspective—a learning society.

Inspection—external, objective inspection—is overwhelmingly supported, but it does not in itself raise standards. Measuring does not increase length, and weighing does not increase weight. Traditionally, we have been guided by exam results, but there is much more to it than that. In every respect, we depend on teachers to raise standards.

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson) said about the assessment of schools' performance. Ofsted is assessing overall performance. That requires profiles and carefully established criteria, but assessing a whole school's performance is Ofsted's task. Having inspected schools, collected data, and assessed effectiveness and good practice, Ofsted has produced a virtual library of material to assist those who can affect standards more directly: Ministers, schools and colleges, teachers and governors.

Ofsted's process of monitoring and assessing schools is different from that of any other inspecting body. We are not looking at a single product; we are looking at a community—a complex community, including pupils, teachers, governors and parents. The very presence of inspectors is likely to change the dynamic—the effect of relationships—for good or for bad. There is a direct impact on the school community involved, and it is against that part of Ofsted's work that most criticism has been levelled.

A purely distant, judgmental role for Ofsted is not acceptable; the process must be developmental, while remaining objective. There must be a recognition of the impact of self-evaluation, which so many schools have now developed and which, in the long term, is essential. Teaching must involve high expectation, mutual respect and encouragement, which must be reflected in inspections. All education involves learning on the part of both teacher and student, and that too must include Ofsted.

Clearly, a wealth of information is gained, digested and used by Ofsted inspectors. However, inspectors must also genuinely recognise that they can still learn, and that they make mistakes. I am still dismayed by one example. A registered inspector, having been forcefully and consistently criticised by schools for his own forceful style, was finally deregistered—only to be sent a personal letter by HMCI offering to "oil the wheels" for his future.

The latest response—the primary report, also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield—reflects well on those three aspects of inspection. The Times Educational Supplement features the beautiful headline, "Woodhead applauds improved primaries". At last, it is good news all round: good, because standards are rising, and because HMCI is genuinely congratulating teachers and heads. There is a "but", however. As this is an estimates debate, let me refer to a commentary on the report. I believe that it was mentioned earlier.

According to the commentary, new ground is being broken. The report suggests that there is a case for additional resources in schools in tougher areas, which face problems that others do not. It says that more trained teacher assistants should be employed, and that class sizes should be reduced. I am afraid that local education authorities have known that for many years; it is too costly for Ofsted to have only just reached the same conclusion. In addition, Mr. Woodhead insisted that he was not advocating extra Government funding: he was suggesting only that local authorities should take account of the different needs of the schools involved.

I was asked to be brief. Let me conclude by saying that, if Ofsted is to succeed in its many diverse roles, it must be respected and above reproach. Ofsted should not be feared, although I accept that it will not often be wholeheartedly welcomed. In all instances, there must be mutual respect, and a dialogue between professionals. I believe that, if that is to be achieved, Ofsted must enter the new millennium under new leadership, challenging our schools, teacher training centres and colleges at every level, and working in partnership to ensure excellence in both teaching and learning.

7.26 pm
Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

We have heard speeches both from members of the Committee and from at least one former professional, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson). I approach the subject rather tentatively, as an interested outsider.

I read the Committee's report with great interest. It struck me as a very thorough report, on a subject that, although I have always felt it should not be, is contentious. Although, in many respects, the interest aroused by Ofsted's work is commendable, I think it a shame that every aspect of its work has to be contentious—particularly its chief inspector. Many Conservative Members—and, no doubt, some Labour Members—feel that any report such as this should make the basic point that Ofsted and its chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, have been overwhelmingly a force for good in England's education since 1992. Any remarks that I make that cast doubt on some aspects of Ofsted's work should be seen in that context.

It is, of course, impossible to take a view on Ofsted without taking a view on Chris Woodhead; but before we deal with personalities, we should look at the facts of what he has achieved. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) pointed out, the fact that Ofsted has inspected all 24,000 schools over a period of four years contrasts starkly with the long gaps between inspections that used to occur. More important than the process, however, is the product, and the fact that visible improvements in schools are now taking place.

In 1996, 40 per cent. of teaching at key stages 1 and 2 was defined as good; the figure has now risen to 50 per cent. The number of 11-year-olds reaching the expected level in national curriculum tests in English and maths rose by 15 per cent. between 1994 and 1998. The incidence of teaching judged to be unsatisfactory or poor fell, over that four-year cycle, from one lesson in five to one in 14. Happily, the four-year cycle spans activity under both the present and the last Government. I can, therefore, resist the temptation to try to score partisan points, as, no doubt, can Labour Members.

The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield suggested that whether we should see the figures in terms of one lesson in five being unsatisfactory or in terms of four in five being satisfactory was merely an issue of presentation. I am not sure that I agree. Surely it would be wrong to try to gloss over the fact that 20 per cent. of lessons in English schools were unsatisfactory. One of Ofsted's strengths has been that it has not been afraid to point out where things are unsatisfactory.

I thank Ofsted for one of its first reports on local education authorities: the one on Kent, which was largely positive. I know that many people in Kent welcomed Ofsted's endorsement of the Kent system, which includes many grammar schools, which are under threat. In Kent, both parents of children at grammar schools and those of children at other schools would repeat the words of the hon. Member for Warrington, North (helen Jones)—"If it ain't broke, don't fix it"—and hope that the system that Ofsted has commended will be allowed to continue.

Chris Woodhead and his teams have not only brought about individual improvements, but contributed to a culture change. In some ways, there is a new conventional wisdom about education that was not there about 10 years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne has referred to the former Education Minister and Member for Brent, North, Rhodes Boyson, who would be particularly pleased about the culture change. In the 1970s, when he and others produced the education black papers, and said things that are now regarded as conventional wisdom about the way lessons should be taught in school and the importance of discipline and of structured lessons, it was regarded as way-out radicalism.

One of the unarguable improvements over the past 30 years is that those things have become the conventional wisdom in almost all areas—on both sides of the House and in most parts of education, although, I am sad to say, some of the more recalcitrant educationists in universities and a few in the teaching unions disagree. Indeed, that conventional wisdom is now shared even by Ministers. I am sure that the Minister will know that it is not what the Government seek to do, but the centralising way in which they seek to do it that Conservative Members object to.

Not only does Ofsted deserve credit for much of that change in culture, but Chris Woodhead deserves personal credit. Perhaps he did have to be as single-minded as he has always been to drive through those changes. Various hon. Members have criticised his style. Indeed, there has been some legitimate murmuring, if you like, about the way that he has sometimes addressed the teaching profession.

I have heard about that matter from head teachers in both my constituency and beyond, whose views on education I respect hugely. They have seen times when Chris Woodhead has seemed not very attuned to sensitivities that he should have taken into account. Nevertheless, the overwhelming balance is on his side.

If Chris Woodhead has occasionally erred in being too forceful, that fault was possibly made inevitable by the forces of inertia that he had to confront in the educational establishment. Certainly, nothing that he has done, or none of his views, is any excuse for the organised attack on him early this year, in part from, I regret to say, the Government Back Benches. A disputed episode in his personal life more than 20 years ago was no excuse for the personal vilification that he went through. Those attacks were transparently politically and ideologically motivated.

I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity of the debate to express her and the Government's continuing support for the chief inspector. I am sure that he was grateful—and I suspect that the House was—that, at the time, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment expressed that support.

Despite Ofsted's many achievements, there are always improvements to be made and the report identifies some of them. We have heard from many Members about the importance of reducing, or at times perhaps abolishing. the period of notice. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are aware of the tremendous tension that builds in schools that are waiting to be, as the jargon has it, ofsteded—that particularly unlovely new term that has been added to the English language; to ofsted, I suppose, is the verb.

Not only does that lead to an unrealistic assessment when the inspection finally takes place, but the amount of energy that is diverted into preparing for an Ofsted inspection seems, in some cases that I have seen, to damage palpably the quality of the teaching in that intervening period. Apart from that, some schools will go as far as rehearsing for an inspection, so they present an unrealistic picture of their real attainments when the inspectors come.

Therefore, from all points of view, it would be better if it became the norm that there was no long period between the announcement of an Ofsted inspection and its implementation. Indeed, Ofsted inspectors could sometimes just drop in to schools to see what is happening on a normal day. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that, in relation to the various measures, some schools do not need to be inspected as often as schools that may not have been doing so well.

The Minister and her colleagues are about to impose new burdens on Ofsted. Under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, it has already taken on the inspection of LEAs. Soon, it will inspect post-16 education. I hope that the Government will provide adequate resources.

Ofsted is one of education's success stories over the past few years. It would be a great shame if that were put in jeopardy by under-resourcing its new and extra responsibilities. Ofsted is now too important to be stretched too thinly. It needs to do an important job; up to now, it has done that job very well. It would be bad not just for Ofsted, but for all those at school and in post-16 education if the new burdens that Ofsted has willingly taken on—perhaps not burdens; the new jobs that it has taken on—were not adequately resourced.

Perhaps that is an issue that the Minister will want to address more than any other not only in the debate, but in the months ahead. However, in general, like the Select Committee report, we would give Ofsted a clean bill of health, and give it and Chris Woodhead personally our thanks for the good work that they have done for English education since 1992.

7.38 pm
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

I feel privileged to be able to speak in the debate. I am a member of the Select Committee that produced the report, the first report that I worked on as a member of the Committee. I feel that we have made a substantial contribution.

It is important to touch on what we tried to do with the report. We were conscious of all the noises off. Therefore, the report was not intended to be a witch hunt either for or against the chief inspector. It was not intended to be a product of political correctness. It was intended to be thorough, considered, forensic and not personally judgmental. The aim was to recognise that both Ofsted and HMCI have to work for all the players in the schools sector—for teachers, parents and pupils. In that respect, everyone has a view. Everyone is a stakeholder.

I am glad that all hon. Members have recognised that inspection is not a touchy-feely exercise. However, nor is it the Spanish inquisition or, as Professor Mortimore characterised it in his comments to us, a Kafkaesque process. What we have to ask about inspection is—this is highly relevant in response to the Government's emphasis on raising standards and putting standards at the heart of everything—how it gets schools from A to B. Since 1992, what has Ofsted achieved in raising standards? Is Ofsted learning, and is it getting better in the inspection process?

The Select Committee report was, therefore, a structurally driven, not personality-driven inquiry. The report was meant to produce—I think that it has produced—recommendations that will produce results for the next 10 to 15 years. I should like to pay particular tribute not only to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), who chaired the Committee with excellent judgment, but to the Committee Clerks and my fellow Committee members, who put so much time and effort into the report.

Some of the key issues thrown up by the report are far from the fire and brimstone media controversy about the chief inspector himself. For me, one of the report's most significant and important recommendations is that Ofsted should take account of significant variables, such as pupil mobility and absence. As a constituency Member of Parliament, those matters are particularly important, as annual student turnover at some of my schools is 30 to 40 per cent.

Evidence is now beginning to emerge from the Department for Education and Employment on local education authorities that, in their educational development plans, have highlighted problems in pupil enrolment turnover. LEAs with such problems are often in inner-city areas—particularly London boroughs with large short-term housing and transient groups—old manufacturing areas and seaside towns, in which the seasonal demands of the tourist industry and poor-quality housing exacerbate the problem. In 1997–98, my own local education authority, for example, took 1,200 pupils into its primary schools as non-routine admissions, constituting 15 per cent. of our entire primary school population.

I am, therefore, pleased that, in our report, the Committee has highlighted turnover as a crucial factor. I am pleased also that the chief inspector has recognised that it is an important factor, and that there have been indications that it will be included formally in the future inspection process.

I should also like to comment on the shorter, demystified inspections—which my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North described as the secular equivalent of a royal visit, with all the trappings and traumas that go with that. Schools may not have new loos, but they have crates of paperwork and, if anyone ever wanted to stage that famous Gogol play "The Government Inspector", Ofsted would provide a very good context in which to do so.

The Select Committee also tried to highlight in our report the fact that Ofsted and its inspectors perform a job that, necessarily, steers a third way between the audit approach and the management consultancy approach. Inspectors of course have to maintain an element of detachment, but they and Ofsted also have a duty to use their material to achieve the intended effect. Moreover, when the glass is not only half full, but 80 to 90 per cent. full, the chief inspector has a duty to recognise that fact in his comments.

Accountability is a key issue: the question of who governs the governors is particularly relevant to Ofsted. The current structure of accountability—there is such a structure—is curiously attenuated.

When we discuss options for the future, I hope that Ministers will reflect again on some of the issues mentioned in the report that they have not yet dealt with—particularly the board of commissioners and quinquennial reviews.

The main issue is broader than Ofsted alone, however, and touches on the role that Parliament might play in an increasingly audit-obsessed society. It is also about the role that Parliament will have to play because of the increased importance of secondary legislation and the increased number of agencies that, inevitably, do not have to come before the Bar of the House. To that extent, in considering Ofsted, concerns about centralisation and checking the Executive are particularly relevant.

I believe that Ofsted has an important role to play and a very good future ahead of it. However, if it is to play that role and have that future, Ofsted and the chief inspector of schools—whoever he or she may be in future—must learn the lessons of Ofsted's first few years and make necessary adjustments.

Ofsted faces new challenges and new tests, not least the inspection of local education authorities and involvement in the post-16 sector. Although it is right and proper that Ofsted should be so involved, it is also important that Ofsted and the chief inspector do not go for easy applause and simplistic solutions that ignore current good practice. That includes—in relation to the Further Education Funding Council, for example—taking on board feedback and college inspectors, who are very supportive.

It is not surprising that concerns have already been expressed that Mr. Woodhead's hitherto gung-ho approach will go down like a lead balloon if he attempts to apply it in the further education sector. We must not lose the gains that have been made there.

Ofsted has been a successful caravan, but it is a caravan that must move on. Although there must be no slacking on standards in Ofsted, neither must it constitute a hanging jury. If I were Mr. Woodhead, I should have gone away, read the Committee's report and digested what was said in it. He might also consider the reported remarks of Zsa Zsa Gabor—it may have been Mae West—that Guys who act too macho aren't always mucho. I welcome the report's recommendations and the role that we propose for Ofsted. However, as I said at the beginning of the Select Committee's press conference on the report, it is vitally important that the singer is not allowed to get in the way of the song.

7.46 pm
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

This has been a good debate on an important subject and important report. The Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), began the debate with a thoughtful and measured speech, and all the subsequent speeches have followed in the same vein. The hon. Gentleman and the members of the Committee deserve our congratulations on having produced a balanced and sensible report which is plainly the result of a very great deal of hard work. The Opposition feel that the report and its recommendations should help to take forward Ofsted's work.

The Committee deserves to be congratulated also on having chosen Ofsted as the subject of such a major inquiry. Occasionally, Ofsted has had a relatively high profile and been the subject of much comment. The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) caught the flavour of some of that comment when he described it as "noises off'. Against that background, it is good for the Select Committee to examine an organisation that has become such an important part of the fabric of our education system.

Ofsted was established in 1992, and it is fair to say that its advent was not greeted with universal acclaim. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) made some well-justified remarks about that fact. Since 1992, however, Ofsted has undoubtedly been a success, which has been reflected in the speeches in this debate. As the hon. Member for Croydon, North rightly said, Ofsted's work takes its place—with the national curriculum, national testing and publication of results—as one of the pillars supporting and driving forward higher standards in our schools.

I agreed with the evaluation of Ofsted made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), and with the description by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) of Ofsted as a force for good. The Opposition think that it would be difficult to overestimate the part that Ofsted has played in raising standards in our schools, not least because of the greater rigour and frequency that it has brought to the inspection process.

School inspections were much less frequent before the inception of Ofsted inspections. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne, I have heard estimates suggesting that, before Ofsted began its inspection regime, on average, secondary schools were inspected once every 50 years, and primary schools once every 200 years. I am not sure whether those estimates are entirely accurate, but inspections were certainly much less frequent before Ofsted started its work, and Ofsted's inspection cycle is certainly a big step forward.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne was right also to draw a connection between Ofsted's inspections and improvements—sometimes dramatic improvements—in schools. He mentioned the Bishop Bell school in his constituency, and undoubtedly many other hon. Members could give examples of similarly high standards being achieved by schools in their constituencies. Not all high-achieving heads and teachers can go on television to receive awards, but we should be unstinting in recognising the good work in our constituencies.

The task before us now is to find how best to build on the success of Ofsted—and there has been common ground across the House on that objective. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) made a thoughtful and valuable contribution, based on his relevant experience. However, I had a slight reservation when he started to talk about a full review. There is no question about the necessity of Ofsted, or about the way in which it is doing its work in general. As with the report, the purpose of any review should be to see how to build on what is being achieved. The report is an important aid in carrying out that task and, as the hon. Gentleman said, each of the recommendations calls for a careful response from the Government.

I do not propose to go through each of the recommendations, but several need to be highlighted. One key issue is quality. Are the financial incentives now in place compatible with the high quality of inspections for which we are all looking? From the report and the evidence, it appears that the Minister was broadly satisfied with the present arrangements to ensure quality. The Committee was less sanguine about the matter at paragraphs 35 and 36, in which it stated: we are anxious to ensure that the quality of every inspection team is high, and we have some sympathy with the concerns of inspection contractors who argued that the current process did not provide incentives for contractors to put in place high-quality training, development and quality assurance systems … We therefore take these concerns seriously as the contracting process has a significant impact on the quality of inspection team which is assembled by the successful contractor. The overall aim is to reach the highest level of quality which can be provided for by the system. That is one part of the Committee's report which calls for a particularly careful response, as does the part in which the Committee draws attention to the relationship between inspection quality and inspectors' pay. I listened to the interesting comments of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson) on this subject, and there appears to be good sense in the Committee's recommendation in paragraph 44 that Ofsted should undertake a study into rates of pay.

Ofsted needs to look at the Committee's findings on unacceptably poor inspection practice, and to respond to the Committee's call to examine any potential flaws in its own quality assurance systems. The Committee also made sensible suggestions which are worthy of exploration on a range of other subjects, including feedback from inspections; improving the clarity of reports and cutting out jargon; and governing bodies nominating an observer to the inspection team. It is also common sense that self-evaluation should be complementary to external inspection, and not a substitute for it, as the hon. Member for Croydon, North said. Rigorous external inspection is indispensable.

In paragraph 110, significantly, the Committee welcomes the introduction of short inspections, which accord with the wider principle—now being given some currency—of intervention in inverse proportion to success. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The Minister for School Standards, and the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), signify their assent for that principle. We agree, but—without introducing a discordant note—we wonder whether there are certain areas where it could be applied more consistently than it is at the moment. That principle holds good throughout education, and not just in those parts where the Government wish it to apply.

The report referred also to the length of notice of inspections, and also to snap inspections. That was valuable, as this matter was clearly in the mind of Ofsted. Ofsted announced recently that the period of notice of inspections given to schools is to be reduced from two terms to between six and 10 weeks. The case has been made for a shorter period of notice for inspections, and the Committee concluded that it was in favour of reducing the period of notice of inspection to the shortest term that was practical. The Committee believed that four weeks' notice was appropriate, and there is merit in that approach. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield agreed with that proposition.

We wonder whether it is possible to take the debate further on unannounced, so-called snap inspections. There is a good deal to be said for those as well. We note the evidence of the chief inspector, who said that he could see merit in the proposal. Paragraph 112 of the report states that snap visits might have several purposes—

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that there was an agreement that the time would be split more or less 50:50 between the two debates. The second debate has already conceded a little time to allow for an 8 o'clock finish. We are not leaving much time for the Minister to wind up if the hon. Gentleman is still speaking at four minutes to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will understand that the Chair is not party to any arrangements but is guided by the rules of the House. I understand that this debate could go on until six minutes to nine. As the hon. Gentleman says, there may be some arrangement for the debate to finish earlier, but that has nothing to do with the Chair.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not see that there can be anything further to the point of order, as everything is in good order.

Mrs. Dunwoody

May I nevertheless ask whether you have had any message from Opposition Front Benchers? Since they think transport is so important, I am sure that they would not want to hold up the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There are always conversations between hon. Members and the occupant of the Chair but, as the hon. Lady knows, they are private.

Mr. Clappison

In light of that remark, I will do my best to put my contribution in the bus lane. I will fast-track it as well as I can and watch out for ministerial cars coming up behind me.

We believe that snap inspections have a part to play and could give additional reassurance to parents. Generally, the report suggests a number of refinements which would add to the effectiveness of Ofsted. Parents in particular value high-quality, rigorous inspection of schools, and parents appreciate some of the leadership that has been given in this regard by Ofsted.

The leadership of Ofsted—to which the Committee refers at the end of the report—has been mentioned today, although I take the point made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South that the report was structurally driven, rather than personality driven. For our part, we think that there is value in having high-profile leadership which draws public attention to issues emerging from Ofsted's work which must be addressed.

Transport is very important, but so are some of the issues that we are discussing at the moment. They include the report on primary schools issued by Ofsted at the end of last week, which it is worth remarking—given the comments about the critical character of some reports—drew attention to the progress that had been made over the period of Ofsted's inspections; to the good practice that was going on; and to rising standards in primary schools. The report traced some of the reasons for that—in particular, the reduction in the amount of topic-led discussions, and more whole-class teaching, which can be identified as two vital factors responsible for rising standards in our primary schools.

Paragraph 215 of the report says: Mr Jim Hudson, Headteacher of Two Mile Ash School, expressed the view that OFSTED itself was well regarded by parents, due in part to the fact that 'HM Chief Inspector has not failed to confront the issues and parents' perception of OFSTED's work has been enhanced in the process'. We agree. There is a place for leadership that opens up the issues. Education should not be, as it has so often been described in the past, a secret garden; it should be a place where parents can come in and take an interest, and someone should evaluate schools and reflect their concerns.

Sometimes the message from Ofsted reassures parents, but there are times when parents need to hear messages that are less reassuring. Parents value Ofsted's work and are keenly interested in what it has to say. We had an illustration of that earlier today in the case of the parents of heather Begbie, who transferred her from a junior school that was said to be failing its Ofsted inspection to the junior school of a leading independent school, and—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is talking about a court decision. That is nothing to do with the report and it is not a matter on which I would want him to dwell.

Mr. Clappison

Of course I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. All I say is that parents will look to Ministers to keep their promises.

The report is important. It has given Ofsted a clean bill of health while suggesting some refinements to assist it in its valuable work. The Committee deserves congratulation. The report builds on success, so let us not alter the foundations that have brought about that success but instead look for ways in which we can refine Ofsted's work and bring even greater success and higher standards in the future.

8.2 pm

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris)

Let me put on the record my appreciation for the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks) and the Committee in producing the report. They took on a challenging task, given the nature of the evidence and the enthusiasm of some of those who attended the meetings. They have come up with a thoughtful report, which looks back but which mostly looks forward, to the way in which we can build on Ofsted's success.

I assure all concerned that the Government will reflect on the report and produce a formal reply in due course, so tonight I will only touch on a few of the points that have been made, especially bearing in mind the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody).

This is probably one of those issues on which Government and Opposition Front Benchers will not argue a great deal. That is to some extent a sign of Ofsted's success; it is now part of the education landscape, and our debates are about its future and how to improve it, not about whether it should exist at all. We must remind ourselves that it is not very long since the debate in the education profession outside the House was about whether there was a need for external inspection.

It is good that everybody in the education service now acknowledges that external inspection is right, helps to identify both weaknesses and good practice and gives us a wealth of information on the basis of which we can make judgments and policies; but as there are still a small—and I believe dwindling—minority of people outside the House who do not believe in external inspection, it is right that we should take every opportunity to reconfirm how important it is in the effort to raise standards.

Mr. Waterson

Can the Minister imagine a Labour Government ever introducing Ofsted?

Ms Morris

Of course I can. It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman could not keep his comments in line with the atmosphere that has pervaded this debate. Ofsted is a good news story. The Labour party never voted against it. It behoves us as a Parliament to improve on the good start that has been made and not to back-track into political point scoring.

I welcome and endorse the report's comments about the need for external inspection. I want to put on record my thanks to Chris Woodhead and all the inspectors and staff at Ofsted who got it up and running. We all bring our personal style to our jobs, and heaven forbid that senior jobs should be done without any personal style. Because of the opposition from the profession at the start of the process, it certainly needed somebody with the determination and vision of Chris Woodhead to get Ofsted off the ground and ensure that it stayed on track. It is to his credit and that of his staff that we are able to say today that it is rooted in our education system and plays an essential role in it.

It is interesting to compare my experience of being inspected as a teacher with the experience of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). The difference is that the hon. Gentleman entered the House five years later than I did, so he taught under Ofsted. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) and I left teaching in 1992 and we discussed the fact that we had never taught in a school that had had a full inspection. I spent 18 years teaching, and my hon. Friend spent 20—he is clearly a great deal older than me. Somebody mentioned 50 years, but I want to make it clear that that does not apply in our case. I welcome the fact that there are now regular inspections.

The need to praise teachers is absolutely crucial. There are many outstanding teachers in this country. I join the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough in paying tribute to what he and I experienced last night at the national teaching awards, which were a celebration of excellence and a long overdue recognition of the contribution that teachers make day in and day out. I congratulate the winners and all those who entered, as well as the National Teaching Awards Trust and the BBC, which has shown its commitment to public broadcasting at the highest level.

We must get the balance of pressure and support right. We all do that in our own ways. We know as politicians that criticism makes headlines and praise often does not. When the chief inspector praises schools, as he does each year in the list of outstanding schools in his annual report, it may make regional headlines but it does not make national headlines. I make a plea to those who have responsibility for reporting education news to give as many column inches to the successes as to the criticisms.

There is a bit in all of us that picks up the criticisms and not the praise. I plead with the teaching profession not to be so defensive and to accept that it, like any profession, will have members who are good and members who are poor. I ask it to rejoice in the success of its good members and to join in criticising the performance of its weak members.

Two groups of people suffer when we have weak teachers: the pupils and the teachers who have to pick up the pieces when they take the children the next year. I hope that the profession will come to value Ofsted because it pinpoints poor practice and allows good practice to be praised.

It is important to remember that Ofsted has not stood still since its start. We almost do not need five-yearly reviews. Some of the changes that we have made to the Ofsted system in the past two years include feedback to teachers on lessons that have been observed. That is now in place. We have introduced a limit on the daily amount of observation to which any individual teacher can be subject. Several hon. Members mentioned the reduced notice period—from five terms to two—and that is now in place. The summary reports, which make key information available to parents, are now in place. Inspection reports on the second round can now comment on the progress made since the report on the first inspections.

Inspection contractors will be named in reports and the details of any areas where they lead will be given. The quality standards for inspections were introduced from September last year. We also have a new complaints procedure that has been strengthened by the appointment of an independent adjudicator. The House will know that the Government have made plans to identify coasting schools, which lurk in the middle of the performance tables and can get too complacent, so that we can determine whether they need to make further improvements. The period of notice for school inspections will be reduced to about six weeks and shorter inspections will be introduced for schools which, on the evidence, are doing well.

We must remember that Ofsted is constantly evolving, as it should. That fact, together with Ofsted's role as a central part of the education service, is much to be welcomed. I again put on record the contribution that Ofsted and the chief inspector make in working with us so that we can improve the system.

The Committee's report contains much that we wish to reflect on and take forward. Almost every hon. Member who has spoken mentioned pupil mobility, which is a challenge to which Parliament and those in the education service outside the classroom have only just turned their minds but which teachers have had to cope with for many years. Some of our schools have year groups with up to 70 per cent. pupil mobility in one year. Many of those mobile pupils bring a range of challenging behaviour—some are refugees or do not have English as their first language. Some are mobile because of family breakdown, and suffer from the insecurity that can bring. It must be right for an inspection of such schools to recognise those circumstances. We are working with Ofsted so that as we develop the framework we can collect and report information about pupil mobility.

I also listened carefully to the comments that were made about special schools. I shall reflect on those comments, but the key message must be that we expect as much from children in special schools as we do from children in any other school. I do not want to go back to a system in which one looks for good care in special schools, not robust education. In getting the balance right, we might have been harder than some people wanted, but I will bear in mind the points made by many hon. Members that the measurement of progress in special schools sometimes needs finer judgment than measuring progress in mainstream schools.

I am not persuaded of the case for snap inspections. One of the features of an Ofsted inspection is the process of preparation for it. I agree that such preparation should not be manic, but schools should have a feeling of anticipation and a wish to get their ship in order before the inspection. Our survey showed that schools welcomed a notice period of four to six weeks. However, in some instances, such as cases of bullying, we might want to ensure snap inspections, so that misdemeanours or poor practice could not be hidden. I will reflect on that point and ensure that such inspections are possible.

The hon. Member for Croydon, North talked about a professional dialogue. I hope that, as we move into the second round of Ofsted inspections, we will have the opportunity to celebrate schools that have made progress since the first round of inspections. I also hope that we will have an education service—at Ofsted level, at Government, local and national level, and in the classrooms—that can use the inspection service to have the essential professional dialogue that has been needed for so long.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) was right when she said that the Ofsted inspection identifies weakness. It does not by itself raise standards, but by putting weakness into the public domain it leaves it to the rest of us—policy makers and teachers—to ensure that we use that information to raise standards for children. Ofsted plays a key role in that and I offer my thanks to everybody who enables that organisation to run so smoothly and effectively, and my thanks and congratulations to the Committee and all those who have participated in the debate today.

Question deferred, pursuant to paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates).

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