§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I am pleased to be able to open our debate on the Education (Schools) Bill, which takes forward the central reforms promised in the citizen's and parent's charters. The charters have been widely welcomed for their commitment to more open and accountable public services. I think your Lordships will see, as I explain the main sections of the Bill, that it is a measure very much in line with those principles—a measure which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has described as helping to demystify education for all parents.
That there is a need for such demystification is not in doubt. When the Department of Education carried out a survey in 1989, some two-thirds of parents said they would welcome more information about what went on in schools. As we shall see, this Bill will guarantee them that information as well as meet the needs of schools themselves to know how well they are doing and how they might do better.
The proposals set out here build naturally on a decade of reforming education legislation. The 1980 Act gave parents the right to say which school they wanted their child to attend and guaranteed them some basic information to inform that choice. The 1986 Act, which was introduced in your Lordships' House and which owed much to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, gave parents the right to vote for the largest group on their governing body and gave governing bodies a more formal role in their schools' affairs.
The 1988 Act introduced more open enrolment to widen choice for parents, and local management of schools giving governors responsibility for their school's budget and staffing as well as oversight of curriculum policies. It allows parents to vote if they wish for grant-maintained status for their school.
It follows from those changes that parents and governors need the best possible information if they are to make the most of the new rights they have been given and if they are to exercise their new responsibilities wisely. It is that need for regular, reliable and comparable information which this Bill is designed to meet. The first area it tackles is the need for more and better school inspection evidence.
It may surprise noble Lords that, given the role of Her Majesty's Inspectorate and local education authorities, such information is not currently available. But the amount and nature of inspection now carried out by HMI does not meet the need for published information at school level. Only 150 HMI reports on schools were published last year. At that rate it would take some 200 years to cover all primary schools and 60 years to cover all secondary schools.
In addition, of course, HMI has met the increasing demand for evidence and advice to inform national policies by carrying out inspections focused on issues rather that on individual schools—surveys such as that of primary reading which have fed through into 592 national reports and advice. But they have not been able to meet the needs of more than a small number or schools for a thorough inspection of the school as a whole.
Local authorities have not been able or willing to fill the gap. That is a position on which all sides are, I believe, agreed. The problems of local inspection services in many areas are well known—irregular and unsystematic inspections, unpublished reports, reports which describe but do not evaluate, and, where judgments are made, variations in the standards applied.
The 1989 Audit Commission report on the school inspection service in local education authorities was fairly damning. It depicted a system in disarray, without clear policies and guidelines. Inspectors spent in some cases as little as 3 per cent. of their time in classrooms looking at teaching. Inspection and advice were not clearly distinguished, so that in some areas inspectors told schools what to do and then checked up to see they were doing it rather than evaluating whether or not it worked.
The publication of the Audit Commission report and the reforms we have set in place have combined to push authorities towards reform. Some are now doing very well. But progress has been slow and patchy. A few authorities still believe that inspection and advice cannot be distinguished, will not appoint staff called inspectors and will only validate schools' self-review rather than make their own judgments about standards. And those who accept the need for inspection are generally some way from setting in place reliable systems.
HMI's latest annual report states that,as yet a little over a third [of LEAs] have systems in place which are likely to yield valid and reliable outcomes"—even as judged by the LEAs' own objectives. And of course validity is not the only issue. If we want to know how schools in one area compare with another we also want national consistency, something which the current system cannot provide. So long as each LEA can appoint and train its own inspectors, devise its own inspection system, and set its own criteria, parents will never be able to compare like with like when considering reports on schools in different parts of the country.
So the urgent need for reform in this area is not in doubt. The debate is only about how it is to he managed. Our proposals are clearly set out in the Bill. Two new posts of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools will be established —one for England and one for Wales—and the office holders will head their own Departments of State, with their own powers and duties. Each HMCI will have a statutory duty to keep the Secretary of State informed about key aspects of school education. They will he able to report as and when they want, and as publicly as they wish, on any matter related to their functions—as they do now. The important new element of HMI's role, however, is their responsibility for the registration, training and monitoring of "registered inspectors" who will conduct regular school inspections within guidelines laid down by HMI. Schools will be obliged to arrange such inspections every four years.
593 HMCIs will have access to every inspection report to assist their monitoring. These reports—more than 6,000 every year—will also build up into a computerised database of evidence which will help HMI to assess and report on the performance of the school system as a whole. We have never before had such a volume of hard evidence about our schools; nor have parents, governors and LEAs. Even the very best LEAs do not at present match the system we propose for regular, and publicly reported, whole school inspection.
Noble Lords will know that these proposals have been the subject of controversy in another place. The main objection is—to put it bluntly—that we cannot trust governors to choose their own inspectors. It has been alleged that governors will look for a soft option, and will aim to find an inspector willing to ignore their school's failings. I think that simple analysis fails to recognise the rigorous checks built into the new system. The inspection will be commissioned by the governors, not by the staff whose work is under examination; and the largest group on the governing body are lay men and women, representing parents and the community served by the school. Parents have the largest voice. It is not in the interests of these groups to sweep problems under the carpet. In the interests of their children they will want an honest picture, not a whitewash.
Secondly, the inspectors to be chosen will be registered by and working within guidelines set down by the new chief inspector. I cannot of course tell the House what those guidelines will be. They are a professional matter for the new HMCI once appointed. But they will certainly build on the best practice established by HMI in this area. There will be no room for reports which do not address the important issues and make clear the standards being achieved. There will be a central core of hard statistical information around which the report must be written. A registered inspector who does not meet the guidelines will have his livelihood on the line. There are provisions for striking off for the production of a misleading report.
The third factor reinforces the others. We are setting in place a system of much greater openness than ever before. The inspection team will have to meet parents and listen to their concerns, and their report will have to be sent in summary to all parents. I am sure parents will make their views known and press for an explanation if they are not addressed in the report. The action plan and progress reports will always be published. And under Clause 16 of the Bill we shall be requiring the publication each year of information about how the school is doing on a range of indicators, compared with other local schools as well as with national and local averages. In such an environment, the chances of a "soft" report going unchallenged are extremely remote.
So those three things—parental concern, HMI's regulation and greater openness—offer the checks which are needed. They give the responsibility for commissioning inspection to those who must follow up the inspection report—the governors who now 594 make key planning decisions for their school. Our proposals are built on the principles of sound management. Those who are responsible for the report and its follow-up are those responsible—and publicly accountable—for the management of the school. That is as it should be. We believe that governors are more likely to act with vigour on a published report from inspectors they have commissioned than on an unpublished report from those wished on them by their LEA.
This is in direct contrast with the Opposition's view that LEAs should continue to be responsible for school inspection but should have their local arrangements "validated" by HMI. That detracts from the governors' central role; and it does not offer the guarantee of national standards which our proposals will establish. Under our model HMI sets the standards, from the centre. That is very different from negotiating with 100 or so LEAs about whether their inspection proposals are acceptable.
Our opponents have suggested as an analogy for our system letting the restaurant pick its own inspectors. I think that our description is better in letting the diners pick the inspector, rather than, as in the Opposition's proposals, letting head office choose one of its employees as the inspector for its entire restaurant chain.
There have been some other arguments against the inspection plans with which I should like to deal more briefly. We have been accused of trying to emasculate the national inspectorate by cutting HMI numbers to around 175 from 470 at present. It is important to compare like with like, and the current numbers quoted contain some 140 HMI working in further and higher education which will not be the responsibility of the new office of HMCI. Noble Lords will recall from the Further and Higher Education Bill recently before the House that responsibility for quality control in this sector is to pass to the new funding councils.
I do not deny that there will be a reduction in HMI numbers dealing with schools. The figure of 175 is our best estimate of the number of HMI needed to do the new job in steady state—when the first rush of training and registration of inspectors has been completed. It takes full account of the enormous amount of inspection evidence which the new system will then provide. The current senior chief inspector is confident of the figures now being used for planning purposes, but of course the precise complement of the chief inspector's office will be a matter for negotiation each year, like that of any other government department. Numbers will not be fixed for all time.
I am sure noble Lords will not fall into the trap of equating the size of the inspectorate with its influence. The Bill entails a significant increase in the status, role and responsibilities of HMI. It does not limit or reduce their power and influence. It is because we want to preserve and strengthen HMI's important role that we have proceeded in this way.
Secondly, we have been accused of "privatising" the inspectorate. That is rather an odd use of the term. Far from privatising Her Majesty's Inspectorate, we have set it up as a new government department. 595 Moreover, while we have opened up the previous monopoly of local authority inspection to competition from outside, we are not removing the power of the local education authority to offer such services.
Thirdly, we have been accused of handing inspection over to the non-professionals because the Bill requires one member of each inspection team to be someone without professional experience in education. Of course, we expect that the majority of team members will be professionals. But we certainly make no apology for adding the voice of the intelligent lay observer. Two of the main audiences for the report are not educationists; they are parents and governors. A lay member on the team will ensure not only that their concerns are addressed but also that the report is written in a style which the ordinary reader can understand, rather than coded in educational jargon. I suspect that many noble Lords will support that aim.
I should like now to turn to the other main strand of the Bill: the publication of information. I have mentioned that one of the checks on inspection reports will be how they relate to the annual information published about each school. Clause 16 of the Bill adds to current regulation-making powers the ability to secure that comparative tables of performance are published each year, and that they cover all schools in an area—local authority, grant-maintained and independent.
While there has been some opposition to that concept, I note that the Opposition did not vote against Clause 16 in Committee. I believe that they accept in principle the right of parents to have access to information about school performance. Debates on the clause will benefit from the Government's proposals for the publication of information issued this year. On 10th January a consultation document was published on our information proposals for 1992, which go as far as current legal powers allow and also encourage local authorities to anticipate requirements that we shall put in place formally from 1993. Copies of that document are available in the Library of the House.
As well as requiring an annual written report on each pupil, our proposals involve the publication of comparative tables covering public examination results and the destinations of secondary school pupils at 16 and 18—whether they stay on at school, move into further or higher education, or obtain employment. Truancy rates will be added next year, and national curriculum assessment results will be included in due course. Other indicators can be added when sound measures are available.
The tables will not be crude league tables. Schools will be listed in alphabetical order and, on examination results for example, noble Lords will see that we plan not only to show how many pupils achieve the grades necessary for entry to further and higher education, but also how far each school manages to secure that its least able pupils have some examination success.
Of course, we accept that the figures in those comparative tables will not tell parents or anyone else all that they need to know in order to tell whether the school is doing well or badly by its pupils. We all know 596 that schools face very different challenges, which need to be taken into account in looking at the tables. But parents know that as well as we do and will judge schools accordingly. Before choosing a school, they will look at the prospectus which gives full information about the school and its policies and will help set performance tables in context.
The fact that the figures do not tell the whole story is no reason for withholding information from parents. Schools and LEAs have been collecting such information for many years. We are simply giving it the light of day. Examination data have been available to parents school by school since 1981. Putting more comparable information into the public domain will encourage debate about how schools are performing. The inspection reports every four years will take that debate further by examining the reasons for that performance.
There has been some suggestion that tables cannot be fair unless they are adjusted to take account of socio-economic factors. But there is no agreement about how such adjustments might be made. They would have the effect of reinforcing low expectations, which Her Majesty's Inspectorate has consistently shown to be the major factor holding back the progress of pupils in deprived areas.
A more reasonable suggestion is that information should be published about the educational progress made by pupils while at school—so called, "value-added." The powers in the Bill would allow us to require such publication in due course. The national curriculum and the availability of assessment results at key ages will certainly allow value added to be calculated. But there is, as yet, no agreed method for value-added analysis. The Audit Commission has carried out some experimental work, but major problems remain to be resolved. Reliable national curriculum data on the progress of one cohort of pupils will not be available to feed into value-added analysis until the end of the century. That is why we have resisted attempts to require it to be mentioned on the face of the Bill, although the Bill certainly allows for such data to be published once reliable measures are available.
There is one particular aspect of education which I know is of particular interest to noble Lords; namely, the treatment of pupils with special educational needs. Concern has been expressed in the House recently about the very variable way in which the 1981 Act has been implemented by local education authorities.
I believe that the Bill will help to expose unequal treatment and unsatisfactory provision in a way which noble Lords must welcome. First, we are determined that the benefits of the inspection provisions of the Bill will be felt by all pupils in special schools, many of which have never had a full inspection. We shall be ensuring that all maintained special schools are inspected every four years on the same cycle as other schools. We have also extended the duty to arrange inspections to two categories of independent school; that is, non-maintained special schools and those independent schools which are approved by the Secretary of State to admit pupils with statements of special educational need.
597 As a result, the schools at which the vast majority of pupils with statements are placed will be inspected regularly and the results of those inspections published for the benefit of parents and of the LEAs who place pupils at the schools. That will help to show the range of special provision made for pupils with similar problems in different areas, and will, I am sure, be used to press where necessary for changes.
In addition, of course, the provision made in mainstream schools for children with special educational need—whether or not they have statements—will be inspected on a regular cycle and the results published. Parents will thus have a much better basis on which to consider, and if necessary challenge, what is being done by schools and LEAs to meet the needs of this very vulnerable group of pupils.
We added to the Bill during its passage in another place a power for Her Majesty's Inspectorate to arrange inspections where the governors were unable to find a team to do so. We had particularly in mind the case of a school catering for a very specialised group of special needs pupils, where the only inspection expertise remains with HMI. For that reason, among others, there are no plans at present to make any significant reduction in the number of special needs HMIs. The Secretary of State will continue to need advice on cases and appeals and on general aspects of policy. Planning assumptions are that 15 full-time HMIs will be needed for that role, as opposed to 17 at present.
I know that some noble Lords are also worried about the publication of performance information about special schools and pupils with special needs in ordinary schools. There are no easy answers to those concerns, although I have already indicated that we do not—as some press reports have suggested—intend to sanction the publication of crude league tables of results. Pupils with statements may be very able. We do not want to omit their achievements from the record. Pupils without statements may have learning difficulties; but if we allowed teachers to decide which of such pupils were to be omitted from the tables we should be reinforcing low expectations and misleading parents. Schools were once able to inflate apparent examination success by refusing to let less able pupils take public examinations. We have removed that loophole under our new regulations, and hope as a result that all pupils will be given a fair chance. We do not want to revive such problems.
I am sure that we shall debate that issue at length in due course. But I think we shall conclude that allowing schools and LEAs to give supplementary information about the numbers of pupils with statements, for example, offers a better way ahead than trying to adjust the figures in ways which may have unfortunate and unforeseen consequences for the very pupils we are trying to help.
The proposals in the Bill are designed to encourage a more open and accountable culture in our schools. They provide for more and better school inspection than has been possible in the past, and will make more 598 and better information available to parents and the wider community, and so, crucially, they will be the path to higher standards. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Baroness Denton of Wakefield).
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, this is the worst piece of education legislation I have seen in nearly 30 years of studying education policy in this country. I wish that I could find something to say in favour of the Bill. I have looked in vain. I can find nothing. It is ignorant, misguided and doctrinaire. As we have have just heard, it purports to improve education standards through more frequent inspections of primary and secondary schools, and to give parents valuable information which will help them choose their children's schools and guide them about the quality of what the school is offering while their children attend it. Would that it had a chance of achieving either of those aims, but it has none.
If the Bill is implemented, it would not merely fail to do either of the things it sets out to do; it would cause serious damage to the quality of education in this country. It has been rightly rubbished by every organisation in the education world that has commented upon it. They include bodies which represent governors and parents as well as those representing head teachers, inspectors, local authorities and classroom teachers. Even the Tory press has been highly critical.
The Bill derives from the Parent's Charter, apparently much cherished by Mr. Major, but, regrettably, both the charter and the Bill are an insult to parents. What worries me most is the damage that it will do to the education of millions of children. We cannot run our education system guided by the dogma of the far Right.
The decision to privatise the schools' inspectorate, which is what the Bill is about despite what has just been said by the noble Baroness, is the work of extremists who are obsessed with the destruction of the public sector and with instilling the profit motive into every nook and cranny of our public services, however inappropriate that may be. By destroying the system of inspecting our schools, which has been slowly and carefully built up for more than 150 years, it will eliminate any semblance of expert and rigorous monitoring of education standards. The inspection of schools is not a job for private firms of consultants, bidding to do the job, and undercutting one another to get the work; it is for people who are paid a salary by the state to root out malpractice, to expose failure, and, above all, to be dedicated to raising standards by intervening with advice, support and constructive criticism when poor quality teaching is discovered in our schools.
The first 15 clauses of the Bill put onto the statute book a new system of inspection. The sixteenth and final clause requires schools to publish information about standards of performance. I shall come to that point later, although let me make it clear that we on 599 this side of the House are in favour of the publication of more information about schools, but only so long as it is meaningful and does not mislead.
Let me begin with the Government's proposals for Her Majesty's Inspectorate. A secret report was commissioned last summer on the future of Her Majesty's Inspectorate and was undertaken by DES civil servants. Although we have not been allowed the privilege of seeing that report, which says a good deal about the Government's lack of commitment to open government, we know that at least some of the advice in it has been ignored by the Secretary of State.
The Government claim that the Bill and their related plans for HMI will strengthen the inspectorate, as the noble Baroness has just said. It will do the reverse, both because the size of HMI is to be decimated and because its independence will be undermined by the Bill.
Let me begin with size. From a national inspectorate of over 400—we have just heard the figures—it is to fall to 175 inspectors only. Ministers were advised in the secret review that the inspectorate would need at least 380 to 390 inspectors. In those circumstances, how can they say that the inspectorate is being strengthened? That is laughable. As a result of the cuts in their numbers, Her Majesty's inspectors will be able to undertake few inspections themselves. As a result, they will become more cut off from the system upon which they are supposed to advise Ministers and senior civil servants. We know that the present Secretary of State rarely bothers to visit schools, but there is no substitute for spending time at the chalk-face, observing at close hand what is happening.
During 1989–90, HMI visited or inspected over 6,000 schools. Slashing their numbers, and giving them the unprofitable but time-consuming task of vetting the new privatised inspectorate will mean that they lose the essential contact with schools through inspections, which allows them a detailed working knowledge of what is happening. The sad truth is that the Government are determined to destroy Her Majesty's Inspectorate, as we have known it, because its balanced and expert view of teaching methods and the curriculum does not tie in with the Government's more ideological approach which seems to favour didactic teaching methods and stuffing children with facts, rather than teaching them how to learn on their own, how to be critical and how to acquire skills.
The latest row about the art and music curriculum is just one manifestation of that approach. In short, the Secretary of State thinks that the inspectorate is full of the progressives he so despises. My experience of Her Majesty's inspectors suggests that he is wrong, and that the inspectorate has eschewed embracing the ideologies of traditionalism or progressivism, instead, focusing, as it should, on a pragmatic approach based upon what works and what produces the best outcome in terms of pupils' performance.
The changes proposed mean that Ministers will end up by receiving less well-based advice, and schools will no longer benefit from the criticisms of a highly experienced group of independent experts. It is 600 questionable how well Her Majesty's Inspectorate will be able to train and supervise other inspectors if it is no longer itself inspecting schools.
Her Majesty's inspectors are recruited because they were first-class schoolroom teachers or experienced and highly competent heads or administrators. Yet the Secretary of State is on record as making snide remarks about inspectors being people who cannot teach. What arrant nonsense! What he and his government are doing is destroying a dedicated group of independent experts that has been admired and respected since it was established in 1839.
The great value of Her Majesty's Inspectorate is its independence. The Bill jeopardises that independence. Until now, the senior chief inspector and his or her staff have had greater independence than other civil servants. As a result, their advice has been more independent and has been seen to be more independent. Sometimes this has been inconvenient for Ministers, whatever party was in power. But a national system of inspection and monitoring is not set up for the convenience of Ministers. The Bill now requires the chief inspectors for England and Wales to,have regard to such aspects of government policy as the Secretary of State may direct".Advice from those noble and learned Lords who are lawyers, and therefore know more about this than I do, would be helpful, but I do not believe that any previous legislation has made reference in this way to government policy because it is not a legal concept. If the Government really want the inspectorate to retain its independence, why are they introducing a clause which allows the Secretary of State to direct the chief inspector in what could be a partial and biased way?
But much worse is still to come when we examine the Bill's proposals for the inspection of schools. Large sums of public money are to be transferred from the local authorities to the governing bodies of schools, requiring them to tender for private inspectors who will replace HMI and local authority inspectors and advisers.
When news of the Government's plans first broke, it was received with disbelief. People went around asking wherever this nutty idea had come from. Some said that it emanated from that centre of silly ideas, the Conservative Think-Tank, the Centre for Policy Studies. Others said that it came not from the centre of silly ideas, but from the centre of government—No. 10 Downing Street no less. I know that the Prime Minister does not know much about education; he does not even send his children to state schools. But it appears that his advisers do not know much about it either.
It does not give me pleasure to pour scorn and derision on an important Bill before Parliament; it saddens me. But there are many reasons why a privatised inspectorate along the lines proposed in the Bill will damage education in this country. Contrary to what the Minister has just said, it makes it impossible to compare like with like all over the country; and, worse still, it throws out of the window the principle that the provider and the regulator should be separate.
601 Until now the Government have recognised the importance of this principle. If we wish to protect the consumer of public services and ensure that those services are properly delivered, it is surely right to maintain the arm's length principle with respect to inspection. But the governors of a school are in no sense at arm's length. They run the school on a week to week basis and the head teacher is usually the most influential member of the governing body, which I note the noble Baroness speaking for the Government omitted to say just now in her unconvincing argument about the role of governors. The proposal that the chairman of governors and the head teacher, along with other governors, should select their own inspectors means, in my view and that of the Opposition, that the protection parents and pupils deserve will be unattainable.
What is so bizarre about the proposal is that it is completely at odds with other decisions the Government have taken about regulation. For example, in 1982 the Conservative Government introduced a Bill to prevent local authorities from choosing their own auditors and instead gave this task to the Audit Commission. More recently, when the Secretary of State was responsible for health rather than education and was setting up trust hospitals, he did not allow them to choose their own auditors but again required the choice to be made for them by the Audit Commission. Why has he taken one position with respect to the health service and quite a different one with respect to education? It is extraordinarily inconsistent.
It is patently ludicrous to allow any organisation to choose its own inspectors. Would we be happy to eat in restaurants which could choose their own privatised environmental health inspectors? Of course we would not. Would we be happy to place an elderly relative in an old people's home which could choose its own privatised inspectors? Of course not. Would we be happy if our children worked in a plant which chose its own privatised factory inspectors? Of course not. The Secretary of State is reported as saying that what he proposes is all right, in the same way as it is all right to allow people to choose their own solicitors and accountants. That is bunk. People choose their own lawyers and accountants to work for them. School inspectors should not he working for governors and head teachers, they are to protect the interests of pupils and parents, all pupils and all parents, and of the nation with respect to educational standards. The Bill is based on a profound misconception of who it is that inspectors should serve, as well as undermining the concept of inspectorial independence.
However, it is not only the principle behind the Bill that is entirely wrong. It is also difficult to see how it would work in practice other than to the detriment of parents whose rights the Government say they wish to protect. By allowing schools to choose their own inspectors, the legislation will make it easier for poor standards to go unnoticed. The Parent's Charter will not be worth the glossy paper on which it is written. Under the Bill, schools must obtain at least two tenders from different firms of private inspectors. How 602 will they choose? They will do it partly on the basis of price and partly on who looks likely to be the most sympathetic. Neither is a good basis for rigorous and independent inspections. The cheap firms are likely to be the ones who cut corners; the sympathetic firms are likely to be the ones who pull their punches.
Inspectors whose income depends on contracts to inspect are likely to think hard before openly criticising those who have hired them and paid their fees. Those who are critical are unlikely to be hired again. Head teachers will be less, not more accountable. The system of checking about which we have just heard from the noble Baroness will be extremely hard to operate in practice.
The second practical question concerns who these new private inspectors will be. Where will they come from? I understand that the Government believe that, among others, major firms of management consultants will take this on. I have made a few inquiries. None of the many consultants to whom I have spoken will touch it with a barge pole. They do not believe they have the right kind of expertise, they wish to go on obtaining contracts from local authorities in areas where they have the right expertise and they do not believe that the funding that is available will allow them to do the job competently and make any money out of it.
The Government have said that local authorities can set up units of inspectors who can compete for tenders with the private sector. Given the spending constraints on local authorities and the high risk attached to such an activity, with the possibility of these units remaining without work, I cannot see many authorities wanting to do this.
The danger is that we shall see all kinds of unqualified or semi-qualified cowboys setting up, which in itself will reduce accountability because schools will find it easier to bamboozle people without the experience and knowledge needed to make well-founded judgments about what is going on in schools. Inspecting schools is a highly complex matter where many qualitative judgments have to be made on the basis of expert knowledge. The Minister, when replying, will no doubt say that the rump of Her Majesty's Inspectorate is to register inspectors and train them, though how it is to do that is something of a mystery. But this requirement to register does not extend to members of inspection teams, nor does the Bill make clear what parts of an inspection can be carried out by team members who are not registered, and what by inspectors who are. Perhaps the Minister could clarify this.
The proposal that all teams of inspectors should have a lay member does not make much sense. It is hard to imagine what such a person could add to the credibility of the whole procedure. Above all, they will have no basis in terms of relative standards to make sensible judgments.
I shall leave the question of the financing of the new system to my noble friend Lord Peston. Let me note, however, that there is a great deal of warranted scepticism about whether there are sufficient funds being provided to allow the new system to work. Under the Bill, schools are to be inspected every four 603 years. Whether there will be enough funding to allow this and enough people of the right quality to do it is open to question. But even if there were, we are still not getting the kind of monitoring of schools that parents and pupils deserve.
Will the Minister say why she thinks a full inspection every four years without any guarantee of follow-up to put right problems that have been identified, is better than more frequent visits and inspections of individual aspects of the school? There is concern that less frequent visits to schools by inspectors could damage the quality of education. However, just as important as the loss of these visits is the danger that the professional support which accompanies the inspection process at present will be lost once tendering begins.
Inspection is not just about writing reports on a school's performance. It is about intervening after the strengths and weaknesses have been identified and building on those strengths and working to eliminate those weaknesses. I fear for pupils in the struggling and underperforming school which, under this Bill, will receive fewer visits and less professional support than at present.
I now wish to discuss briefly the invidious position in which LEAs will be left if this Bill becomes law. As the Bill repeals Section 77 of the 1944 Act, LEAs will no longer have a statutory right to inspect the quality of education in their schools. Yet at the same time they are still to be left with a whole range of statutory duties to set budgets, to operate local management, to ensure the quality of the service and other such duties. How they are to fulfil those statutory duties without any statutory power to inspect is unclear. However, I shall leave it to my noble friend Lady David to elaborate further on that serious problem.
I now turn to the proposals to publish league tables on examination and assessment results and truancy rates. Again I regret to say the proposals are fundamentally flawed. They are flawed because they will provide little or no meaningful information about the quality of education being provided. That is the view not just of the Opposition and teachers' unions but also of the organisations that represent parents, of every respectable research group that has ever tried to measure school differences, of the Audit Commission, of the National Association of Governors and Managers and of those organisations that represent children with special needs.
Not only will raw data which take no account of the school's intake mislead parents about the value of education being provided by a school because the data give no indication of progress being achieved, but it will also lead to complacency. Those schools with plenty of high achievers entering can cover up for poor performance just because they appear to have good examination results. But a proper measure of value added might show that given the intake of such a school it ought to have had much better examination results than was the case. Equally, schools with a poor intake that came out at the bottom of the league tables may also try to cover up for poor performance by pointing to the fact that they are located in a deprived area. Despite what the noble Baroness said, it is the 604 Government's proposals which will encourage low expectations. Relying on raw data will also stigmatise schools which may be doing good work in exceptionally difficult circumstances which make it hard to rise from near the bottom of the league.
An emphasis on crude league tables—that is what they will be despite what the Minister has said—may well push schools into focusing on improving the assessment and examination results of average and above average children at the expense of those with special needs. Indeed, some schools anxious to improve their position may well try to avoid admitting children with special needs. This would be a most unfortunate and damaging consequence of this Bill which I am sure everyone in your Lordships' House would deplore.
Why the Government have turned their face against the publication of "value added" league tables is truly perplexing. The methodology is now available and can be applied without a great deal of difficulty. I would be grateful if the Minister would explain what the Government have against such publication. A good school tries to ensure that pupils acquire aesthetic awareness, social skills and understanding, sporting and artistic ability and the values of a civilised and caring society. The problem of league tables of the kind being proposed is that they undervalue those aspects of a school's work. Nor is there anything in the Bill, regrettably, to protect parents from the publication of misleading information in any documents schools may publish. When schools are under financial pressure to compete for pupils there is a risk that their publicity material will drift towards the advertising standards of the market place.
Let me conclude by saying that the effects of this Bill will be damaging to educational standards in Britain. The Bill also represents a terrible missed opportunity. No one on these Benches is claiming that all is perfect in our system of school inspection. We accept the criticisms of the Audit Commission as regards local authority inspection. Reforms are needed. However, would it not have been better to build on the existing system and to have improved it rather than taking a bulldozer to knock down the whole edifice? What the Government are putting in its place is a completely untried system likely to be vastly inferior, for the reasons I have stated, to what we already have.
When Labour is elected in a few weeks' time we shall repeal this Bill before it becomes law. We shall set up an educational standards commission independent of Ministers and the DES charged with monitoring and inspecting standards in our schools. Most of HMI will be transferred to the commission and will work with LEAs to ensure that more frequent inspections are carried out and their findings followed up. We will not apply market solutions and profit motives to the inspection of one of our most important national assets, our schools. We shall not let heads and governors choose their inspectors. We shall retain a national system which can ensure consistency of standards and criteria in judging the performance of schools rather than handing this important task to 605 hundreds of private firms where there can be no such consistency. We shall require information to be published about schools' performance but it will be meaningful and therefore useful information.
Above all, unlike this Government, we shall take the trouble to consult those who are most affected by our proposals. It is scandalous that this Bill was produced without consulting any of the parents' organisations. It is scandalous that it was produced without consulting the National Association of Governors and Managers when it will have a profound effect on the work of governors. This lack of consultation is the sign of a Government who have become arrogant and overbearing and who believe that only they have the right answers. They have been in power for too long. It is time the Government went so that for a few years we shall have no more Bills like the one before us.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Lord Ritchie of Dundee
My Lords, the noble Baroness has torn the Bill to shreds fairly effectively. I shall certainly not attempt to put it back together again. On behalf of these Benches, I wish to speak briefly of our profound misgivings about the Bill and our dislike of it. I am sure that under any less inequitable electoral system than ours, this Bill would not have a chance of finding its way on to the statute book. I hope it has no such chance in any case; but we shall see whether that will be the case.
I wish to talk briefly about Her Majesty's Inspectorate. I have the greatest respect for that body having suffered under its strictures in a school. If that body had any reputation for obscurantism, obstruction, extravagance, failure to co-operate or bias, I would understand the Government's attack on it. However, HMI has shown none of those traits. Its reputation stands very high, and justly so. It has a high reputation both in terms of preserving standards and also in furthering and encouraging innovation, including the Government's own innovations.
In the headlong flood of change that has occurred over the past few years in the educational world the inspectorate has constituted a bastion of independence and stability. We need that bastion of independence and stability. The inspectorate has continued to fulfil its time honoured remit of reporting objectively and advising the Government of trends in education. The reports of the inspectorate have been published and are available free of any charge, including postal charges, to anyone who cares to ask for them. Whatever controversial, ill-considered or hasty measures Her Majesty's Government have attempted in the past few years—there have been some such measures—HMI has stood its ground.
My own experience of HMI inspectors was that they were always thorough, perceptive, formidable, supportive and courteous. In the small school which I ran, which sought recognition of its efficiency, we found the inspectors most helpful. The threat to the inspectorate's continued existence in its present form is a threat to the standards of our education system.
606 The Government's object appears to be to increase the number of full inspections. The Minister told us that that was the case. It is said that the new inspectors will conduct 6,000 inspections a year. I might point out that during the past year Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools has visited 7,000 schools. Those were not all full inspections but schools were visited for their progress to be monitored. Full inspections are often not necessary. For example, if a large comprehensive school has been thoroughly and fully inspected, perhaps taking 15 inspectors five days —a major and very expensive task—another full inspection will not be necessary for a long time. If the inspectors have found cause to criticise some of the work in, say, the science department or the art department, within a matter of months one or two inspectors will return to that school to see what progress has been made in that particular area. If progress is unsatisfactory the inspectors will go back again. That is a much more efficient way for inspectors to keep their fingers on what is happening in the educational world than repeated full inspections.
During their visits inspectors will offer advice and ongoing support as well as carrying out inspections. Through that approach inspectors get to know their schools and individual teachers. I remember that the inspectors greeted one by name and remembered one's strengths and weaknesses. They know which schools are on the right lines and therefore demand less of their attention, just as they know which schools, in their own euphemism, "give cause for concern". How will a small commercial firm get to know more than a handful of schools in that way or provide expert advice to professionals? How will it provide such continuity?
HMI is also able to provide a countrywide, structured coverage of schools, classifying information by geographical location, by subject (from time to time it produces a report on the teaching of mathematics throughout the country), by educational phases (primary, secondary and tertiary) and by the development of new ideas (for example, a special examination of the progress of the TVEI initiative). It is able to do so largely by a sampling process. Full inspections are not needed each time.
There are more formidable objections to this harebrained scheme in addition to the lack of continuity and expert advice. There is the serious criticism, which is often pointed out, that schools will be unlikely to employ an inspection team which is known to be rigorous and exacting—I took on board what the Minister said on that subject—and that it will be the governing body which chooses the inspection team. However, I still regard it as doubtful that governors will choose a team which is likely to be condemnatory, especially as, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, pointed out, the headmaster is probably the most influential member of the governing body and will influence the choice of the inspection team.
Few schools will engage a team which has an educational bias. I believe that the small inspection teams will have educational biases; they will be either science oriented or arts oriented. A school is not likely 607 to choose an inspection team which is known to have a bias which is antipathetic to the school's own. Moreover, the inspection teams themselves, whose integrity will surely be vitiated by commercial considerations, will be unlikely to give a thoroughly critical report for fear of losing custom. I do not see how one can get round that situation. The proposal seems to us to defeat utterly the principle of independent judgment.
What credentials will the inspectors have in the eyes of professional teachers? HMI inspectors arrive from afar, remote and somewhat awe-inspiring figures in dark suits. They are known to have had 16 years' experience in the classroom and, on average, 10 years in the inspectorate. To them deference is due. By contrast, what deference will be inspired by amateurs from down the road, as they will be regarded? Even if the new inspectors have some experience of inspection, how will they be able to offer advice, which is an essential part of the work of HMI? I can imagine the reaction of experienced and professional teachers: "Who is this chap who presumes to tell me how I should or should not teach French? What are his credentials? How many times has he been in the classroom since he left school himself'?" How can those so-called inspectors, of whom it is stipulated that they should know nothing about education, comment? They certainly should not be allowed into the classroom. When reports are published I can well imagine teachers of a litigious turn of mind wishing to take legal action in response to comments made by one of the new so-called inspectors.
There are many problems. What qualifications will be required of the rank-and-file members of the teams? None? What about the time and money which HMI will have to spend training the registered inspectors? I believe that the inspectorate's time for first-hand inspection will be greatly reduced. What of the unsatisfactory aspect of the part-time employment offered to the teams? They will have no security of tenure and no certainty of continuing full-time employment. Will this really be a cost-cutting exercise? It would be interesting to see that demonstrated.
How can the Government seriously propose dismantling a highly respected institution and replacing it with what has been described as an assortment of do-it-yourself private outfits in competition with each other? How can they contemplate such trivialisation of the solemn duty of ensuring quality in the arduous endeavour of educating the nation's children for the 21st century? They lay themselves open to accusations of wanting to be rid of a "turbulent priest"—an organisation which refuses to bend to their will. The contents of Clause 2(5) have sinister reverberations.
So far I have spoken only of the reorganisation of HMI and have made no reference to the disastrous proposals concerning LEA inspections. LEA inspection of schools has in the past been unsystematic and erratic. However, it has greatly improved. Since the 1988 Act the requirement to oversee the development of the national curriculum has resulted in much more 608 frequent and thorough inspections. I understand that 80 per cent. of LEAs now carry out regular inspections.
In proposing to repeal Section 77(3) of the 1944 Act Her Majesty's Government would remove from LEAs the right to inspect the very schools for which they are responsible—and in particular in respect of the development of the national curriculum—unless they are invited by the governing bodies of the schools to inspect them on a commercial basis.
Her Majesty's Government appear to fail to recognise that inspection and advice are inseparable. Inspections are an aspect of development and not a hostile visitation from above and beyond. Where did Her Majesty's Government get these ideas from? Was it the Centre for Policy Studies? One wonders.
There remains the matter of the publication at the command of the Secretary of State of league tables of exam results and truancy. It is right that information about schools should be publicly available. Again, I take on board what the Minister said about the matter. Such information is already available. Schools have to publish their examination results on an individual basis. However, there is danger in publishing raw data on schools' comparative exam results and truancy rates. They tell only part of the story. There is much more to the quality of a school than its exam results. There are immeasurable aspects such as its artistic and sporting achievements, its care, its freedom from bullying, its ethos and atmosphere. How can those qualities be computed?
Further, as has been said, schools depend for results on the quality of their intake and the social level of their environment. Unfortunately, it is a fact that it is much easier to be a good school in Sevenoaks than in New Cross, though many schools rise heroically above their environment. Intake and environment which are closely connected make raw achievement statistics meaningless. We are talking as much about socio-economic factors as educational ones. I am not sure what is going to be achieved by such an exercise. I would have thought most parents know the things they want to know about the schools in their locality; they have only to use their eyes and ears. League tables will favour the successful and depress the less successful schools like marks in the classroom. It will tend to attract customers (I use that horrid word deliberately) both staff and children, to the top few schools and deprive others whose quality will sink in a descending spiral.
We on these Benches are particularly concerned about the issue of children with special educational needs. I hope that will be adequately covered when we come to discuss the Bill in detail. Mencap and many other organisations are concerned that schools may prefer not to encourage the presence of children with special educational needs because they will tend to depress average exam achievements. The problem is an old one. Many years ago I remember asking the headmaster of a prep school whether he had any dyslexic boys whom we might be able to help. His reply was, "Good God, no! Long before they reach common entrance stage we shoo them out"; in other words, if they did not look as if they would pass the 609 common entrance exam they were sent away. We hope that an answer to that problem will be found in the principle of "value added". It is most important that that be worked out and put into force.
The 'eighties saw a remarkable world-wide move away from planned economies in the direction of market economies. It is probably the swing of the pendulum and I dare say that early in the next century it will begin to swing back in the opposite direction. As applied to our educational system it seems to us to be totally inappropriate. The market has little or no place in the world of education which is a cultural and not a commercial matter. I am a great believer in the ancient Chinese concept that when a situation develops to its extreme it is bound to turn around and become its opposite. If schools can pick and choose their own inspection teams and virtually inspect themselves, as the noble Baroness said, will we not next have hotel and catering establishments doing the same, theatre impresarios picking and paying their own critics and criminals choosing their own judges?
I submit that in the latest Government intervention in education we have reached a situation of absurdity which may perhaps mark the end of a cycle that hopefully will begin to move back towards sanity. Meanwhile, we shall do what we can from these Benches to limit the damage that this measure threatens.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, Her Majesty's Inspectorate have rightly earned a notable reputation for thoroughness, independence and fearless criticism. Any system of inspection of schools which replaces the present HMI should retain those achievements. I am yet to be convinced that the present proposals will do that. I believe we ought to be more honest than some previous speakers have been and say that there are criticisms of the present system. Schools can go for many years without any inspection at all. In my area two headmasters tell me that in their 33 years' of headship they have never had a formal HMI inspection. Furthermore, some voluntary schools judge that HMI are not always appreciative of the particular aspirations and aims of a school. I am also told that when HMI are doing a specialist inspection they can give the impression that they are working in order to produce a report rather than help the school.
The proposals in the Bill may to a degree meet some of the criticisms, but surely they put at risk some of the universally respected objectivity of HMI. I have to say that unless there is adequate funding in the end we may find that the new inspections are more frequent but less thorough and reliable. I have to say that at best the new system will be on critical trial.
Like much recent legislation the Bill shows signs of the present Government's mistrust of local education authorities. I do not share that mistrust. All my children have been educated in county schools, not voluntary schools. As I have moved round the country I have been successively under Labour and Conservative-controlled authorities. In every area I 610 have developed a great respect and trust for the local education authority. I wonder whether too much education legislation in recent times has been coloured by a mistrust of LEAs which in my view is unjustified. This Bill shunts the LEAs still further to the edge. At their best, local education authorities have been advisers and supporters of schools and teachers, and their inspections have been expressions of their attitude of support and concern. LEAs have seen themselves as leaders of a responsible public service, but recent changes have pushed LEAs away from that role to the role of co-ordinators of competitive institutions. Centralised expectations such as the national curriculum and the local management of schools are things which, while good in themselves, have diminished the role of LEAs. The Bill takes that process further by providing that LEAs should no longer be able to inspect by right the schools for which they have a responsibility.
The 1988 Act opens with the words:It shall be the duty … of every local education authority as respects every school maintained by them … to exercise their functions … with a view to securing that the curriculum for the school satisfies the requirements …If LEAs are to be given that responsibility they must have the right to inspect the schools for which they are responsible.
There is a weakness in the same body providing both the advice and the inspection. When teachers and the school are given advice they know that the LEA inspection will be carried out from the same angle from which the advice has been given. If teachers judge that the advice they have been given is inappropriate or unwise they will be in some difficulty in relation to an LEA inspection. There is a risk that an authority can develop an unjustified monopoly over educational style, teaching methods and so on. I think it has to be said that there is a cogent argument for separating advice and inspection.
If the Government are to insist that LEAs no longer have the right to inspect their own schools, I should like to raise the question whether it is possible that the new inspectorate teams should be required to have on them representatives of the local education authority or people nominated by them. In this way the local education authority could not dominate the inspection but it would remain directly linked with the inspection of a school for which it had undoubted responsibility.
I refer also to Clause 14 which makes reference to "denominational education". That is a phrase I profoundly regret seeing for it brings back memories of divisiveness which rarely surface today. That unfortunate expression is used to describe religious education in an aided school where the agreed syllabus is not being used. Speaking for myself, I would rather that religious education, or "denominational education" if we must have to have that phrase, was inspected alongside other basic curriculum subjects. Religious education (RE) is not "religious extra", tacked on to the rest of the curriculum. It is rather the particular focus of an approach to education which pervades the whole. Furthermore, I want religious 611 education to be an academic discipline in its own right. Therefore I regret the phrase, I regret the separation and I regret the implications.
I am grateful to the Government for their amendments in another place to Schedule 2 Part II, which will make the inspection of denominational education somewhat more thorough and nearer to the inspection of other subjects. I should also like to say a brief word about the information on schools which is to be published in order to help parents choose a school that is suitable for their own children. As has been said, in principle that is welcome. However, there is widespread anxiety about the material that is to be selected for publication. Examination results and truancy rates give some information but undoubtedly need interpretation. For instance, truancy rates can say far more about the attitudes of parents than about the success and provision of the school.
We need to know what provision schools make for children with special needs. We need to know their facilities for the physical, spiritual and artistic elements in education. If information about a school is to be published, it must not be selective so as to tilt the choice of parents in a particular direction.
In some of my more mischievous moments, I wonder whether the present Gove—rnmentor, for that matter, any other government—would wish their performance to be judged on the raw statistics of unemployment figures and crime rates. The figures need interpretation. Any government would argue that there are other factors which are of equal importance to those statistics. We must use comparable arguments when dealing with schools. I trust that much more thought will be given to what information is to be published about schools if we are to realistically enable parents to exercise a proper choice.
In my view this is a risky Bill. It reforms the inspectorate in a way that meets some criticisms but undoubtedly arouses others. I anticipate that the new system itself will need inspection before long.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
My Lords, I begin by welcoming and commending the very informative manner in which the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, introduced the Bill. I understand that this is the first time that she has opened for the Front Bench. I look forward to many comparable occasions in the future. Among many instructive speeches, the right reverend Prelate made some interesting points about which I want to think further.
This Bill comes in the wake of the great and significant restructuring of our education system at primary and secondary levels brought about by the 1988 Act. That Act introduced the national curriculum and in its wake the necessary provision of testing in schools, which proved problematic in the early stages but is an objective to which many of us subscribe. The Act went on to develop grant maintained schools and city technical colleges. There was an emphasis on diversity and choice. Two key concepts which emerged from the 1988 Act were standards and choice.
612 Wise exercise of choice by parents must be based upon adequate and accurate information. That is the starting point for the present Bill. Some points of criticism made today certainly raise issues of substance and interest. However, it should be recognised that the Bill succeeds in greatly opening up the schools for information and the dissemination of adequate information. As I understand it, in this country there are not many more than 150 full inspections of schools per year. Under the present proposals, there will be something in the order of 6,000 per year. That is a very important step forward. The results of those 6,000 inspections will be published and made available to parents and others.
Clause 16 of the Bill proposes that data should be published—essentially raw data—relating to a number of important issues: examination results of the pupils; the national curriculum test results; the truancy figures, which are certainly relevant to something, although I take the point made by the right reverend Prelate that it may be a complicated issue; and finally the destinations of pupils leaving the school. It seems such a good idea that it appears strange that steps were not taken earlier to provide that information.
I have one note of regret to strike and one area of concern from which arises a suggestion. The note of regret is that the publication of the Bill has been accompanied by an atmosphere in some quarters which was perhaps not sufficiently respectful of the work of Her Majesty's Inspectorate. I am sure that noble Lords will want to emphasise how highly we esteem the work of Her Majesty's Inspectorate and the excellent job it has done in the past and will no doubt continue to do in the future. But if there are to be 6,000 inspections a year, there will need to be around 600 registered inspectors, together with others associated with them in the inspecting process. Therefore there is a clear choice to be made: is the existing inspectorate to be enlarged by some 400 or 500 people or should there be a different route and strategy? The latter is the course put forward by the Government in a very coherent way. I conclude my note of regret by remarking that the rhetoric in the press, including some segments of the Conservative press, which was sometimes sharply critical of the work of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, has in my view been unhelpful.
Moving on to the area of concern, I should like to make a proposal. Schedule 2 to the Bill sets out the scheme for increasing the number of inspections. I believe that we all feel that that in itself is a good thing. The scheme goes on to set out the provisions for appointing registered inspectors and for including lay members in their teams. That seems an interesting idea and probably a very positive one. For instance, the lay members will be able to communicate effectively with parents and, when they have a hand in writing reports, will ensure that those reports are accessible to parents as well as to other specialists who will use them.
There are safeguards in that the registered inspectors—the freelance inspectors—are to be trained and registered by HMI and may be dismissed if they, 613knowingly or recklessly produced a report … which is, when taken as a whole, seriously misleading".Clearly, there are merits in the proposals; above all the number of reports, the independence and the lay input.
When I read the Bill and before I became aware of the reservations which other noble Lords have today expressed, I became uneasy about the degree of impartiality which the registered inspectors could be relied upon to produce. As we heard, the governors or the proprietor of the school will first invite two tenders —that is their invitation—and will proceed to choose the registered inspector from those two (or more) who have tendered. That procedure will no doubt work very well in a number of cases. But there is the fear, as a number of noble Lords have said, that a certain degree of cosiness may emerge from such a system of tendering.
I am not suggesting that corruption would emerge. There are clear provisions in the Bill to avoid corruption and there is the power of Her Majesty's chief inspector to dismiss a registered inspector who is not doing an adequate job. On the other hand, it is clear that the firms employing the registered inspectors —or the registered inspectors themselves if selfemployed—will be in competition for their jobs. They will certainly want happy clients. The easy way to ensure a happy client is to offer a product with which the client is entirely content. That is where the problem lies.
More seriously, one should think about the philosophical trends which pertain in the educational sphere. For instance, perhaps we may imagine a remote traditional school with a traditional headmaster. As in many schools the headmaster will be influential with the governors and will have a significant hand in the choice of the registered inspector. It will not be surprising, therefore, if that traditional headmaster encourages the choice of a traditional registered inspector. The outcome may well be a report which praises the school highly for methods which significantly fall behind modern educational standards. Therefore, I believe that there is a cause for concern.
I wish to put forward a proposal which I hope my noble friend will consider. I look forward to hearing her reaction to it. I suggest that there should be an obligation on the governors to have an assessor among their number when making the appointment. That assessor would exercise more impartial judgment and would offer advice. I have asked myself who would appoint the assessor. Ideally it would be an entirely independent body but I can think of no independent body of sufficient national standing other than Her Majesty's Inspectorate. The proposal that an independent assessor should be appointed by Her Majesty's Inspectorate—which means that in many cases the assessor could be a member of the inspectorate, although not necessarily so—would go a long way towards allaying the fears that we have heard expressed from the other side of the House. It has been said that there is too much cosiness, that the governors 614 will tend to appoint inspectors who suit them and that the registered inspectors will tend to produce reports which give satisfaction to the governors.
I envisage therefore that the assessor will be part of the tendering process in the sense that he will monitor it. He will not necessarily meet the governors in order to do so but he will offer comments on the way in which the tendering is undertaken. He will however meet the governors during the selection of the registered inspector. Of course, the assessor's advice will not always be followed, but if he is dissatisfied he will have the opportunity of indicating that to the chief inspector who will then in due course scrutinise with particular care the report produced by the registered inspector's team. I believe that in that way the risk of a cycle of back-scratching, as it were, between school headmasters and governors on the one hand and certain registered inspectors on the other will be broken. Therefore, one will have a considerable degree of impartiality.
I wish to put forward that suggestion. Clearly, a cost would be involved. Each assessor might be able to monitor perhaps 100 appointments a year. The process would not be laborious; it would involve perhaps only a single meeting. In those circumstances one would need the equivalent of 60 or more full-time assessors. I do not suggest that in practice they would be full-time but the costing would be the equivalent of 60 assessors. They might be 60 members of Her Majesty's Inspectorate.
I have spoken for quite long enough. I wish to emphasise that I believe the Bill is admirable in many ways. It opens up our schools to scrutiny in a manner which we have not previously seen. It ensures a much greater flow of accurate information which will reach parents and the public. Therefore, it secures a sound basis for choice to be exercised by parents in selecting a school for their children. There is great wisdom in the publication of hard data. The school governors in their annual report will have the opportunity of setting that hard data in the context of the local conditions of the school and in the social context. That point was emphasised by noble Lords opposite.
I regard the Bill as a great step forward. I hope that my noble friend will consider that there is something in the proposal that I have put forward. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I too wish to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, on her debut at the Dispatch Box introducing a Bill. However, I commiserate with her in having to speak to such a controversial Bill. It is by no means universally popular. I also wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, on speaking in the debate. Too often in this House Peers with a university background speak on the higher education Bills but avoid speaking on the schools Bills. Therefore, I was delighted to see his name on today's list of speakers.
Enough has been said from this side of the House to make it clear that we believe that the Bill is a tragedy for the education service. It will do nothing to improve the quality of education or to raise its 615 standards. We fear that it will change irrevocably the position, standing and work of Her Majesty's Inspectorate. The inspectorate has been held in the highest esteem throughout its 150 years' existence. Perhaps some changes are necessary, but the basis of the inspectorate should remain.
The inspectorate's strength has been its association with the Department of Education and Science, working within the same building but independent of it and also of Ministers. Civil servants have to serve the Minister of the day and carry out the policy of the Government of the day. HMI can take a cool and independent look at policy. It can make clear the policy's advantages and disadvantages to the education service. That will not be the case with the new HMCI.
Clause 2(2) states:When asked to do so by the Secretary of State, the Chief Inspector for England shall—(a) give advice to the Secretary of State on such matters as may be specified in the Secretary of State's request".Clause 2(5) states:In exercising his functions the Chief Inspector for England shall have regard to such aspects of government policy as the Secretary of State may direct".That is a very different matter.
HMI has been able to take a national overview as a result of its inspections carried out over the whole country. As a result it has been able to produce annual reports which are studied with care in order to understand how the service is being delivered and its strength and weaknesses throughout the country. It is impossible to see how the reduced number of inspectors—only 175 will remain of the present 400—will be able to carry out those functions. Some of those 175 inspectors will be responsible for inspecting teacher education.
It is true that quality control, as described in the Further and Higher Education Bill, will pass to the funding councils. That will account for a reduction of some 140 inspectors. However, the functions carried out by the remaining inspectors will be largely confined to monitoring the inspections of others, licensing inspection teams, training the leaders of those teams and reporting nationally on the outcome of the work of those teams. How they will perform that task is difficult to understand. There will be some 6,250 different inspections. The co-ordination of those reports, when we do not know how many teams will be going into schools concentrated in certain regions, will be impossible to do with with conviction.
From the general picture I turn to the position of the LEAs and what they will or will not be able to do in the way of inspection. The repeal of Section 77(3) of the 1944 Act, which conferred on LEAs an explicit right to inspect their own schools, has caused widespread anxiety—and that has been mentioned today. From correspondence between education officers of the ACC and the AMA and Ministers of the DES in December and January and from Ministers' statements at Report stage in another place, it still seems not at all clear what LEAs can do by way of entry and inspection.
A letter from Mr. Eggar on 28th January seemed to make it clear that LEAs are not intended to have an 616 indisputable right of entry even when they consider that they need access to a school in order to carry out their statutory duties under the education Acts. However, on 30th January, after considerable discussion with Tory M Ps who are extremely worried about this matter, the Secretary of State told Parliament:The local authority can have a right of entry and inspection, if one wants to call it inspecting, so long as that right of entry is pursuant to a statutory duty. That is implicit and does not have to be spelt out". [Official Report, Commons, 30/1/92; col. 1110.]The Minister did not go on to qualify that by any reference to right of entry by invitation only or to any requirement to satisfy a test by an outside body. It is no wonder that the associations want the matter settled beyond dispute. That must be achieved by amending the Bill. What Ministers say or write carries no legal force. The noble Baroness, Lady Denton, seemed to suggest that the right of inspection should remain. If that is so, perhaps she will accept amendments which make certain of it.
LEAs need to know about those matters in order to plan ahead. Indeed, some are taking steps to be ready when the Bill becomes an Act which, at present, we must assume it will. My own authority—Cambridgeshire—has instructed the director of education to put the inspectorate on an agency basis at the earliest possible date. Plans have been made to bring that into operation in three phases. I ask the Minister whether, when the inspectorate becomes an agency, it will be allowed to inspect the schools in its own county. Generally, will inspectors and other professional staff presently employed by LEAs he free to form part of school inspection teams in the future? Paragraph 3(5) of Schedule 2 suggests that that is not so. I should like the Minister to clarify the matter.
All these doubts and queries show a Bill which is ill drafted and put together in a hurry. Indeed, we know that there was no consultation with the national parent teachers associations although the Bill is intended to put the Parent's Charter into legal form. The Bill was published before the period for consultation on the charter with the National Association of Governors and Managers had expired.
It remains an unexplained curiosity that inspection teams should be selected and appointed by the schools which are being inspected. For example, would it be in the interests of children for fairground operators to hire their own health and safety inspectors? I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, mention his anxieties about that matter. I believe that they are shared by a good many people. As the noble Lord said, avoidance of self-serving mutual relationships strongly suggests that a third party should be involved in the appointment process. A school strong in technology or perhaps favouring mixed ability teaching may well choose an inspection team known to favour concentration on that subject or that method of teaching.
The four year cycle, which is not mentioned in the Bill but which now seems to be the Government's intention, is strange. Why was it chosen? As a parent I should be extremely anxious to think that virtually the whole of my child's schooling may take place 617 without a visit by an accredited inspector. Ministers seem to have been beguiled into seeing the full general inspection of all aspects of the life of a school as the main means of quality assurance and development. However, quality assurance demands much more. It would include not only full school inspection but also review of the performance of an individual department or year group, review of the teaching of a subject across a range of similar schools, audit of management effectiveness, and routine and spot monitoring with written reports of visits. There must also be follow up.
We should like to see some flexibility for governors so that they can choose a method of inspection other than one short exercise every four years. Should not governors be able to choose to spend their inspection money on a variety of inspection methods, including more frequent monitoring visits and reports? If there were shorter gaps between the visits of inspectors, a sector of the work of the school could be examined on an annual basis, written reports produced and the whole reassessed summatively, perhaps every four years, for publication. If a model of inspection with greater inbuilt flexibility were available to governors, they would be able to express their own anxieties. Heads would receive a steer in their quality direction and management of their schools. Questions of serious deficit would be addressed swiftly. The main risk associated with delaying diagnosis of a problem is its import on the educational opportunity of the individual child. We shall need to amend Clause 9 to ensure that flexibility.
Another major weakness in the Bill is the gap in accountability. The duty to inspect passes to governors but without apparently leaving them flexibility to focus the inspection in whole or in part and to decide upon priorities on style and content. Similarly, the Bill omits any mechanism for holding governors to account for acting upon the identified deficits. Particularly unclear is their duty to work openly with an unfavourable report.
The inspection report will go to the governors who will then have to prepare a written statement—an action plan—showing the action they propose to take and the period within which they propose to take it. They must send copies to the chief inspector. However, to whom are the governors accountable for carrying out their action? What will happen if they do not do it or parents do not notice? Only in the case of a school deemed to be failing is the action to be monitored "by such persons as may be prescribed". Are governors capable of creating an action plan and monitoring its implementation? Most governors do not have the necessary expertise. I have been a governor of many schools over a long period but I do not consider that I am capable of doing that. If things do not seem to be going well, ultimate recourse to the Secretary of State will take too long. Pupils will suffer along the way.
Surely some kind of intermediate supervising body is necessary at local level to whom the governors should be made accountable. If that is not to be the LEAs, something else must be invented. However, as 618 we have the LEAs—and I was glad to hear the right reverend Prelate praise LEAs—which are experienced in such exercises, why on earth should something else be invented? I hope that when the Minister replies she will tell us to whom the governors are accountable for carrying out their action plan. It seems to me that Schedule 2 will need strengthening. It is interesting that the NAGM in the first sentence of its briefing says:NAGM considers that the Bill will hamper and discourage the contribution made by school governors to good education".I wish to conclude with a few words about children with special needs. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithful], will speak on that subject and I am glad that other noble Lords have touched upon it. There is a general fear that those children may suffer under the Bill. Is that consistent with the Education Act 1981 and the Children Act 1989? The aim of the 1981 Act to integrate children with special needs is likely to be undermined by measures to encourage increasing autonomy of schools. It seems inconsistent that inspection under the Children Act is firmly placed with local authorities which must act within detailed guidance, in contrast to this Bill. LEAs will find it difficult to keep enough resources centrally to be able to help those children and to provide the extras that they need. One commitment which I ask the Minister to give—and I hope that she will give it when she replies—is that one member of every inspection team should be someone who has experience of children with special needs.
We shall have much work to do on this Bill. We cannot change it fundamentally and I fear it will remain a bad Bill. However, I hope that we can do something in Committee to make it marginally better.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I must first apologise to the House. I have an engagement on a committee at 6 o'clock which requires me to leave the Chamber at that time. The engagement was entered into long before the timetable for this debate was drawn up.
It is common ground on all sides that we in this country need a better educated population than presently exists or has existed in the past. About that there is no disagreement between us. There can be little disagreement also that over the past five years enormous changes and experiments have taken place in the field of education; for instance, the 1988 Act and the national curriculum created large changes in what went on in schools. There have been other important developments such as TVEI. They are all new concepts in schools; they are experiments. We are also changing the methods of teacher training.
All those matters are important and represent large scale alterations. However, even the most arrogant among us cannot imagine that such fundamental changes will get it right every time. It must be true that some of the proposals concerning the national curriculum, school management and teacher training will involve disadvantages as well as genuine gains. Some schemes will not work out as we hoped: we must be prepared to change and change again. But change 619 should only he made on the basis of the best possible information and judgment that we can obtain in regard to how the schemes are working.
It is that which makes it so extraordinary that the Government should choose this moment to make another huge change. It is an extraordinary activity on the part of what is still called a Conservative Government. Unless it be for the sheer love of change, why should they virtually dismantle the school inspection system, the HMI system, which has served the country so well for over 150 years? Adapt it, develop it or extend it; but why change it? We often hear from the Benches opposite, "If it is not broken, why fix it?" Nobody is suggesting that the HMI system is broken and needs fixing. It may need expanding or altering, but why change it and bring in its place this astonishing system of local inspectors appointed by the governors of the schools who are themselves to be trained by the inspectors? It will not be easy to do that. They must find them, select them and train them, and if that training is to be any good they must be able to monitor them to see how the system works.
To introduce a change of that kind at a time when we have the development of great educational experiments going on is quite extraordinary. Is it cost? Is it that the HMIs, because of their calibre, are expensive and that this is a cheaper way of performing their functions? The schools will have to pay the people who will carry out the inspections. If it is a matter of expense it is one of the most short-sighted economies of this Government, who are given to short-sighted economies. They will attempt to save a few pence now even if it costs a thousand pounds later on. I fear that that is what will happen to the change from the HMI system.
The system no doubt needed expanding and adjusting. But to change from that to the system proposed in the Bill produces what must be the only piece of legislation in modern history which lays down that the robbers should appoint the cops. That is certainly a strange way of doing things. Yet that is what, in more eloquent language, the Bill says. The people who are to be inspected are to choose and pay the people who will inspect them. And this at a time when changes of the dimension I mentioned are occurring, and when we need the best possible advice on how those changes are working out.
It is said that the schools will need help. Of course they will need help. We know that in many parts of the country they have had difficulty recruiting and retaining staff; that the staff are overwhelmed by many of the changes. The schools want people they respect professionally. I cannot underline that too strongly. They want people to whom they can listen and from whom they can learn to help them overcome the difficulties presently confronting them. They need not only inspections. Also, as was said earlier, they need people to whom they can turn for advice. Inspection and advice go together. When a good inspector comes across something and realises that all is not well, he will think of ways to help resolve the problem. It is two sides of the same coin.
620 Professional teachers will not accept advice from people they believe know less about the subject than they themselves. That has been one of the strengths of the inspectorate. On average, the inspectors have 16 years' successful teaching experience behind them. Therefore no teacher can say, "What does he know about it?" There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that the teachers will not be justified making that comment when they are asked to accept the criticisms of the people appointed under the Bill.
The help to the schools is a vital part of the inspection process and something which is being placed at risk. It is not only advice to schools; it is advice to the Secretary of State and to the Department of Education. That is only satisfactorily carried out, as it has been in the past, because the inspectors are in the schools. They are familiar with them and spend time with the people who are struggling with the problems of schools and improvement in education; with the people who are able to give up-to-date, informed, professional advice to the Secretary of State and the department which, after all, is not staffed by professional teachers.
As policy develops and changes need to be made —as we know they will—that skilled, professional, experienced advice will continue renewing the knowledge that the inspectors have and can only have because they work in and out of the schools. The more they are drawn away from the schools, the less valuable the advice will be. From where will the Secretary of State then obtain his advice? Who will be able to take the place of the inspectors? The answer is nobody. The professionals are not in the department and the department is not involved on a day-to-day basis in the schools.
I recall the experience some years ago of a friend of mine newly recruited in the department who was supposed to be responsible for secondary schools in the North West. In his youthful enthusiasm he said to his senior in the department, "I should like to see these schools". The reply came back, "I would not do that if I were you, it might confuse you." That is not the way in which the Minister will obtain the best possible advice from the continuing development of policy. That is what it is. The 1988 Act contained much that was good but over the years continuous changes and suggestions will be needed based on the informed experience of people who can assess what they see in the schools. That is what the Secretary of State needs if he is to develop the new educational system as it needs to be developed.
If the country is short of good inspectors it is an extraordinary moment to crack down on the local authorities. I dare say that some local authority inspection is not all that it might be. But if it is difficult to carry out adequate inspections, then it is not the moment to tell the local authorities that they have no continuing right to entry into their schools. As I read it, that is what the Bill says.
One can only suspect that this is yet another manifestation of the extraordinary vendetta that this Government conduct against local authorities. We are bored with being told that there are some very 621 unsatisfactory local authorities. But for one unsatisfactory local authority there are at least 10—I pluck the figures out of the air—very hardworking local authorities with very good, conscientious directors of education who have done a tremendous amount in the development and building up of the schools. Why should they be spurned in this way?
I very much regret that your Lordships' House is not permitted to vote against a Second Reading. I am greatly tempted to suggest that we ought to, although I know that nobody would come into the Lobby with me—not that that would stop me. That is what the Bill merits; it merits being thrown out at this stage.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Walton of Detchant
My Lords, despite the exceptionally dedicated, skilled work of many teachers in our schools throughout this country, and despite the outstanding work which has been done over many years by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools and His Majesty's before, there is little doubt that things are not right about British education at the present time. I share the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, when she said that every one of us in your Lordships' House must share the same wish to see British education improve in all its aspects and brought up to being, as I believe it once was, the best in the world.
As many of your Lordships will know, I have been privileged to be asked to chair the Hamlyn Foundation National Commission on Education which began its work in the autumn of last year. That commission has many objectives which it has set out in a paper. This afternoon I would like to bring to your Lordships' attention a few of the targets and visions which that commission has established in its work, and then to ask whether the Bill which we are now considering at Second Reading will have the effect of helping us to achieve some of those targets.
While, as I have said, everyone wishes to see our educational system improved, as we learnt from the highly articulate, lucid and forceful opening speeches made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Denton of Wakefield and Lady Blackstone, there is clearly a very serious difference of opinion in your Lordships' House as to whether the Bill will achieve those aims.
I speak now not as the chairman of the commission on education but as an individual. Nevertheless, wish to speak now about a few of the aims and objectives which it has set out. First, that people of all ages from childhood onwards will have the entitlement, opportunity and desire to develop themselves to the full through learning, in accordance with their individual abilities, needs and choices. Secondly, all that is excellent in the values and aspirations of the United Kingdom will be reflected in the teaching and ethos of its education and training institutions.
As regards the targets which the commission would hope to see achieved on the basis of the recommendations which it will eventually formulate, we hope towards the end of 1993, we wish to see that the recorded achievement of students at all stages shows a marked and widespread rise in learning 622 attainment; that there will be clear evidence that people of all levels of ability are being enabled to grow in knowledge, skills and understanding in accordance with their potential, regardless of wealth, social origin, gender, race, colour or physical or mental handicap. We wish to see that the United Kingdom stands as high as any country in international comparisons of performance in education and training; that enterprise, creativity and achievement in education and training by institutions, teachers and students will be encouraged and rewarded and that teachers at all levels will stand high in public esteem.
In order to fulfil its work and to pursue it, the commission has established seven working groups, the first of which will be looking at effective schooling. The second will be looking at schools, society and citizenship and the third at the teaching profession and quality. The other groups need not concern us in today's argument. I ask: in what way will this Education (Schools) Bill enable us to fulfil some of the objectives set out under each of those headings and answer some of the questions which we have posed? How can a school establish an ethos favouring effective education? How can provision by schools be so articulated that each individual will progress through the various stages of education at a pace suited to that individual and in a logical way, without needless repetition or disconcerting gaps; and also without frustration and boredom for the more able or feelings of failure or rejection for the slower learners?
At present about a quarter of all pupils are hostile towards school; believe that education is irrelevant and get relatively little from their experience of it. How can that very serious problem be tackled? Given how important is the influence of parents and family for the development, maturation and attitudes of young people, how can active parent involvement be built up, especially where it is lacking at present? I believe that there are clauses in this Bill which will certainly improve active parental involvement.
Turning to some of the other objectives and aims which I have set out, is an inspectorial process likely to help one in the educational system to achieve those aims? I believe without question that it would. I believe that the more regular inspection of schools is a very worthy objective underlined by the Bill. Inspecting teams could help very much to improve those standards of education. Speaking from my experience in a much more limited field of medical education, as a former dean of a medical school, then chairman of the education committee of the General Medical Council and ultimately its president, there can be no doubt that when we sent independent inspecting teams to look at the curriculum and examinations of schools in this country and occasionally abroad, they often identified problems which, in some cases, were difficult to eradicate and some easier to put right, and of which teachers in those schools had not been aware.
As has been said by several speakers, inspectors can be of enormous help to the schools. Many HMIs have fulfilled that function, but their number is not sufficient for them to be able to carry out the inspections every four years, as this Bill demands. 623 How can that be achieved? In my view I cannot but express concern about the proposals that these inspecting teams will be employed on a commercial basis, and that they will be chosen by the governors of the schools who will invite them to inspect their teaching and curriculum. How will they be chosen? Will the schools choose the cheapest? Will they choose the inspectors because they happen to know of their political affiliations or beliefs? Will they be chosen because they are local people or because they come from certain ethnic groups? Will they be chosen because of the attitude that the teams of inspectors might take?
I wholly appreciate that the intention of the Government is an exceptionally worthy one and that they hope that the teams they will nominate, or from whom the schools will choose, will be exceptionally well-trained people who will do an outstanding job in inspecting these schools. In my view any inspecting system must have independence. It must be independent of the body that it is going to inspect. For that reason, while I would not favour extension of the local authority education system at all, I believe that it will be far better if that were done either by an extension of the HMI system or under the aegis of some totally independent body which would have a cadre of trained inspectors who will form the teams. That independent body would nominate the teams to go to the schools rather than them being chosen by the schools themselves. That is one of the fundamental principles which, speaking as an individual, is flawed in the Bill and which gives me very considerable concern.
I now turn to the question of measuring added value and the league tables. I believe that that is wholly admirable. I believe that it is right that parents should have much more information about the quality of the education being provided in the schools in their area so that they can make an informed choice. That is very important. But let me say at once that having made that point, raw data is, I believe, very dangerous— if noble Lords will forgive me, raw data are very dangerous—and should not be relied upon.
The education commission, which as I have said I have the privilege to chair, will not be reporting until the end of next year because it is now collecting information and undertaking its work. But it is commissioning a series of independent research papers. Briefing papers will be published every month or six weeks under the aegis of that commission. The first of these, by Professor Andrew McPherson of Edinburgh, will be published next Tuesday. It is called,Measuring added value in schools I am able to quote this, although, as I said, the full details will not be published until next Tuesday. Professor McPherson says:The publication of examination and test results, resulting in 'league tables' and calls for calculations of the contributions schools make to pupils' progress—the 'value-added' they offer—raise a number of difficult questions".He goes on to show by very careful and carefully-validated material and statistical information that raw data in one particular table gave a completely false impression of the quality of education 624 produced by six schools. If well-validated correction factors were applied, then the placing of those individual schools in the league table in question changed very substantially.
In other words, as he says, schools test and examination results are informative, but raw results are misleading indicators of the added value of a school if they are not also adjusted for intake differences. Raw results should therefore be accompanied by an assessment of the contributions a school makes to its pupils' progress. This should take account of each pupil's prior level of attainment and other factors inside and outside the school that may have influenced progress. The basis of the assessment must be made clear, and it must have solid theoretical backing.
In other words, if we are to depend upon the publication of league tables—and I think that it is right that we should —those who produce them must be fully aware that a good system must take account of different needs and uses, but it must be as simple as possible, recognising the individuality of pupils' families and schools. The assessment must be undertaken over a period in order to provide measures of either stability or change instead of single snapshots. Finally, it must have built into it the means of monitoring and improving its own validity. I hope very much that the Government will take account of those views.
Perhaps I may make one last point about the question of inspection and the involvement of lay persons. My own personal experience is that the Government are right to suggest that lay people can make a most important and valid contribution—not of course on the quality of scientific teaching or on the technical nature and content of the teaching that is being provided—but they can be invaluable in assessing the ethos, atmosphere and overall personality of an educational institution. I commend that particular part of the inspecting team. But above all, independence is a crucial point which I hope the Government will note.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Walton, from his independent position on the Cross-Benches, has made a most interesting speech to which I am sure the House has listened with great attention. He has made a number of points, which doubtless will be followed up in Committee.
I should like to speak about what the Bill proposes for Scotland. Much of the debate so far, and a large part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, has been about the inspection of schools. The system for the inspection of schools in Scotland operates quite differently from the current system South of the Border. In Scotland school inspectors are based on the Scottish Office, not on local authorities. That arrangement is unaffected by the Bill. It is Clause 17 that is the clause for Scotland. It seeks to amend Section 28 of the Education (Scotland) Act, and in so doing it would enable the Secretary of State for Scotland to make certain regulations. Broadly speaking, the regulations would relate to the same 625 areas as those covered by Clause 16, as described by my noble friend on the Front Bench in opening the debate, and as applauded by the noble Lord, Lord Walton.
First, the regulations would relate to the collecting of information about the provision and performance of schools. Secondly, they would ensure that adequate information is available to parents and the public. Thirdly, they would ensure that parents receive proper reports and information about their child's progress and have a chance to discuss that progress with the school.
What the noble Lord, Lord Walton, has said about raw data certainly needs to be closely examined—and I note that data do not come singly. But of course some schools in Scotland regard it as an important part of the education they offer to provide information, to report to parents and the like. They take a lot of trouble in so doing. Other schools certainly do not. Regional and islands councils, which are the education authorities in Scotland, vary considerably in the encouragement that they give to schools in this area, and the extent to which they disseminate information about schools generally. That is why this part of the Parent's Charter for Scotland is so important. Unless the rights of parents are established by law some education authorities in Scotland and some schools will, for whatever reason, drag their feet.
One has only to look back to the story of the right to choose one's school in Scotland. Until Parliament legislated in 1981, very few education authorities—I have an idea it was only one—allowed all parents to choose the school that their child attended. They said it was too difficult to arrange, or was not wanted. In Scotland, since 1981, there has been a legal right to choose. There have been 200,000 placing requests by parents; and more than 90 per cent. of those have been granted. That could not have been done without the legislation at that time which made the right to choose possible.
I turn now to new rights made possible by this Bill: the right to information about schools in the area so that an informed choice of school can be made; the right to information from the school about one's child's progress; the right to discuss that progress. These, one would think, are essential rights in a modern education system, especially in a country which values education as highly as does Scotland. Yet, as with school choice, unless it is a legal requirement, it clearly will not happen.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has written saying, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said in her opening remarks in the debate, that they do not oppose the provision of information to parents, although they object to some of the detail of how the Bill proposes making sure the information is forthcoming. I wonder how enthusiastic the regional and island councils are even about the basic rights of parents to information. If the press is to be believed, when the leaflets explaining the Scottish Parent's Charter —which is about this right—were distributed to the education authorities for sending on to schools 626 and parents, seven out of the 12 education authorities in Scotland—Lothian, Central, Tayside, Fife, Grampian, Highland and Borders; the first five Labour-controlled, the last two independent—either refused to pass the document on to schools or passed it on to schools and advised them that there was no need to distribute it to parents. CoSLA tells us that those authorities took advice and were told that to block the Parent's Charter was within the law. That may well be so but the enthusiasm of Scottish education authorities for the rights of parents to information is at least in question.
CoSLA takes issue with the fact that the Bill is drafted in the form of enabling legislation so as to give the Secretary of State for Scotland powers to require information to be provided without setting out precisely what that information will be. Doubtless this will be discussed in Committee, but it seems to me that no other legislative form would be possible in this particular circumstance. The Secretary of State for Scotland wants to consult local authorities and others about the detail before drafting the regulations and laying them before Parliament. As time goes on, the arrangements are bound to need up-dating. That is not easy to do except through the mechanism of regulations.
On this point, there arises one question which I want to ask the Minister this afternoon. In introducing the Bill, my noble friend Lady Denton referred to consultation on Clause 16 in regard to England and Wales. So far no consultation has begun in Scotland. CoSLA is anxious to know when consultation will take place. Can the Minister help us on this point? CoSLA is also anxious that certain parts of the detailed drafting of Clause 17 are too vague or require clarification. These points will doubtless be discussed at the Committee stage, and I give notice to my noble friend that we shall want that. However, all that having been said, at this stage I commend to the House the broad thrust of the Scottish part of the Bill and I hope that it will get a fair wind as we proceed through the various stages.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Glenamara
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, I have some personal experience of the schools' inspectorate. Indeed, I think my experience is probably more extensive than his. Before I came into Parliament 41 years ago I was headmaster of what was then a big boys' school. I had many visits from HMI. There were short visits when the inspectors popped in to discuss specific problems and there would also be a full-scale week-long inspection by four or five inspectors, culminating in a discussion with the school governors. So I have personal experience of their expertise and helpfulness to the schools, not least, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton, said, in carrying ideas from one place to another—a kind of cross-pollination.
Secondly, as Secretary of State for Education and Science, I never at any time interfered with the inspectorate, much less attempted to give it a directive. This Bill empowers the Secretary of State to do that for the first time in 150 years. I found that the 627 inspectors were an excellent, objective source of information about schools and about local education authorities to which I could turn at any time. They were always willing to give advice fearlessly and fairly. I did not always agree with them but they were always willing to discuss problems.
Thirdly, as Lord President of the Council, I on many occasions took to the Privy Council names to be approved by the Queen as inspectors of schools. Indeed, those noble Lords who watched the film on the Queen last week would have noticed that at the Privy Council one of the items was the appointment of an inspector of schools in Scotland.
So I have seen the inspectorate from those three points of view. When I look at this squalid, miserable Bill in the light of that experience, I can only assume that the Government have taken leave of their senses. They are off their corporate rocker. Through all the idiotic changes in the Education Reform Act and through all the subsequent pronouncements on policy, not least by the present Secretary of State, who displays a mind-boggling ignorance of what goes on in schools and of what education is about, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, and others who care about the education system consoled ourselves with the knowledge that at least we still had the independent inspectorate, which could be relied upon to report objectively and which, unlike the DES, could not be browbeaten by reactionary Ministers. But now this is largely to be replaced by registered school contractors. That is what they will be. They will have to submit tenders. They will be inspection contractors.
The Government's previous reforms have been stupid, ill-advised and extremely damaging. Anyone who knows about educational institutions today will know that, from the universities down to the nursery schools, morale is at an all-time low. But this proposal is something else. This proposal is something different. In my opinion, it is sinister in the extreme. Before I say why I think that, I invite the House to look at the arithmetic of this proposal.
Every school, we are told, must be examined at prescribed intervals by the new private inspectors. The Bill refers to "an inspector" but later on refers to "the inspector and his team". There are in England and Wales 31,773 schools. All inspections have to be paid for. Therefore it is quite obvious that inspecting schools will become a fairly extensive money-making business. I find that almost as obscene as the Government's policy of turning the care of the aged into a money-making business. Hundreds of school inspection companies will be set up. They will employ staff who will want the protection of a corporate body. Individuals throughout the country will establish companies with the object of tendering for the inspection of schools. There will be teams of inspectors and back-up secretarial help.
Have the Government considered the cost of inspecting a school? I estimate that the very minimum will be £50 per hour of an inspector's time in school, and, considering the ancillary services which must be provided by the inspector, that is probably an 628 underestimate. If noble Lords consider the number of reports that must be sent out, they will realise that a great deal of secretarial help will be involved.
Have the Secretary of State and the Minister—if I may have her attention for a moment—considered how long it takes to inspect a school? If the Government are thinking in terms of one inspector for one day I can tell them now that that is utterly worthless. It will take three or four inspectors the greater part of a week to inspect a medium sized school of 500 pupils. I ask noble Lords to consider the case of a normal sized primary school of 400 pupils. One of the most important elements in primary education is learning to read. How can anyone say anything worth while about the standards of reading in that school without hearing a great many of those 400 children read? However, reading is only one part of one subject; there are all the other subjects to be considered. I believe that it will cost a minimum of £1,000 to inspect a school.
We have been told—and the noble Baroness confirmed this today; indeed it is in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill—that the money is to come from what local education authorities now spend on inspection and advisory services. Local education authorities are very hard up. The one that I know best, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, is closing old people's homes and selling them to private enterprise firms. It is also paying off teachers left, right and centre. If that authority has to pay out money to the schools that it now spends on its advisory services, there will be no advisory service. Anyone who knows anything about schools knows that one of the most useful aspects of the education service since the Second World War has been the advisory service. For the benefit of noble Lords who do not know what it is, perhaps I should explain. It usually consists of expert teachers who visit schools giving advice on specific subjects. Teachers need such advice.
Therefore, the arithmetic of the foolish proposal before us reveals an almost unbelievable lack of thought and knowledge about schools. However, the arithmetic is not the worst aspect. If one considers who will staff these new school inspection companies, one will see the worst aspect of the Bill. It is quite certain—and Sir Timothy Raison made this point during the closing stages of the Bill in another place —that every far-Right reactionary body (and there are many of them around, some of which have been advising the present Government) and perhaps every far-Left reactionary body too will try to get in on the act. But, of course, their fingerprints will not appear on the prospectuses. Those companies will have prospectuses just like double-glazing or timeshare companies. Indeed, they will flood the schools with prospectuses. How, otherwise, will the governors be able to ask for tenders? They will receive prospectuses from all over the place from bodies which have set out to inspect schools.
In exercising his powers under Clause 10, the chief inspector will have no way of knowing who these people are and to whom they answer. Every sleazy educational pressure group will have an influence on school inspections and therefore on the education of 629 our children. As several other speakers have said, if one looks in the legislation one can see that registered inspectors are not required to have any professional or even academic qualification; in other words, not an A-level, not a degree, not an o-level or a GCSE—in fact, nothing. Perhaps the noble Baroness who is to reply for the Government will be able to tell us how she sees the criteria that the chief inspector will use in registering those people. I plead with her not to tell us that it is a matter for the chief inspector. We want to know what are the criteria for selecting the registered inspectors.
It seems to me that those registered inspectors will be like the supplementary teachers who filled the schools in large numbers at the beginning of the century. There were only two qualifications: they had to be over 18 years of age and they had to be vaccinated. That is about what it amounts to with the proposed registered inspectors. Yet those people will inspect and criticise (and make public their criticism) the work of highly skilled and dedicated teachers. Moreover, they will be paid for doing so. The entire teaching profession, if it still calls itself a profession, should rebel against this iniquitous proposal. Let us make no mistake about it, it will be used to browbeat teachers into undoing all that has been achieved in our schools in the past few decades—and a great deal has been achieved —and into adopting teaching methods which were abandoned 50 years ago. That is why, in my opinion, it is a sinister proposal.
From my experience of the inspectorate, which I outlined at the beginning of my speech, I say to the House, to the Government and, if anyone will listen, to the country that our schools inspectorate is far too precious and far too important to be largely replaced as the Bill suggests. Its impartiality, its expertise is a feature of our educational system which many other countries envy. We must not let this Government destroy it.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating my noble friend Lady Denton of Wakefield on the way that she introduced this important measure today. I thought that she did so with great clarity, and that she explained in great detail a number of points which have been raised in the course of the debate which subsequently followed. I entirely support the Bill's two objectives; namely, to improve and increase the number of schools that are to be inspected and to make public certain information relating to pupils in schools as fulfilment of part of the Parent's Charter.
I shall start by agreeing with something that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. There is a broad measure of agreement that we need a better educated population. The objective of all of us is to find a way of achieving that aim. The Bill comes shortly after the 1988 Education Act, which, I am bound to say, was extremely hard fought over in your 630 Lordships' House clause by clause and line by line. I believe that the national curriculum is broadly accepted now, especially as regards the core subjects.
There was enormous debate about the testing and assessment provisions. Although I would be the first to accept that the arrangements originally established were clearly too complicated, nevertheless, we have had the first set of tests for seven year-olds. The process has started and it is working. I believe that it commands a broad measure of agreement, notwithstanding the fact that it was greatly criticised at the time. It gives a measure of how children arc progressing. Despite everything that has been said today, I believe that the proposals in the Bill will also come to be accepted.
Of course, the Bill is a piece of radical thinking. I should like to echo the remarks made about the inspectorate. When I was a DES Minister, I worked closely with the inspectorate, as indeed I did when I served on a local authority education committee. But I believe that the time has come to look at the 1988 education Act and decide what actually needs to be done to fulfil all the high hopes that we had of it. As I understand it, the real problem— and I have listened to much criticism and suggestions as regards what the Government are doing—is that the inspectorate has not been able to do as much inspecting as we would all have liked. I believe that I am right in saying that my noble friend Lady Denton said in her opening remarks that there are 25,000 schools, but that only 150 full inspections were published last year. At that rate, we will be into the indefinite future before we have all schools fully inspected.
The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, talked about 7,000 inspections. But we are not comparing like with like. I am sure that the noble Lord would be the first to agree that included in such inspections will be short school visits just for the afternoon or perhaps for the inspection of one item in the school. That is not the same as a full school inspection, measuring school by school a whole number of similar and agreed criteria. It is a fact that there were more inspections of further education colleges than there were main inspections of schools. Clearly, there is a need to tackle the problem.
I concede that it would be possible merely to increase the numbers of HMI. A vast increase would be needed to meet the requirements. That is what the Opposition would do, if I have understood their Centre for Measuring Standards correctly. The Government have gone down a different route. They propose a smaller inspectorate, all of whose inspectors will be registered, able to buy-in the necessary expertise. Those people—there will be 600 of them —will be trained. As I understand it, they will not —I hope that my noble friend the Minister will confirm this point when she replies—be free to set any standard they think that they would like. Inspections will have to be carried out to agreed national standards. They will have to be monitored and enforced by HMI.
I see the Bill as complementary to the 1988 Act, which set out and established the core and national curriculum and what children should achieve at certain ages. By establishing a more independent 631 inspectorate, the Bill gives HMI the power to ensure that those objectives are being carried out. It guarantees that schools will be inspected every four years and that there will be an inspection report on schools' strengths and weaknesses which will be made available to parents, teachers, LEAs and all who have an interest in measuring and knowing how each school is doing. That will also be valuable to special schools.
I well recall the 1981 Act dealing with special education, because I was the Minister who introduced the Bill into your Lordships' House. I always understood that one of the reasons behind the Act was the anxiety of parents of children with disabilities that their children were not being as stretched as they should be within the education system. The idea was that such children would do better if they were in mainstream schools. I am sure that that is right in principle. However it is sad to think that almost no special school has been inspected, and so we have no measure of what is happening to those children. We cannot compare special schools with the schools that take children with disabilities. We do not know which is doing better, and such schools are not being measured against objective standards.
No one could have listened to the debate without being well aware that there are many anxieties. I was especially interested in the paper produced by the National Association of Head Teachers which, although accepting the main purposes of the Bill, is clearly anxious about a number of its details. There are a number of matters to which we shall clearly return in Committee.
It is important that the professionalism, impartiality and high quality of the inspectorate is made clear, as the Bill proceeds through the House. It is essential that there should be inspectors, for example, with knowledge of special schools.
As I understand the Government's thinking on the matter, teams of inspectors must have a range of experience suitable for the school being inspected. The teams must spend sufficient time in a school to form judgments on its quality and efficiency. That answers the point of whether they will know that children can read. The inspectors will have to find a means of judging that matter. There must be direct observation of the teaching. That again answers questions about whether the teaching is mixed ability or formal. There must be observation of teaching and learning as well as an examination of performance indicators. All those are matters to which we shall return again and again, and I hope that my noble friend will say something about those issues when she replies. It is important to establish and spell out the criteria against which to judge schools.
Many noble Lords have been less than fair to school governors. A school governor has an important role to play. It is good that all maintained schools now have boards of governors. I should not like to say that in every school it will be the head who will rule the governors. I can think now of schools where that is not the case. Of course one does not want to have a dispute between the head and the governors, 632 but we need strongminded governors who are capable of making a decision on the important question of inspectors.
We should compare the proposal with what frequently happens now with local authority inspectors, who are of course both judge and jury in their own case. Part of the trouble has been the existence of too much cosiness within the present system.
I do not wish to speak at length and so I shall touch just briefly on the Parent's Charter. Over the past few years, the role of parents has been greatly increased and that is much to be welcomed. They have been given a bigger role to play on governing bodies and greater opportunities to choose schools; but, the choice must be an informed one. Under the Parent's Charter, they are to be given far more information from all schools in the area which is to be presented in an intelligible way. That will be valuable. I am pleased that examination results are to be published. I hope that they will include BTEC results as well as those of the GCSE and A-levels and other important vocational examinations.
I also welcome the publication of information across all schools, especially in respect of CTCs. I know that the Opposition want to abolish them, but they will become centres of excellence, especially for vocational training—an area in which the country has been notoriously weak. We have listened this afternoon to some Opposition speeches which have been full of sound and fury; but there are unequal standards in our schools today, especially those in the inner cities where the results have been poor. No one can be satisfied with that.
I well recall that inspectors' reports frequently said that such schools had no examination results because of low expectations. For far too long we have accepted low standards, too many pupils leaving without qualifications, and too little understanding of vocational education in a world in which there will be few, if any, unskilled jobs left for anyone. The Bill, in two ways—the inspectorate and the Parent's Charter —goes a long way towards addressing those problems. It will give schools a measure of attainment. We are, after all, all human beings. One strives to do one's best for pupils. To have an objective measure across a number of issues will raise standards. It will be helpful to teachers, and pupils above all, and will give parents more information.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Baroness McFarlane of Llandaff
My Lords, I must apologise to the Minister and to your Lordships' House, because I have to return to Manchester tonight, which means leaving the House at 8 o'clock. When I was last able to be in touch with the Whips' Office the list of speakers was rather shorter than it appeared today. That shows the great interest that exists in the Bill.
The injunction,always [to] keep a hold of nurseFor fear of finding something worse",is one that commends itself to me when thinking about HMI. We have heard from many noble Lords that in 633 1989 the inspectorate celebrated the 150th anniversary of the appointment of the first two inspectors of schools. Although many changes have taken place, we have heard many compliments today about the thoroughness, independence and fearlessness of HMI. Only yesterday I was speaking to a headmistress of an inner city school in Manchester. She spoke of the supportive nature of the work of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, not only in the curriculum and testing, but in interpreting the edicts of the local education authority and also, in her case, more in helping over matters such as racial discrimination. The inspectors have been a supportive group in our education system over many years.
The introduction to the Bill states:The Bill gives effect to proposals outlined in the White Paper 'The Citizen's Charter'".The guide to the charter issued in July by the Cabinet Office refers specifically to tougher inspection:In the past, the inspectors of our key public services have usually been members of the profession they oversee. This has made for far too close a relationship. The Government wants to give people from different backgrounds a bigger say in future and will see to it that—starting with the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Inspectorate of Schools —more lay experts are appointed to inspectorates".That is a philosophy that I personally find difficult to accept because it devalues professional expertise, often gained over many years of experience. It is held that this kind of inspection creates far too close a relationship. That implies that one professional cannot be objective about the work of another. I have to say from my experience that that is not always the case. Many of us have worked in different parts of the education system. I look back, for example, on experience of course reviews and course validations. I recall that in the past year, with the last two course validations with which I was associated we were unable to validate the course. Professionals looking at the work of professionals did not have too close a relationship.
I was privileged to work with one of the sub-groups of the first research selectivity exercise in the university. There, professionals were analytical and critical of each other's work. There was not too close a relationship.
During the past year I have worked with a programme advisory group for the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council. Again, professionals have looked at the work of other professionals. I argue that, without professional expertise and experience, one is incapable of judging the sophistication of the educational system.
I find the paragraph in the guidance on the Citizen's Charter which declares that more lay experts will be appointed curiously self-contradictory. I consulted the Concise Oxford Dictionary and found that one of the meanings of "lay" is "not expert". Why are we having more lay (not expert) experts inflicted upon us?
Having said that, I find much that is positive in the Bill. I commend the proposal that schools should be more regularly inspected. I think that would have been the wish of the present inspectorate had the manpower situation been different. I commend the proposal that there should be a systematic national framework for 634 inspection; that the inspectorate should be independent of the people who finance the schools; and that there should be openness in the publication of data, although we have heard about the dangers of using raw data. I commend the proposal that there should be lay representation on inspecting committees.
However, there are aspects of the Bill about which I am less sanguine. First, the proposed decrease in staff in Her Majesty's Inspectorate from 480 to 175 makes me wonder how they will be able to perform all the tasks allocated to the inspectorate in the Bill and still less how they will be able to maintain any local advisory function. The proposal is that they will be augmented by registered inspectors who, with a minimum of training—a week or so—will supplement the work of professional people. I find it difficult to imagine how the registered inspectorate will be able to function in this situation. Further, I believe that the inspectorate will be in danger of losing its credibility if it is diluted to the extent that the Bill envisages.
Thus, we may be exchanging this over-closeness of the professionals, a professional bias, for what will now be a commercial bias and interest. These are the aspects of the Bill about which I am less sanguine and therefore I am left with two questions. First, is the Bill really necessary; could not a reform of the existing inspectorate achieve at least as much, if not more? Secondly, will the Bill bring us something better or will we, having forsaken nurse, find ourselves with something worse?
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, the answer to the final question of the noble Baroness is undoubtedly in the affirmative. Before the world was ruined by tourism, there were a number of islands in the South Seas where there were still primitive peoples. Anthropologists of the last and previous generations used to go to investigate their habits. They were particularly interested in initiation ceremonies, some of which were rather jolly.
We seem to have, as an initiation ceremony for newly appointed Members of the Government Front Bench, the ability to present a wholly silly Bill, or occasionally the silliest part of a generally, possibly marginally, silly Bill. It has been the fate of the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, to present what I think is the silliest Bill that any Parliament has ever had to consider. I do not regard it as sinister in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, does because I use the word "silly" in a rather restricted sense. It is a Bill in which the Government having established a problem, the Bill then proceeds to devise a solution which has nothing whatever to do with the problem.
Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, or the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, I am not and never have been a 100 per cent. enthusiast for the inspection system as it exists, either nationally or locally, because I think—and many headmasters of my acquaintance have made the point—that they are occasionally overcome by fashion and tend to ask schools to do things which the schools themselves rightly feel are inappropriate.
635 If the Government had said, at a time when—as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned—we are having immense changes in the school system, that they need to look again at inspecting and monitoring performance and they have proposals to that effect, I would have been open to consider them. But how would such proposals in an ideal, or even an ordinary world, be reached? As has been pointed out by other noble Lords, they would first be reached by consulting at length and in detail with those who have been affected or are likely to be affected by the proposals. A Bill that comes before us with no such consultation —in presenting the Bill the noble Baroness made no case that there had been such consultation—is in itself subject to criticism.
My second point has been referred to obliquely by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. It is an important point. Much of the anxiety about the standards of education in our schools comes from comparisons with other countries of roughly the same level of industrial and social development, particularly with the countries of the European Community. Was anyone asked to look at how France, Holland or Germany inspect their schools? We have not had the slightest indication of any thought going into this Bill. I believe I can pronounce my next statement as a fact. We can be certain that none of the countries I have just mentioned puts inspection out to commercial tender.
I would be prepared to listen to a case for more frequent inspections—there is such a case—and therefore perhaps for a different structure of the inspectorate. One could envisage more local teams responsible to the new chief inspector as contrasted with the teams which have hitherto worked for local government. All those matters are open to discussion in the educational world and in your Lordships' House but none of them points to the idea of turning inspection into a commercial proposition. One could implement all these changes based upon the normal feature that things which the Government regard as essential to the educational system, or any other part of the system, are paid for by government.
I shall explain why I regard the Bill as silly. The idea that the matter I have just referred to should be or could be regarded as a commercial operation, and that a number of noble Lords should go off and register a company offering to inspect at a cheap rate, let us say, all schools beginning with the letter 'C', is what I would call silly in the narrow sense. I cannot say it is the product of thought because obviously no thought has gone into it. It is the product of an impulse, a prejudice and of a notion. Your Lordships should not be faced with products of that kind.
I know the Government will say that if we get all the reports published and circulated and the publication of data is taken into account, all that will help parents to decide which schools they wish their children to attend, and the process of competition thus engendered will have a salutary effect upon schools. I shall not say this is a current illusion but perhaps it is a noble dream that all children have parents who are not merely capable of assessing whether little Johnny is getting on at school, but who are also capable of 636 absorbing raw data, managed data or statistics of any kind, and devoting to that information the attention they might otherwise give to, for example, the statistics of performance in the football league. That seems to me to be a noble dream. There are parents like that, but a great many children do not have parents of that kind.
Surely any system of inspection designed to maximise the achievement of schools and the services schools give to their communities should take all children into account, not only those children who are fortunate enough to have caring, intelligent and assiduous parents. We do not get much consolation out of that concept. I fear this is too much to hope for, but I would much prefer that the Government, having realised this notion would not go down in your Lordships' House—it was hammered through the House of Commons as these things often are, but with some rather notable protests among Members in another place who have interests in education—would take this Bill away and consider that, as they expect to be in power for some time longer—however, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, does not expect the Government to be in power for much longer—they will review possible alternative schemes for inspection and will take into account the need to follow the national curriculum and the other concepts that are now embedded in our system. Perhaps the Government would consider that they should produce another measure.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, was, I think, perhaps a trifle unfair to those Members of your Lordships' House who have a particular interest in higher education as there is no distinction and no discrepancy on this matter. If anything our self-interest as practitioners in higher education is to try to ensure that pupils who come from the schools should receive the best education possible. Therefore it is not surprising that the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, with extraordinary ingenuity has managed to think of a way of slightly moderating the horrors of this commercial competition. However, I fear he has not gone far enough to satisfy most noble Lords.
It may well be that if we looked properly and at leisure, and with the guidance which the noble Lord, Lord Walton, and his commission will be providing from time to time, we might consider that there was a case for associating the institutions of higher education with the inspection of schools. In countries such as France, which has a highly centralised system of education, there is an association of that kind in which I believe a rector of a university is responsible for education generally. Given the multiplication of universities and given the fact that soon there will be nearly 100 universities, it would not be too difficult to say that the new chief inspectorate, in combination with those institutions, might work out a system of inspection which at any rate would not contain the absurdities of the proposals that are now before us.
A case has been put by the noble Baroness, Lady David—I am sure it will be repeated by other noble Lords—which concerns how the new system relates to the general responsibility for schools. It makes a great deal of difference, surely, whether we are to think of a 637 world in which most schools are the responsibility of local education authorities, or whether we are to think of a world in which most schools have opted for dependence upon central government. Yet this Bill takes no notice of the possibility of changes from one of those worlds to the other. But meanwhile, as has been pointed out, local authorities have a responsibility to those who elect them—I believe the right reverend Prelate made this point—as regards the quality of education in the areas for which they are elected.
In another place a number of Members from West Sussex made that very point. They wanted to know how an education authority can fulfil the responsibility conferred upon it when, by the Bill, it is excluded from examining the schools to see whether they are doing what the authority is supposed to ensure that they do. I would make the same point on behalf of East Sussex, but I believe that my noble friend Lady Cumberlege will do so.
Should we embark on what will cause ridicule not only in this country but even abroad? I can visualise an article in, for example, a German newspaper of repute on the way in which the British inspect their schools: "They invite tenders from commercial firms for inspection by persons who need have no qualifications". That will not encourage exchanges of pupils between us and German and French schools, on which it is said that this Government are rightly keen.
Although we cannot vote against the Second Reading, I hope that we shall so amend the Bill that the Government will lose all patience with it and instead embark upon a progressive course of thinking about the problem from which, so far, they have run away.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, I share the sympathy expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, on being responsible for introducing the Bill. Much as I admired her performance at the Dispatch Box, I found it very difficult to reconcile her comments on the Bill with my own understanding of it.
The Bill purports to do two things: to improve the quality of education through changes in the inspectorate, and to provide more information for parents and others so that an informed choice and judgment can be made. There is no controversy about those two objectives. One would agree with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said about the quality of education and the need to improve it. The controversy arises in the way in which the Bill sets about that and that is where the misconception lies.
As many of your Lordships have said this afternoon, HM inspectors have a long and well regarded history of independence and professionalism. At a stroke this Bill diminishes their role and undermines their professionalism, as the noble Baroness, Lady McFarlane, made very clear. One can only conclude that the Government's drive to privatise has once again got the better of their judgment. No 638 real justification has been given for the proposed changes. The fact that there are 25,000 schools in the country and last year only 150 were reported on is not a condemnation of the system. It suggests that we should build on the system of inspection and provide more inspectors to join the profession.
It has been claimed that the Bill attempts to free HM inspectors and the chief inspector from departmental and ministerial interference. The chief inspector is to be the accounting officer for a new department and so, it is suggested, will be free from such constraints. Yet three factors mitigate against that. First, in addition to the duty to inform the Secretary of State as to the quality of education and standards in schools the chief inspector also has to report on whether financial resources are managed efficiently. Managed efficiently by whose standards? Those three duties appear to be equal duties, but I should have thought that quality and standards were the responsibility of HM inspectors, and the efficient use of resources was the responsibility of governors, LEAs and the Government arising from the reports of the inspectorate on those two functions.
Secondly, as both my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lady David mentioned, the chief inspector is required to give advice to the Secretary of State on such matters as the Secretary of State may specify. The Bill does not indicate whether advice freely given by the chief inspector is regarded as part of his responsibility.
Thirdly, as was also mentioned by my noble friends, in exercising his functions, the chief inspector shall have regard to such aspects of government policy as the Secretary of State considers proper and as he may direct. That will be an entirely new responsibility to be enshrined in statute if the Bill goes through. Rather than adding to the independence of the inspectorate, that seems to diminish its influence and to strengthen the centralisation of the system in the hands of the Secretary of State.
That point is emphasised by the fact that the post of chief inspector will be one which is held for a fixed period. I do not quarrel with fixed term appointments per se, but in the past the inspectorate has been a coherent profession. There has been an opportunity to move upwards in the team. Again, I find that no justification has been given for that change.
We have been told by the Minister this afternoon that the number of inspectors is to be reduced, not increased. They will therefore work less in the field, their job will be to work through the appointed registered inspectors. I doubt very much whether that is a move for the better. As some of your Lordships have said, the value of the inspectorate has been that the inspectors have worked in the field and have been able to give practical advice to the Secretary of State.
At local level the proposed arrangements for school inspections are another example of the Government's contempt for local government. Local education authorities, in partnership with HM inspectors, their own school inspectors, advisers, governors and teachers, have worked their way through the many changes that have been made in the education system in the past five or six years, as the noble Baroness, 639 Lady Seear, said. As a consequence, they have begun to establish long-term planning to implement those changes. All of that is in jeopardy.
Local education authorities still have a statutory responsibility to provide an adequate education system for their areas but their powers to do so are being limited. Instead of local authority inspectors having the right to go into schools, they will have unattached registered inspectors. One presumes that the registered inspectors will be working on the principle of a small business, or perhaps a large business, because we do not know how many of the inspectors will work together and from where they will recruit their ad hoc team members. Having recruited their teams, they will compete for business from the schools as governors are to have responsibility for arranging full inspections at least every four years.
As your Lordships have seen this afternoon and have heard in meetings with educationists and parents, the introduction of market forces in this way raises all kinds of questions for local authorities. How can there be continuity, and how can they integrate their advisory work with that of inspectors?
I have a list of questions which have been raised by local education authorities on the new inspection system. Will individual inspectors or whole teams need to be accredited? What are to be the criteria in establishing the inspection teams? Will schools have a copy of the approved list of inspection teams on a local, regional or national basis? To what extent will inspection under the new arrangements take account of inspections that have already taken place? What will be the feedback system to ensure that the carrying out of the inspection leads to continuing improvements in the system? How will the considerable experience of the LEAs in inspecting and advising schools be used in the training of the new registered inspectors and their teams? Those are general questions which local education authorities are anxious about and which they will need to have answered.
Some local education authorities face specific problems. For example, in my area, Bradford, 28 per cent. of students come from different ethnic minorities; and in some inner city schools over 90 per cent. of pupils come from ethnic minority backgrounds. That causes particular problems for that local education authority. That brings me to the point which has been raised of whether the publication of raw data was sufficient to cover that kind of situation in some schools. It also raises the question whether the difficulties of bilingual teaching in schools will be taken adequately into account by the standards being set for the inspectorate.
There are a number of specific and general problems as well as fears raised by the Bill. I share the sentiments of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, when she says that it is a pity that we cannot throw out the Bill. Although we shall come back to different aspects of it from time to time in the next few weeks, I doubt whether even the expertise of your Lordships in revising legislation will be sufficient to turn this into a worthwhile Bill.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Perry of Southwark
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Baroness on her excellent and comprehensive introduction to the debate. I believe that she answered many of the anxieties concerning the Bill. I am pleased to support a measure which proposes ways in which the achievements of schools are made known to those who have a right to know; parents, future employers of pupils and the taxpayer who pays for education.
Anxiety has been expressed in this House and elsewhere about the use of raw data without suitable interpretation and the possibility of misunderstanding that that may cause. While those misgivings are well understood they need not be entertained. I believe that parents do know about the conditions of their local school and understand the circumstances of its catchment area and the make-up of its pupil body. Parents can interpret the data they are given in the light of their specialist knowledge. Unlike my noble friend Lord Beloff, I have great faith in the ability and motivation of parents to read, study and understand data which touch so closely upon the lives of their children. Until they are given the data they do not know how well the school is doing in the circumstances in which they live and are therefore unable to make the kind of choice about their children's education that they have a right to make.
Evidence from research over the past decade shows without question that there is enormous variation in the performance of different schools even where they have a similar population from a similar catchment area. Such variations are not acceptable, least of all if it is your child who is attending the low achieving school. Even more important is the assurance that publication of the raw data will be accompanied by publication of the findings of regular inspection. The inspection reports will provide the key to the interpretive information, giving a rounded picture of the school, the efforts of the staff, the ethos and discipline and the quality of the relationship between teachers and pupils in the classroom and in the wider school campus, the data for which the right reverend Prelate asked earlier.
The Bill's proposals about the inspection of schools are, I believe, a major step forward in the improvement of standards and the provision of information to those who need to know. I am convinced that the arrangements will go a long way to ensuring that inspection is effective in terms of quality assurance and the enhancing of standards of teaching and learning within schools. I say that as one who spent 17 years as a member of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, the last six of which were spent as chief inspector.
During that time I also had responsibility for the training of all new HMIs and that meant many hundreds in those years. I am proud of the work of Her Majesty's Inspectorate. I am a loyal admirer and proponent of its methods, the quality of its work and its reports. I believe that the Bill takes the work of the inspectorate forward in a positive way. The powers of Her Majesty's chief inspectors in England and Wales and the inspectors of schools who assist them will be 641 greatly extended by the accreditation of local inspectors, the monitoring of all school inspections which take place, the receipt of every inspection report and the ensuing action plan of the school itself. With the existing structure of Her Majesty's Inspectorate few schools are inspected in full every 20, or even every 10 years—a target that the inspectorate had abandoned before I joined HMI in 1970. The majority of visits to schools do not result in any published report or indeed in very much feedback to the school about standards. With the extension of the chief inspector's powers to register, train and monitor the work of local teams of inspectors around the country, a much higher standard of inspection will be possible with much greater frequency for every school.
As the chief inspector with her or his HMI will be responsible for the training as well as the monitoring of the work of the local inspectors, there should be every opportunity to ensure that their standards are as high as those of the existing HMI today and that HMI's excellent methodology and focus on the experience and attainment of the pupil will be passed on. By those means we can hope that every school will be motivated to maintain its own internal quality controls and that parents as well as the Secretary of State are kept fully informed about the performance of each school.
There have been many comments today on the reduction in the numbers of HMI. I do not propose to enter into the detailed arithmetic because I believe that would be unhelpful. However, I should like to make one comment. Over the 17 years that I spent in Her Majesty's Inspectorate, numbers inevitably grew and shrank, and the work of Her Majesty's Inspectorate grew and shrank to match those numbers. It is always true that one can do more if there are more people. Perhaps HMI could have expanded to 600 and done all the work itself. Nevertheless, many senior members of the inspectorate—indeed, often the senior chief inspector in the 1970s, Sheila Browne herself—commented that the inspectorate might be more efficient if it were smaller. But how we longed to have some impact on the working methods and standards of the local inspectorates in LEAs.
There have also been concerns that the removal of HMI from the Department of Education and Science to become an independent government body may deprive the Secretary of State and his civil servants of the day-to-day advice which HMI currently gives. As the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to continue to be advised by the chief inspector and to receive an annual report summarising the findings of all inspections, I do not see why that needs to be the case.
I believe that it is more important that the inspection of schools should be independent of all providers of education, whether at local or national level. Under the proposed arrangements HMI can maintain its independence from any political influence at any level. As many noble Lords have said, the independence of inspectors is crucial to the effective performance of their duties. That independence must be independence not only from the providers of 642 education but from the professionals within education. Although every inspection team must and will include professionals who are able to make informed judgments about the quality of what they see, a most welcome feature of the Bill is that it provides for lay people who have no connection with the provision of education to be included in the team.
The value of such a person can be inestimable in asking blunt but direct questions about the success of the school's efforts at the point of delivery to the pupil. There is always a danger that professionals will become so entranced by the excellence of the process that they will neglect to ask whether the final product is successful. The external lay person on the team will rightly focus on just that question. For example, as hospital patients, few of us are impressed by the doctor's professional judgment that the operation was successful even though the patient died. Equally, as parents, we are unimpressed with the statement that the organisation, the methodology and the curriculum of the school are excellent, if the children unfortunately learn nothing.
The Bill further ensures that any professional prejudice or preconception that the inspectors may take with them should be tested against consultation with the appropriate stakeholders in the work of the school, parents and others, whose views must be taken into account in their report.
Many reservations have been expressed today about the feature of the proposals which suggests that LEAs and governing bodies of schools should be responsible for securing their own inspection arrangements and for appointing—against tenders—the team who will perform the inspection. Such arrangements will clearly need close monitoring. A great responsibility falls upon Her Majesty's chief inspector to ensure that the process of registering, training and monitoring of inspectors is tight, of high quality and kept under close review. My own knowledge of the ethos and proud history of HM Inspectorate gives me total confidence that that will be the case.
The chief inspector has power to remove from the register any inspector who is found not to be performing adequately in any sense of the word, including any suggestion of bias or cosiness toward those being inspected. I suggest that the process proposed is far more rigorous than, for example, the external examiner system in higher education, where the academics within a department or running a course choose their external examiners and the institution appoints and pays them. That does not mean that the external examiners' reports are not usually professionally tough and appropriately critical, as are the reports of many local inspectors currently. Nevertheless, for those who inspect the schools, the requirement of registration by Her Majesty's chief inspector, the inclusion of an independent team member and the requirement of independent consultation will greatly strengthen that model.
Nor should we overlook the fact that it is the governing body or LEA which will appoint the inspectors—not the head and teachers who work in 643 the school. I reject the suggestion that the head or teachers can somehow influence that decision. Those who appoint will have a real interest and will be under enormous pressure from other parents to receive an unbiased and accurate report about the quality of teaching in their school.
I commend the Bill as one which will ensure that the most important people in education, the pupils, will have their interests represented and safeguarded and therefore their success and performance enhanced.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, with commendable self restraint I shall resist the temptation to buy into the argument about what has been called the privatisation of the inspectorate. My concern is only with the nature of some of the information disclosed to parents. I hope that the thoughts which I shall lay before your Lordships will be regarded as a cross-party issue and not be in contention.
The 1980, 1986 and 1988 education Acts are all about removing direction from above and offering choice to parents. I understand that in the late 1980s Desmond Nuttall, who was then the director of research for the ILEA, was able to say:Parents have taken choice very seriously and research has shown great consistency in what they tend to be looking for: they want order and discipline, academic achievement and proximity".I assume he meant that the school should be near to hand.
As I understand it, this Bill too is about parental choice and about providing a sound basis for choice. It establishes a basis for choice in relation to academic achievement but it does not help parents to know about the other values which are being taught or promoted in the school. Section 1(2) of the 1988 education Act places upon schools the obligation to provide for:the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils".With the exception of Section 14, which deals with denominational education (to which I shall return later), the present Bill provides only for information relating to quality of education and educational standards achieved. I believe that those phrases will be generally interpreted as meaning academic education and academic standards. I do not underrate the importance of academic education and academic standards, but I do not believe that they will be seen as covering the spiritual, moral and cultural values referred to in the 1988 Act. I think that they should do SO.
At this point I shall digress for a moment in order to ask the question: is it right that values should be taught in state schools? It is a question which people ask. It is a valid question. I believe that there are only two routes that one can take. Either one follows the French and the American systems, where it is forbidden by law to teach faith or values in state schools, or one follows the policy which the Government have adopted, which is exciting and with which I agree. It is to take the stopper out of the bottle, to let the genie out and to embrace the rich diversity which results. However, in order for that latter system 644 to work parents must have the information to help them choose the school which will suit their child. We must not have a clandestine, closet transmission of values. Values must be declared.
One objection which may be raised to the suggestion that I am making is the difficulty of defining the word "values". Perhaps I may give your Lordships one example of how that could be done effectively. It is discipline and behaviour, which is one of the aspects which the Secretary of State will undoubtedly require to be reported upon. Perhaps we may imagine three schools. School A has a clearly set out code of discipline, the breach of which is dealt with by a standard scale of punishments. Courtesy and good manners are expected from pupils. School B believes in the value of individuals working out their own social and interpersonal relationships and it gives pupils a wide degree of freedom within the law. School C encourages pupils to respect the rights of others, to treat others as they would be wished to be treated themselves and to develop a caring and self-disciplined community. Noble Lords will see that the three descriptions give a great deal of guidance to parents about the ethos of those three imaginary schools.
Parents also want to know about religious teaching at the school of their choice. In that regard Clause 14 is confusing. It refers to denominational education. I dislike that phrase as much as the right reverend Prelate. Does denominational education include Jewish or Moslem education? Already there are 22 private Moslem schools and 62 LEA schools have a Moslem intake of between 90 and 100 per cent. I am informed that 230 LEA schools have a 75 per cent. Moslem intake. That is good for them but are they included in the Bill? To me that is not clear. Clause 14(2) defines denominational education as meaning:religious education given otherwise than in accordance with an agreed syllabus".Would the noble Baroness be kind enough to clarify whether the provision would include a minority of, say, Moslem pupils who have been withdrawn from the agreed syllabus and who are receiving other religious instruction on the school premises? Would it include a majority group within the school which has successfully applied for "determination" by the relevant standing council for religious education?
I believe that parents and prospective parents have a right to know about the nature and quality of religious education, if any, delivered by each school. I am not suggesting that government or local authorities should interfere. I am simply arguing for informed choice. Parents want to know, and have a right to know, about the spiritual, moral and cultural values and about the kind of interpersonal behaviour and relationships which the school teaches and holds up for adulation. I do not suggest control, only that information should be available to all parents as a matter of course. I shall be introducing amendments to the Bill which I hope will commend themselves to the House.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I must begin with an apology; one which it distresses me to make. I do not normally take part in a debate unless I can be present at its conclusion. It is a discourtesy to the House, and to the Minister replying, to be absent. However, the debate touches so closely on relevant experience that I must take part. I apologise to your Lordships in advance.
I propose to touch only briefly on the now well-trodden battleground of the structure, control and resourcing of the inspectorate. I shall then speak for a few minutes about what the inspectorate will do and why it ought to do it. That "why" is the key to the value of everything in the Bill and in education. The reason why we exercise ourselves about education is to secure the best possible lives for the children whom we educate, and therefore the best possible life for this nation in the years to come. That is the acid test of anything that we propose to do.
When applying that test to the Bill I was in some doubt about whether it would pass. Like many other noble Lords I had formed a high opinion of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools. That had remained unshaken throughout the many years that I have been connected with education as a governor, teacher and chairman of an inquiry. However, I follow the reasoning of my noble friend Lord Renfrew. I see the need to shine the light into the cosier areas covered by local authority inspectorates. I see that the price of doing so may be taking resources from the national inspectorate. The question is whether the change will be worth the probable loss in the product of the national inspectorate that will ensue.
I was doubtful about the matter. I believe that my noble friend's idea of an assessor changes the balance. It is now possible that we may emerge from the Bill in a better situation than that in which we enter it. That depends entirely on what we do with the opportunity provided.
What do we want inspectors for? In applying the acid test, it is to obtain the best possible education, and therefore future, for the children in our schools. In order to do so we need to know what a good school is. Like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, whose speech fell like music on my ears, I accept that a school cannot be judged or described in only academic terms. Academic terms are extremely important. If a school fails in its academic performance it fails its pupils and mars their futures. It deprives them of something to which they ought to be entitled in a society as wealthy and as experienced as ours. But one cannot test a school by that means only.
The reason why I am impertinent enough to join in the debate is that a couple of years ago I chaired an inquiry into discipline in schools. It made recommendations to the then Secretary of State, which were subsequently passed with his approval and authority to every maintained school in England and Wales. I do not say that with a glow of conceit. I say it not because of my experience but because the total in-school experience of my committee was 120 years and because its findings were composed entirely by 646 taking best practice wherever we found it: almost entirely in England and Wales but also in Norway, America and Belgium.
In the light of that I believe that the hallmarks of a good school, other than the academic, are simple and striking. First, the school ought to be part of its community and not an appendix to it. Secondly, it should have a staff both academic and non-academic —and that is so often forgotten —which is a unity pursuing an agreed aim in a whole school policy touching every aspect of the life of the children and the staff.
Your Lordships may be surprised to hear the mention of non-academic staff. I pause to remind the House of their importance. It was nicely illustrated to me when a couple of my colleagues visited a school. They watched the dinner being served. They were interested in the fact that pupils tend to be much more disruptive after the midday break than before. My colleagues wanted to see what happened during the midday break. They witnessed a splendid example of a dinner lady with great, though untutored, skill intervening and escalating into a riot a quiet argument between two children. It could be quelled only by the intervention of the head teacher. All staff are responsible for what goes into the school. They should all take a pride in it.
The academic staff should be mutually supportive: practising what they preach to the children—for example, not shouting as loud as you can that it is rude to make a lot of noise—and treating the children with courtesy and firmness, because one does no service to children by allowing them not to discover where are the parameters of decent behaviour until they have gone beyond them. The academic staff should have a clear arrangement for the pastoral as well as the academic management of the school. That leads back into the community and relationships with the family and parents. The school will have pupils who regard themselves in a real sense as belonging to and owning the school in which they are. When they feel that, they will be the best proselytisers for the moral, ethical, behavioural and academic standards of the school. They will be on its side and not attacking it and wrecking its property and denigrating its objectives.
That does not flow from the environment. We found lousy schools in beautiful leafy suburbs, and we found first class schools in run down, desolate slums. It depends on the dedication of the staff and their perception of what the school is for, and how that can be achieved.
I have a question for the Minister because I cannot see the answer in the Bill. Will the inspectors, however they are to be organised, controlled and paid for, be not only allowed but required to assess and comment on those aspects which we call the ethos of the school; and will they make recommendations about that? Further, will they make recommendations about other aspects of the school, because merely to make comments is negative. I noted the negative phrases which noble Lords used about the inspectorate. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that their function was to root out incompetence and expose something else. She smiles and I have the drift of what 647 she said. But it is also to encourage people to do better, to reinforce good behaviour and to spread excellence by taking their experience from one school to another.
Education is like a river. You must follow it to its source. If you go upstream from the school, you reach the teacher training college. I gained a clear impression in my work with the committee that teacher training colleges do not have a clear idea of the way in which schools should be managed in order to manage the good behaviour of pupils. They claim to give instruction in that, but it is always subliminal and included in something else. We felt that it should be explicit.
If we are to get the schools right, we must get the teachers right. They have had an extremely hard time over the past few years. The new recruits into the profession see it as an enormous challenge. They must be properly equipped to achieve the stature to succeed in that work, and also to retrieve the status of teachers which should be that of one of the great and respected professions.
I notice that Clause 2(4) contains a reference to the possibility that teacher training colleges may be inspected. I welcome that with enormous enthusiasm. I hope that I am right in my interpretation. Perhaps the noble Baroness will clarify that matter when she replies. Will she go further and tell us whether there are any means by which departments of education as well as training colleges may be brought into some form of inspection so that that concept of the good school could be brought throughout the profession to people as they are recruited into it?
I have only one other question which I shall not leave until Committee stage because it is a question of great sensitivity and importance. There is much emphasis in the Bill on the publication of facts and information. However, there is no reference to confidentiality. It is better that some matters are kept confidential, not only in the reports but in the preparation of reports.
I am greatly struck by the extent of bullying in our schools. Initially that cannot be dealt with publicly. It can be when it has been discovered, but one is dealing with frightened children who are so skilled in the concealment of their fear that even their parents may be in ignorance of it. Such children need the protection of confidentiality, as do parents who have doubts about the way in which a school is managed. They may also need protection. It is a privilege to speak on this important occasion. We must get this right.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to parents being an important part of the school community. I very much agree with the early part of his speech describing the whole school community.
I am not a parent. If I were, I wonder how I should react looking at the section on inspection in the Parent's Charter. That has only three lines in black on the current position, commenting that HMIs cannot cover all schools regularly. It does not address the question of frequency. I accept that; but as a parent I 648 should be concerned that apparently so much is wrong. I wonder whether it is right to suggest that so little is correct, and whether the proposals set out, covering most of the page on inspection, are the solution.
I am not a parent, but I am a school governor. I accept that experience by no means rivals the experience of many noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. As a governor of various schools over a period of years at both primary and secondary level, I have come to value greatly the role of the LEAs' inspectors. I should like to say a few words about that.
What I value is that the evaluation of curriculum development and institutional support go hand in hand. A system of inspectors which can link between a number of schools provides in a very real sense relationships between schools and helps the governors work in the context of education as a continuing process through primary, secondary and tertiary sectors.
I fear that a system based on institutional inspection may not so easily take account of the other factors in educational provision; in particular, the continuity of the curriculum through the various phases. The proposed system may give the appearance of greater objectivity in the evaluation of schools, but I do not believe that of itself means raising standards. Regular testing does not necessarily mean development. I am anxious that divorcing evaluation from a commitment to development and support could be counterproductive and could lead to further demoralisation on the part of teaching staff.
As other noble Lords have said, over the past few years teachers have suffered a torrent of change. That was a term used by a head teacher at a meeting which I attended last week. I do not believe that it is original, but it is an extremely vivid description of what has been happening over the past few years. In that torrent of change those on whom the teachers lean very greatly include the LEA inspectors.
I know that many noble Lords and many people working in the education sector believe that the torrent of change must revert to a steady flow with a school continuously evaluating and growing. I wonder whether a four-yearly cycle of inspection will encourage some kind of stop-go process in that development.
I am anxious also about the publication of information as proposed in the Bill and as we believe it may be. I do not oppose the provision of information to parents; quite the contrary. Perhaps there is some irony in my making that point as I come from the borough which was top in the recent testing of seven year-olds. However, it was a system of testing with which we did not necessarily agree. The league tables—and there will be league tables—based on raw data will be uninformative and have a great potential for being divisive.
A letter recently appeared in my local paper, not in fact from teachers within my own LEA. It cogently expressed my own anxieties about the Bill. It came from a group of teaching staff at a primary school. They said, 649The role of the inspectors and the Education Authorities is a vital one, providing much-needed advice and support to Governing Bodies and staff across a wide range of issues, including curriculum development, whole school planning and organisation, and financial management … The Inspectorate play a key role in disseminating good practice and monitoring standards on a regular and ongoing basis, far more frequently than once every few years".They went on to say, with which I wholeheartedly agree,If all this expertise, advice, support and monitoring is lost, then schools will become isolated and insular, teaching standards and practice are likely to become erratic and much of the structural foundation of the education service will be removed".On the question of structural foundation, it is just over three years, at the time of the Education Reform Act, since the then Secretary of State was emphatic about increasing the LEAs' responsibilities for monitoring and evaluation. I wonder whether the Bill is purely about standards. Like my noble friend Lady Seear, I am anxious about the doctrinaire aspects of it and the Government's commitment, certainly as it is read by many, to reducing the role of local authorities in education.
I welcome improvements for schools. I welcome meaningful information for parents. I do not believe that the model proposed takes real account of how schools can be supported in raising their pupils' levels of achievement. I wonder whether the Bill will strengthen the structural foundation of the education service or whether the continued "torrent of change" will attack and weaken that foundation.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, like other noble Lords I congratulate and thank my noble friend Lady Denton for introducing the Bill. Perhaps I can take the opportunity to thank the Leader of the House who arranged for us to have a Minister on the Front Bench with a desk in the Department of Education. We congratulate the noble Baroness on being chosen and thank the Leader of the House for making such a splendid arrangement.
It is with some diffidence that I contribute to this debate. I am not an educationalist and therefore feel that it is somewhat presumptuous of me to speak. But I am worried about the whole position of education in this country. I was recently privileged to speak to three groups of teachers. A group in Devon is known to the noble Lord, Lord Young, and they are a splendid set of teachers. On Saturday last I was privileged to be invited to the conference of the Assistant Masters & Mistresses Association—another splendid set of people. In Glasgow a fortnight ago I visited the most appallingly desolate estate—the Easter House estate. I visited a primary school in the area and was moved by the quality of the teachers. That being so, why is there a malaise in the world of education? Why is it that in Europe education and teachers are held in high esteem? Are they so held in our country?
I am puzzled by the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, with which I agree, concerning the number of children who leave school unable to read or write. As a social worker I come in contact with many such children. I am puzzled also by the 650 number of children who are non-school attenders. Why is that? I have no answers to the questions; I am simply puzzled by them. I congratulate the Government on their attempt to deal with all those problems. But perhaps my noble friend Lady Blatch, when she replies, can give me some answers.
In my time as a Ministry of Health and Home Office inspector I had to work closely with the inspectorate. I found them to be a dedicated, magnificent and skilled set of people. However, as a present governor of two schools, it seems to me that as the inspectorate stands at the moment it lacks numbers. There are too few people to do the work required. To my knowledge one of the two schools of which I am governor has never been inspected in my time there. With regard to the other school, I had to press for an inspection over a long period of time. That cannot be right.
If an inspectorate is to be set up as recommended by the Bill, will it be completely objective? Will the inspectors be completely outside the Department of Education, as is the present inspectorate, and outside the local authorities? It is essential that one has an independent inspectorate. Will the inspectorate take into account the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and my noble friend Lord Elton, not only in regard to the quality of education but also the happiness and spiritual values held in the schools?
Has the new inspectorate been costed? What will be the cost of adding further numbers of inspectors and specialists to meet the needs of children with special educational needs? Will that be cheaper or more expensive? Have the two systems been costed? That is something about which we should be informed.
I turn to the children with special educational needs. Perhaps the Minister can say what is the position of physically and mentally handicapped children under the Education Act, which deals with their educational needs. Clauses 16 and 17 give the Secretary of State powers to collect and publish information concerning school attainments, thus enabling parents to make an informed choice of school for their children. I understand—perhaps I am wrong—that the emphasis will be on examination results. That may mean that some schools will not admit children with special educational needs. Will children who have been statemented, but who have not been offered a service under the statementing system, be admitted to any school? The school may feel that that will bring down its tariff for examination results.
In a number of authorities children have been neither statemented nor assessed. I wonder whether head teachers and governing bodies will be willing to admit those children. It may mean that children with special educational needs will only be admitted to the schools where poorer standards exist. How will the system of assessing schools be introduced? I understand that at the moment children with special educational needs will be assessed as to whether they have made progress. How is that to be shown in a tariff? I am puzzled about that. I shall be very grateful if my noble friend the Minister can reply to those two points.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord Skidelsky
My Lords, I speak as an enthusiastic supporter of the Education Reform Act 1988. I am afraid that I cannot say the same about this Bill which has managed to unite the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in eloquent denunciation of it. Such a Bill must have something wrong about it. I do not know whether any noble Lords have read the brilliant article by Chubb and Moe which was published in the Sunday Times supplement last Sunday. They are two American academics whose work for the Brookings Institute was a milestone in research into American education. Anyone seriously interested in the future of education in this country will need to address their arguments.
Chubb and Moe believe that a population of effective schools depends upon three things: open enrolment, the parents' right to choose schools; something to choose from—in other words, a variety of schools and schooling—and school autonomy, all crucial decisions being made within the school itself. They call that "a choice system". The Government opened up the road to a choice system in this country. As it goes further I hope that it will find ways of making the national curriculum and assessment scheme less of a straitjacket than they now are because otherwise the concept of choice will lose its meaning.
The question I ask is this: what kind of inspectorate is suitable for an evolving choice system? That is something to which the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, alluded. We are going down the road towards a more varied system. What kind of an inspectorate is needed, and what kind of things should it do?
I suggest that there are four functions that we require from an inspectorate. The first is information to parents. Parents need a flow of information to direct them to the schools of their choice, and that the Bill provides. I am always a little surprised when people object to raw data. I believe that raw data is exactly the kind of thing that parents need. For example, when I am looking at a tertiary college for my own son, who is a good historian, I am not interested in value added at this point. If I see that out of an intake of 50 there is one grade A at A-level and another institution has 10 grade As at A-level, am I being completely irrational in believing that the second institution has a better chance of getting my son a grade A at A-level? That is simply raw data. For other purposes one needs all kinds of doctored or managed data, but raw data is an essential element in the exercise of parental choice. I find it surprising that that should be denied.
Equally, I know that this House is well endowed with professional knowledge and expertise, but I still find very odd and surprising the objection to lay people being on inspection teams. Experts do not always know best. As Winston Churchill once said, experts should be on tap, but not on top.
Advice to schools is the second function that one expects from an inspectorate. That is crucial. A national school system is not a true market and cannot be made to run on the analogy of opening up firms and shutting them down. There is the prospect of new foundations opened up by the 1988 Act. I find that 652 very exciting. It could be another 19th century with a wave of new schools. I find that an exciting vista, but it can only happen at the margin. Basically, we have to do the best we can with the existing schools.
Schools need advice to reform themselves, and they may sometimes need instruction. I believe that falling enrolment which is not clearly linked to demographic factors might well become an automatic triggering device to start an inspection or investigation process. That may be quite valuable. I wonder whether there might be some way to insert such a triggering mechanism into Schedule 2 to the Bill which deals with schools at risk.
The third function of an inspectorate should be to provide an annual audit on the state of the school system as a whole. I do not believe that there is very much dispute about that. On the fourth point, I believe that your Lordships have been almost unanimous. In order to perform these functions effectively the inspectorate should be, and should be seen to be, independent of government, LEAs and the schools themselves. In that respect the Bill is silly in the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said. For example, I refer to the independence from government. Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State not only the right to appoint the chief inspector, but also the power to sack him or her at any time on the vague ground of incapacity or misconduct.
Clause 2(5) states that,the Chief Inspector … shall have regard to such aspects of government policy as the Secretary of State may direct".These two provisions do not secure the independence of the chief inspector or the inspectorate; they undermine it. Surely it would be better to have an inspectorate that was independent of government and something more like a public agency and not part of the Civil Service. The Bill does not provide that which I believe to be its main purpose—adequate independence of the inspectorate from local authorities.
Clause 15 empowers any LEA to provide an inspection service for schools in its own area. I believe that that gives the local authority the dominant position in inspection. The more locally-based the inspection team is the lower the costs one would expect it to charge. I do not for one moment believe in the nightmare of the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, of hundreds of new private companies of fascists and communists springing up to exploit the schools, either for profit or propaganda. I do not believe that that will happen.
I cannot really convince myself that there are any adequate financial incentives for anyone to go into the inspection business as a private company. Therefore, I anticipate that the vast majority of the contracts to inspect will go to local authority inspection teams. It may well be that the matter about which your Lordships have been so upset and which I also find to be indefensible in principle, may turn out to be much more of a mouse than a mountain and that nothing very much will have changed.
Nonetheless, I completely accept the principle enunciated by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that the regulators cannot be allowed to be clients of 653 the providers. It is not a good defence of a bad principle to say that in practice most of the inspections will probably be done by the same people as before. Therefore, I beg the Government to reconsider their position.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Baroness Cumberlege
My Lords, as the 21st speaker in this debate and having reached the age of discretion a good many years ago, I interpret discretion at this hour to mean brevity. I intend to be very brief. I wish to comment first on the second part of the Bill, which concerns the information which must be published to parents and others. Like the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, I very much welcome that aspect of the Bill. But other noble Lords during the course of this debate have expressed reservations about the crude nature of the information required to be published and the fact that league tables ignore vital factors such as the social origins of pupils. But in my experience league tables concentrate the mind wonderfully. They give policy makers the opportunity and the ammunition to ask the awkward question. Frequently, I know, the answer is prefaced by the words, "Ah, but"—"Ah, but we have a catchment area unlike any other"—"Ah, but you are not comparing like with like" —and so on. But I do not think that that matters because what it does is give the lay person an entree into areas which need probing and it puts teachers and others on their mettle, appropriately calling them to account. Their answers have to be convincing, they have to stand up to cross-examination and they have to be credible.
I was interested, however, to learn from my noble friend Lady Denton of Wakefield, in her excellent introduction to the Bill, of the Audit Commission's "value added" approach, which would refine, define and make the information more meaningful. But whatever sophistication is introduced in the future —and I am sure that there will be room for improvement—I do hope that the waters will not be muddied and the clarity lost because I think that is important for lay people.
However, primary concern is with the first part of the Bill, which deals with arrangements for school inspections. It echoes the point made by my noble friend Lord Beloff and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. As I understand the new arrangements, they would require the repeal of Section 77(3) of the Education Act 1944, which gives local education authorities the explicit right to inspect their own schools. If this is correct, it follows that local education authorities will not have an indisputable right of entry, even when they consider that they need access to the school in order to carry out their statutory duty under the education Acts. Instead, they will have to turn to the courts for a decision, or seek the intervention of the Secretary of State under Section 68 of the 1944 Act. If I may, I suggest that this would be profoundly unsatisfactory. Local authorities will be deprived of the automatic right to assess how their responsibilities are being discharged, or otherwise, by contracted third parties.
654 Without the power to inspect schools, or even an automatic right of entry, local education authorities will not be able to gather the information they need to allow them to plan and budget for education in their areas. Nor will they be able to monitor the implementation of the national curriculum as required by the Education Reform Act.
As I understand the Bill the money to fund inspections will be transferred from local education authorities to individual school governing bodies, which I think is sensible as it is they who will be required to commission the inspections every four years. But care will need to be taken to ensure the transfer of resources does not have a damaging effect on LEAs' advisory services which could inhibit their current levels of training and support for teachers, for this in turn could have a serious impact on the implementation of the national curriculum.
My fear is that, if the Bill is enacted in its present form, local authorities will be in the extraordinary situation of being required by law to provide a service over which they have no quality control. With the strong and welcomed emphasis on quality and accountability by this Government, I cannot believe that it is the intention to restrict both. To this extent I very much look forward to hearing the Minister's response to this point.
In general I should like to add my support for the intentions of this Bill and its attempt to raise the standards of schools to those of the highest. Like my noble friend Lady Young, I welcome the strengthening of the influence of school governors and the impact it will make on empowering parents. I do, however, have some reservations as to the details of the Bill and I look forward to having those resolved during the passage of the Bill.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, as the 22nd speaker, I hope that I have not yet reached the age of discretion except in one respect: I hope that I shall be able to discipline myself to detain your Lordships for a very short period of time. I do, perhaps surprisingly from this side of the House, see some merit in the Bill. Naturally, parents have a right to information, and much more information than they have customarily received. If it were the case that this Bill were to give parents more useful information, then the Bill would have considerable merit.
I also like the proposal concerning lay members of inspection teams. However, I only wish that the Government had gone much further with that. I should have thought that within the existing structure of the HMIs and the local authority inspectorate it would have been possible to bring in lay people and train them. They could have been particularly useful if they had been parents as well as ordinary lay people. By that means the number of inspectors could have been increased, but within the existing structure rather than in part destroying that structure, which I fear will be the effect of the Bill if it becomes law.
The purpose of the Bill may be admirable but not so the means. Information for consumers is not of much value at all if it is low grade information. I spent 655 a good part of my life, as the founding chairman of the Consumers' Association—now I am the president— and the founding chairman of the National Consumer Council, in trying to improve the quality of information available to consumers. It is hard graft. But unless that information is of good quality it can be worse than useless. Which? magazine has only achieved the reputation it has—getting on for 1 million subscribers and a much larger readership than that —because it is recognised that it contains reliable information.
I do not believe that the inspection teams of the kind proposed will produce reliable information. In fact I think that the Bill breaks three of the fundamental rules or requirements for the provision of good quality information for consumers. The first requirement is that information should be reliable. But we have heard many times from many people that in place of HMIs, LEA inspectors and advisors, we are to have predominantly lay teams; that is, teams consisting of amateurs, who are useful in their place but certainly not if they dominate the inspection. No one in their senses, whether or not they have heard the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, speak, would expect that the reports coming from those sources would contain the kind of information that people would be able to rely on. Surely what is only too likely to happen if it is ever enforced is that consumers—that is, parents and children—will know perfectly well that the reports have come from people with very little expertise about education and, for that reason alone, do not warrant very great concern.
On top of that, we have, as has been said by many other speakers, the fact that schools will be able to choose their own teams of inspectors, and will almost certainly tend to choose teams which will give them very good results. It seems to me that the result is probably going to be much like Gresham's law—bad currency drives out good—and that this law could apply to school inspections. In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Walton, argued very trenchantly earlier on, we may think that there is to be a new law which we might call "Walton's Law of School Inspection" —that is that bad inspectors will drive out good where the inspected choose their own inspectors. If that does not happen I shall be very surprised. Many noble Lords will be equally surprised.
The second requirement of useful information is that it should make comparisons possible. However, I do not see how the new inspection teams will add anything that will make comparisons more possible for parents than at present. The proposal could make comparisons less easy to make because the standards used to judge different schools will be different according to the inspection teams that are applying them. The Government's proposal seems to go right against the principle of national consistency that was behind the national curriculum. Two schools next to each other could be judged in largely different ways by different inspection teams—not on all criteria but on some of the most important quality criteria—because the members of the teams are different and do not belong to a common service where experience can be exchanged between its members.
656 The third requirement is that information gained from inspection should be followed up and that something should happen when weaknesses are revealed. The value of LEA inspections is that if things are found to be seriously wrong the LEA is in a position to act. The value of HMI inspections is likewise that they can use their influence, at any rate on occasions, to secure changes where they have found changes to be necessary. When their contact with schools makes it clear that government policy needs to change they can push for that also. It is not clear that with the new inspection system there will be any decent follow-up to the inspections that are carried out. Inspectors will not themselves be responsible for acting on the results of their own work. That is a serious handicap. Since the Bill breaks three fundamental rules about consumer information, it is so deeply flawed that it needs amendment in depth.
§ 7.41 p.m.
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley
My Lords, I approach this Bill with a mixture of weariness, puzzlement and dismay; weariness, at the continuation of a long line of educational legislation from a government who are never less than active—hyperactive even—but who so often seem to miss the mark; puzzlement. at many of the features of the Bill, puzzlement which, I am sorry to say, was not wholly banished by the exposition of the noble Baroness the Minister; and dismay, at the attitude displayed by the Government in introducing the Bill, which I shall refer to at the end. And when I think of the thousands of people working their hearts out in the education service under adverse conditions —people whom until very recently I worked alongside, first, as a teacher and then as a local government education officer—something a hit stronger than dismay creeps in from time to time.
It is not that I am arguing that the aims of the Bill are wholly wrong. But the first of a series of questions it gives rise to is: why are the basic assumptions made that are made in this Bill; and why has there been so little debate on them? To slash the inspectorate by two-thirds and to set up a massive and intensive inspection system of a different kind are major changes indeed. Yet consultation, as so often, has been minimal, and the DES review on which these changes are based has never been published. Why is this? Surely it is understood that the best results are gained by involving early in any changes those who are going to have to operate them eventually.
Quality control is important; not as important as getting the right thing in place to begin with, as witness the present move to cut back on GCSE course work for the sole reason that it cannot easily be measured, but it is important. What is not self-evident—here I differ from my noble friend Lord Walton—is that a heavy, formal inspection programme is the best or the most cost-effective way of delivering it. It may be; but equally, it may not be. There are other models. This is the authoritarian one, and it will send corresponding signals to teachers in schools who can spot a hidden curriculum at 100 paces. I should like to quote what a chief education officer of my acquaintance wrote some three years ago: 657Experience tells me that the methods and purposes of assessment, whether of individuals or institutions, can sometimes have a beneficial effect on performance, can sometimes have no effect at all and can sometimes have a negative effect. My hunch is that assessment is more likely to have positive effects on long term performance where the subject of the assessment has substantial responsibility in the review, evaluation and reporting process. Conversely the greater the external component then the less the good effect on development and growth".It is a worrying thought that, in the absence of full debate and sound evidence, we may be embarking on an elaborate scheme which is not very effective, and which takes money—because there is no new money here—from other duties that need to be done at local level.
What of the reduction in size of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, not recommended in the DES review? What are the assumptions here? Will the many other jobs that HMI does, as we have heard this evening, from advising on opting out bids and reorganisations to assessing the state of language teaching countrywide, simply not be done? Why throw away such a unique fund of professional knowledge and expertise? In the absence of good argument this looks like vandalism.
Will the inspectorate retain its independence? What does it mean, in Clause 2(5), that the chief inspector must have regard to government policy? Does his or her general duty under Clause 2(1) to advise whether resources are efficiently managed by schools extend to advising whether there are enough of them—or is that aspect of government policy taboo?
The oddest part of the Bill, of course, is the provision that schools should choose their inspectors by competitive tender. Let us have radical ideas by all means, but let us not have dottiness. It is the market-place run mad. How can you have true impartiality under a set-up like that? The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was perfectly accurate in correcting the Minister's view of governors. They are not at arm's length. They are usually fiercely patriotic in the cause of their schools. How can you have comparability across schools and LEAs and the build-up of a reliable national picture which has been a hallmark of HMI? If the Government are serious about raising standards and inspiring confidence in them, they must surely think again on this.
Then we have the proposal that LEAs shall no longer have a right to inspect their own schools. What on earth is this about? Ostensibly it is to stop them piling inspections on top of inspections provided for in the Bill, as though any educationalist of experience would dream of such a thing. This is so out of proportion, and so remote from reality, as to be an insult to the profession, quite apart from its harmful consequences. I sincerely hope that it will not survive your Lordships' scrutiny at a later stage.
Finally, there is the clause on information about schools. One of the good things about the past dozen years has been the greater flow of information to the consumer—that awful word. Educationalists, like doctors and others, were not as good as they should have been over their facts and figures. But there is a point with figures beyond which you do need help to 658 interpret. Mere common sense, as invoked by Mr. Fallon, will not do, and to talk of "cooking the books", in trying to render exam results intelligible, is absurd.A comparison based on raw data is invalid".That is a quotation from the medical journal, The Lancet. Mr. Fallon's colleagues have no problem with "cooking" the unemployment figures—this point has already been made—to take account of seasonal variations and the inflation figures too.
If, in consequence of ministerial pronouncements on Clause 16, we are to see only the raw data of schools' exam results, then not even the best trained eye will spot for sure whether school A in the Surrey suburbs is coasting on its high ability intake—and if it is, by how much—and none of us will be any the wiser whether school B does well by its low ability children but fails its brightest, or the other way round. There are techniques of analysis—my noble friend Lord Walton dwelt on this point—and of showing added value which are crucial to an understanding of what schools are achieving. I was to some extent reassured by the Minister's recognition of that, although I could not accept all her arguments.
It is doubtful whether either of the major measures in this Bill—the frequent formal inspections under a reduced central inspectorate and the provision of information about schools—will, as they are envisaged at present, yield the precise answers which parents would like. However, beyond that there are two strands which I find deeply disturbing, the more so for being visible in much of the Government's legislation on schools.
The first is a bureaucratization—and we had this very much in the Education Reform Act—a huge increase in systems procedures and paper work generally, to which I remember drawing attention in the early stages of that reform Bill in your Lordships' House. We shall now have an inspection industry, with all the infrastructure and administration that that entails. I believe that we should be chary of introducing anything more that takes educationists' energies away from children, unless we are quite certain that the benefits in the classroom will be unmistakable.
The second strand is an unattractive one. It is a frank anti-professionalism, and it shows itself in ministerial pronouncements and actions as well as in legislation. As we have heard there was, as so often, virtually no consultation with the profession over this Bill. Protests are dismissed with little argument, as the outpourings of special interest groups. A national core of expertise is jettisoned at a stroke. The local experts, and they are experts, are forbidden to inspect their schools. The big-stick model of quality control is chosen without argument. Provision is written in for inspection teams to include people with no direct experience of education (which is fine). Here I differ from other noble Lords. I think that that is a good provision. But there is no corresponding provision for people who do have that experience. These things all give messages to a a hard-pressed profession, and they are the wrong messages.
659 When I went recently to see a Minister at the Department of Health, he said quite firmly that it was not the Government's business to tell doctors how to do their job. But the Secretary of State for Education tells teachers nowadays how to train, how to test, what to teach and even how to teach. One has to remind oneself, in the face of this constant deprofessionalising, that the so-called trendy 1960s to 1980s saw a steady improvement in school attainment, however measured, and that the myth of plummeting standards has been firmly put in its place, for those who want to read the evidence, not least by the retiring senior chief inspector in his annual report last year.
Sadly, however, there are people in the press and in politics whose book it suits to talk down our achievements and to emphasise the bad. And so we get a stream of legislation designed to do something about education. And so we get a Bill like the present one which, while not wholly bad in intention, rushes to an ill-argued conclusion and, at the expense of another great upheaval, promises to do nothing very much for our schools, while throwing out a number of important babies with the bath water. My Lords, I think that our education service deserves better than this.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, noble Lords will be relieved to hear that much of what I intended to say has already been said, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and my noble friend Lord Elton. Therefore, I shall speak very briefly. I am happy to do so in support of the Bill. I believe that the Bill is to be welcomed. It proposes to open up and let some fresh air and light into two of the secret gardens of our state system of education; namely, Her Majesty's Inspectorate and local education authority advisers and inspectors.
It must be pretty obvious to most people by now that our publicly funded education system has failed and is continuing to fail too many of the children who are forced to attend it. Much of the blame for that tragic state of affairs must fall on local education authorities and on Her Majesty's Inspectorate. I am afraid that it is now clear that governments of both parties placed far too much trust in those bodies for many years, until, I would estimate, about 15 months ago.
I shall give your Lordships one example. It is now clear that the trendy child-centred methods of teaching children to read often failed to do so. Yet those methods have been encouraged for years by local education authorities and by Her Majesty's inspectors upon whose expert and professional opinion we were supposed to be able to rely. I am afraid that it comes down to this:By their fruits ye shall know them.We now know that the experts were wrong. That has been very damaging for generations of our young children. The Bill will do much to let common sense and parental interest decide what is best for our children within the framework of the national curriculum. I am sure that that is very much in our children's interest.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Lord Kirkhill
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, who spoke earlier, I shall confine my remarks to Clause 17 of the Bill which relates to the Scottish position. In fact the clause adds a number of sections to the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 after Section 28H. But, contained within the clause, not quite as a totality but very much a significant percentage of its detail, is a huge swathe of enabling legislation. I do not think that we should make reference to the clause in your Lordships' House without emphasising that very important point.
As other noble Lords referring to other Bills in this House have frequently said, and as I now reiterate, there is a considerable objection to the whole principle of the increase of enabling legislation which is taking place. It gives the Secretary of State for Scotland unwarrantedly wide powers in the future to make provisions without further reference to Parliament, with the consequent diminution of the democratic process. In my view, at any rate, the democratic process today is very much under threat because of the alarming increase of executive government.
Having said that, I believe that I should point out that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, in making reference as I have just done to the issue of enabling legislation, says:Clause 17 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring information to be made available to himself and to 'prescribed persons' or information on specific `areas' or on different 'cases or classes of case'. In effect the Secretary of State can decide what information is to be provided, by whom and in what form. He is also able to vary his demands depending on the education authority. The role of central government should be to establish legislation which imposes requirements on local authorities and establishes a clear framework for the implementation of these requirements".That has been the traditional position.Clause 17 does not provide this as it merely allows the Secretary of State to introduce arrangements which suit his particular objective at that time".I mentioned that point a moment ago and I should like to stress that what worries many people in Scotland is that the clause should be tacked on to a Bill which applies to England and Wales. I should say this: it would not have happened in my time as a Scottish Minister. However, that is another story because I am probably a nastier person. What also worries many people very seriously in Scotland is the publication of the information as it will pertain to schools.
On one view, and taking a benign view, the information published will probably be wholly unexceptional. But if one were to take a malign view —and there are Secretaries of State who are not men of the most ultimate principle—there is an area of abuse which is possible because personal information about pupils, their families, their backgrounds, and so on, will be within his power.
Again, CoSLA tells me that proposed Section 28J(1) requires the information to be given to prescribed persons. There is no definition of those prescribed persons. One must assume that they could include not just parents but the police, social work departments, the RSPCC, and any other body that the 661 then Secretary of State might decide to include, without any further reference to the democratic process in your Lordships' House or the other place. That is the kind of legislation we are being asked to pass. I merely point that out so that your Lordships can bear it in mind when voting.
I want to outline one or two areas where amendments will be tabled in Committee with regard to Scotland. I consider proposed Section 28I(b) (i) to be too wide. It requires clarification and definition. It is essential that some reference is made to the nature of information involved and to its relevance. The proposed Section 28I(4) is again vague and provides wide powers. It is not clear who would provide the information required under that clause. It will require amending. Subsection (6) (b) is vague. It gives the Secretary of State power to cause information to be published in any form he wishes. I have touched upon that matter. There is no restriction on the nature of the information. It could include the circumstances that I have already outlined, and it requires amendment.
The proposed Section 28I(7) requires clarification. It is not clear whether the Secretary of State is taking power to release different information in different geographical or social areas. I have outlined the possible areas for amendment in Committee. I reiterate my anxiety, which I hope I have expressed with some clarity, about the vast increase in enabling legislation which is coming before us today. In more general terms, although I do not intend to speak on the English and Welsh clauses, I deplore the whole concept of the Bill.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Lord Rennell
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Denton of Wakefield for explaining the Bill to us with such good common sense. I should tell you that I was not educated at a state school but that I do have four children between the ages of two and 14. Whereas I am not sure that how I was educated is necessarily today's way forward, I am certain that your Lordships will agree that the options available to all parents are matters of major interest.
I welcome the Bill. Its implementation will help three important groups of people—parents, children and teachers. The Bill relates to the provision of information about the performance of schools. It is designed to provide parents with up-to-date facts and figures on every school in the country. At present parents do not have enough information to enable them to make the most important decision of their lives: selecting the right school for their children. Some parents feel it important enough to move to another area in their quest to provide their children with the best education; but the assessment of where and which school is best for their child's needs, can be made only when all the data are publicly and comprehensively available.
The Prime Minister's Parent's Charter, with its pledge to require all schools and colleges to publish examination results in local newspapers, to produce league tables of examination results and truancy rates 662 and the destination of school-leavers, will provide parents with the information they so badly need to make the right choice.
I welcome the plan of the Secretary of State for Education to award charter marks to deserving schools; that is to say, those which combat truancy and maintain a high level of contact with parents, and which do well in local and national inspections. The Bill will bring pride to the schoolroom. For too many years, the status of the teaching profession has waned. I am sure that when their dedication and skills are recorded for all to see, teachers will once again become one of the most respected sections of society.
Providing correct information for parents will depend upon the high standard of the proposed new inspectorate which will be allocated £75 million a year to carry out local and national inspections. For the moment, we must have faith in the successful training of the inspectors and the subsequent integrity of their reporting.
I hope that that will prevent what has occurred and been reported by the headmaster of a major comprehensive school in the Midlands. The local council inspectors, who should have been making annual visits, often failed to turn up to assess its 117 teachers and their methods. The school has become grant-maintained and now voluntarily pays £30,000 a year—less than 1 per cent. of its budget—to hire independent inspectors, on contract, from a nearby county council. I am sure that it will not surprise your Lordships to learn that the morale of the teachers in that school who performed well and received a pat on the back from the new inspectors, has soared.
I have omitted until now the most important people in the debate—the children. Improving the quality of schools inspectors and teachers, and spending more money on schools, are all important. But nothing is more important than encouragement from the family. If parents are too busy or are unaware of the need to show interest, the child will suffer. It is a reflection on people in this country that many pupils from the ethnic minorities, especially recently arrived immigrants, appear to fare far better in some examinations than our own pupils. The parents of those immigrant pupils look upon education as a valued privilege. We at home too often view it as a chore—a way perhaps of getting rid of the children for six hours a day.
With the Bill and the Parent's Charter, the Government are stepping out in the right direction to improve standards in our schools. However, until we change the nation's attitude to education, progress will be slow. I should like to suggest a way to change that attitude. Many of your Lordships have children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. I have no doubt that many noble Lords, like me, have learnt that the secret of keeping them quiet on a Saturday morning is to switch on the television and to let them watch cartoons, "pop" interviews, and so forth. What they probably enjoy most is the advertisements. Why do we not advertise on television and tell children, and their parents, about the joys of school and the benefits of an education? It would be compulsive viewing. We know that youngsters are influenced by television advertising. Why do we not use their favourite medium to 663 extol the virtues of learning? Spreading the message of the joys of schools could improve the future lives of 20 million children.
With good will on the part of teachers and local education authorities, with sound guidelines on the criteria for the selection and training of inspectors, with efficiency, diplomacy and integrity shown by the inspectors, the Bill will revolutionise morale and efficiency in schools. It will raise standards and it will give parents the confidence to make the right choice of school for their children.
In 1944 Bernard Shaw, who had been a day boy at school in Ireland, said in a chapter of a book headed "School Made Monsters":I hated school and learnt there nothing of what it professed to teach, when I escaped from it and at the age of 15 I was condemned to five years in another sort of prison called an office … I knew at the end of my sentence much more of the world than a university graduate from Eton plus Oxford or Harrow plus Cambridge".At that time, Shaw was of the opinion that the old Etonian system must die a natural death. He knew that schools were going to change, but he admitted that the new system was beyond his powers of planning.
I believe that with the Parent's Charter, together with the new determination for excellence, the new system is on its way. It is up to us to make the system work.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I too wish to start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, on her debut on the Front Bench. She gave a clear and forthright exposition of, regrettably, an unsatisfactory Bill. Whether that will endear her to the powers that be, I do not know, but I found her speech most helpful.
All the good points have been made most powerfully by my noble friend Lady Blackstone and other noble Lords. All I can do is to underline a few of the most significant criticisms and to utter a few words on resources and the economic viability of the proposals.
What I find most puzzling is the Government's inability to explain why these changes are needed. Is it the Government's view that HMI has failed the schools and that our troubles in education are due to it? If that is so, can we be given the details? Does the Secretary of State believe that the inspectorate has let him down in its advisory role? Again, if that is so, I ask for more and better particulars.
At the local level also, an explanation is called for. I am aware of the criticism made by the Audit Commission, but that criticism leads for a case for reform, as explained by my noble friend, not the destruction brought by the Bill. I ask again: are local inspectors to blame for the problems in maintained schools? Is that what the Government believe? For that matter are they not also to be praised for the great successes in such schools which characterise most schools?
On the positive side, I have to ask: what are the benefits of the privatisation of the inspectorate? What can the commercialised inspectorate do that cannot be 664 done under the existing arrangements? Is it expected to be cheaper? If so, what are the grounds for believing that?
As I understand it, the DES has suggested that the new system will cost £70 million per annum, which will be paid for out of money currently spent by local education authorities on inspection and advice. Again, I ask: how does the DES reach that figure, especially as officials of the department suggest that costs will be contained by market forces? What I know about market forces is that one cannot predict what they will do, that is their whole point. However, that is by the way.
I ask the DES: has it simply and arbitrarily divided by two the £135 million that the local education authorities are spending? Two is about the easiest number we can divide by. Did it then come up with the £70 million? Or will we be offered more sophisticated calculations?
On market forces, presumably the Department of Education and Science expects that many enterprises will enter the inspection field. They will compete with each other. For that to happen, the business of inspection—and my noble friend Lord Glenamara is right to emphasise the word "business" because that is what it is about—must be profitable. It must therefore meet all the costs but it must also include the profit margin to pay for both the costs of the capital involved and the heavy risk involved. To save money, the private enterprise inspectorate must be tempted to cut corners.
In this connection, may I offer my own attempt at a calculation? We are told that there will be 6,000 inspections per year. It has been suggested that the registered inspector and his team will typically carry out 10 per annum. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, suggested 10. That means we need 600 inspectors. Even I can calculate that. The individual inspector will therefore carry out one inspection a month.
The Government have said that the cost will be £70 million per annum. If we divide that by 6,000, we reach approximately £12,000. In other words we are given the average cost of an inspection at £12,000. If there are 10 inspections per annum, we can work out that the gross revenue to the inspector and his team will be £120,000 per annum. That shows how much progress one can make with a little useful information. The gross revenue is £120,000 per annum for the team. The trained inspector needs premises, back-up staff, secretaries, equipment, and travel costs and subsistence will have to be paid. From my experience of running all kinds of operations, I cannot see that that will cost less than half the £120,000, and that is a conservative estimate. So we subtract £60,000 from £120,000 and end up with £60,000 available to pay the salaries of the inspector and the team, with a suitable margin for profit.
I am not certain—perhaps we shall be told—but incidentally I assume that VAT will be payable on this enterprise. From my knowledge there is no way it can avoid paying VAT. However, perhaps the Finance Act will be abolished.
665 What I have demonstrated, it seems to me, is that the figures simply do not add up. Therefore there are only these possibilities: either no profit is available, in which case there will be no enterprise and it will not happen; or, to reiterate my point, the inspectors will cut corners and try to do many more inspections than 10 per annum. They will try to rush through them and earn, in American parlance, a quick buck.
Having put that into perspective—and I offer it as my opening professorial contribution—I look to the DES officials to attempt something better. Notice that I offer that for free. Since the commercial inspectorate needs the business, it must satisfy its customers. Again, that is the nature of the market mechanism: one must satisfy one's customers in competitive conditions.
What do the customers want? They want a clean bill of health. They do not want a critical, objective report at all. They want the inspectorate to come in and they want a tick at the end. I therefore ask: how is the objectivity of the inspectorate to be maintained? Others have also asked that.
I am aware that we shall look more carefully at certain parts of the Bill in Committee, particularly Clause 11(2) (d), which states:he has knowingly or recklessly produced a report of an inspection which is, when taken as a whole, seriously misleading".That seems to me to raise more questions than it answers. I should be interested to know the legal status in education law of "seriously misleading".
We have been told that Her Majesty's Inspectorate will monitor standards and arrange for the training and the setting of training standards of inspectors. I hope the Minister will clarify the next matter I wish to refer to. I believe that, essentially, HMI will now consist of inspectors of inspectors. They will largely cease to be inspectors of schools. I believe that is what the Bill seeks to do. The Bill uses such expressions as, "keeping under review the system of inspecting schools and promoting efficiency in the conduct and reporting of inspection of schools by encouraging competition in the provision of service by registered inspectors". If the model we are being offered is that of the chief inspector as a regulator, by all our normal standards of regulation his powers are distinctly limited.
I hope the noble Baroness will be able to clarify a specific matter for me. I draw the attention of noble Lords to the duties of a registered inspector concerning an inspection. Clause 9(4) (c) states that one of the duties of a registered inspector is to report on,whether the financial resources made available to the school are managed efficiently".I have no objection to that provision, but why does the clause not also take account of whether the financial resources that are made available to the school are sufficient for its purposes? Are we to interpret what is written in the Bill to mean that, if an inspector in making a report said the problem with the school was that it simply did not have enough resources, he or she 666 would be told that he was acting ultra vires? That is an important matter and we shall table amendments on it in Committee.
We all believe in the provision of information. That is not what is between us as regards this Bill. However, the Government propose to publish figures which are meaningless because they have convinced themselves that it is difficult to publish figures that are meaningful. I should have thought that the DES had one responsibility above any other, which is to maintain a high standard of logical analysis. If it is impossible to publish figures that make sense, why publish them at all? The annoying point here is that it is possible to publish figures in a proper context which elucidate the concept of "value added". It just happens to be harder and a good deal more expensive to do so. However, it can be done. I, my noble friends, and, I hope, other noble Lords will strongly object to the publication of figures that are not worth publishing.
We must ask how the crude figures will be interpreted. If school A has low truancy rates and a high success rate in GCSE and A-levels while school B has not, will parents then decide that is not relevant information because it is not interpretable? Will they decide they need to know a great deal more about a school before coming to a conclusion? My own view is that that is not remotely likely to occur. School A will be praised and school B will be denigrated.
In that connection, I suggest that the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on the powers of parents were particularly far-fetched. She claimed that parents could interpret crude data in ways that professional social scientists have found to be totally impossible. Noble Lords may wish to engage in one of their happier activities of attacking professionals and I suggest that we wait until the Committee stage to discover what may happen in that regard. I have to say, however, that I do not accept the view put forward by the noble Baroness.
The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, asked whether, if one school had achieved a much higher success rate at A-level than another, he was completely irrational in considering prima facie that the school with the high success rate was the better school. In all friendliness I must tell the noble Lord that he is certainly irrational. There is no reason to believe that simply because one school has achieved a much higher success rate at A-level than another that school is suitable for one's own child or any other child. One needs to know a good deal more about why the school in question has achieved such a high success rate. Any decent parent would need to know such information when deciding whether a school was suitable for his child. That takes me back to my point that what one wants is relevant information and not just any old information.
I have a further point on information. Again I am wearing my professional hat in making this point. The information that is provided must be relevant to the questions one wishes to ask. If I am trying to decide where to send my child to be educated—that assumes I have some choice within the state system—there is certain information that will be relevant to that. But if I want to know how well a school is doing from the point of view of government or from the point of view 667 of a local authority in the circumstances in which it finds itself, I shall want to obtain quite different information. The notion that all and any information is relevant to all questions is simply incorrect. That point leads me to the problem of whether we believe we live in a world where the overwhelming majority of parents can do much in terms of interpreting information unaided. I shall not dwell on that matter tonight.
I wish to discuss the matter of the lay person in the inspection teams. I have agonised over this matter. I must admit that my natural bias is to be in favour of the lay person. In general I favour lay representation. However, I am not convinced that in this case the lay person is an important figure. My noble friend Lady Blackstone may think differently about that matter. Perhaps I did not listen attentively enough to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, when he said he favoured the lay person on the teams. In Committee he will no doubt expand on that point. If it were a matter of inspecting medical schools—I believe the noble Lord was discussing that—would the noble Lord really include in his team of inspection people who had no knowledge of medicine, medical education or, for that matter, education? If I were a professor of medicine, I should not find such a person terribly helpful. Perhaps the noble Lord will comment further on the matter in Committee. My general view on the lay person in this case is fairly brutal. I suppose that, as a teacher myself, I have simply never really appreciated ignorance.
I hope I may discuss the advice given by HMI to the Secretary of State. Many years ago I was the adviser to a Secretary of State in the Department of Education and Science. Indeed the right honourable gentleman will be joining your Lordships' House tomorrow and no doubt will sit on the Government side. He will recall that I was his adviser. My advice was theoretical and typically professorial. The senior officials also gave advice. They knew a great deal about policy and they were helpful in their way. However, HMI was the only body which was represented at the meetings I attended which knew anything about the real world. That was the only body which knew about what happened in schools.
The job of HMI—its members carried out that job admirably —was to throw cold water on many of the schemes the rest of us suggested, as those schemes were not based on proper experience. The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, can confirm that that was the case. We were undoubtedly saved by HMI from many of the bad mistakes we were inclined to make. Whatever the formal legal position of Her Majesty's chief inspector—I am not sure whether that position is different to that of civil servants or whether it is even right to call Her Majesty's chief inspector a civil servant —in my day Her Majesty's chief inspector showed an independence of spirit and of courage in telling the Secretary of State and the rest of us not what we wanted to know but rather what we needed to know. That is why I am so disturbed by Clause 2(5) of this Bill. Either that subsection is a triviality, and as such should not be in the Bill, or it carries new weight, 668 in which case it seriously circumscribes the power and limits the independence of Her Majesty's chief inspector.
We are enjoined not to wreck a Government Bill, especially one that has been passed in another place. That occurred despite the fact that, so far as I know, the Bill had no place in the Conservative Party's manifesto and despite the fact that, in panic, the guillotine was used in another place only last week or the week before. A limitation was placed on the official Opposition's ability to examine the Bill on many important matters. We must not wreck the Bill. However, we are certainly obliged to subject it to the most detailed scrutiny. We shall do that but I must confess to being deeply depressed at the prospect.
The problem is the one referred to by my noble friend Lady Blackstone, the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, and others: the Bill is nonsensical, or, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, put it in more restrained terms, it is hare-brained. We can counter the nonsense with good sense but how can we amend rubbish and still not leave it as rubbish unless we break our rules and wreck the Bill, which we would not dream of doing?
There is one hope, to which the noble Lord. Lord Beloff, alluded. It is possible, though only remotely, that the Government will listen to our arguments and, rather than wishing to go down in history as ignoramuses and educational vandals, will withdraw the Bill. I hope that they will do so. Otherwise, as my noble friend Lady Blackstone said, we in this party will repeal the Bill if it becomes an Act immediately on taking power.
§ 8.30 p.m.
My Lords, I wish to join all those who have congratulated my noble friend on her debut with a Bill in this House. She gave a tremendous performance. We all look forward to hearing much more from her in her place. I cannot possibly do justice to the debate. I shall try to do so, and if noble Lords will bear with me, I shall do so at my usual indecent pace.
I begin by referring to remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in relation to the use of the guillotine in another place. There has been reference to the use of a timetable Motion to secure the passage of the Bill in another place. Let me make the position clear. The Bill was fully debated in Standing Committee without any need for timetabling. Indeed, the final session which we had allocated for Committee discussion was not used. The Bill had 36½ hours of Committee debate. It was only at Report stage that the Opposition adopted tactics which required us to move a timetable Motion. The result of that Motion was to secure two full days for Report stage debate. It is unfortunate that the first such day was taken up with delaying tactics and most of the second with debate on the timetable Motion rather than on the substantive issues in the Bill before the House. That was not the Government's fault.
The Government tabled 31 amendments, 17 of them directly in response to amendments proposed by 669 the Opposition in Standing Committee, demonstrating the Government's willingness to improve the Bill following constructive suggestions. Indeed, we accepted an opposition amendment during the Committee stage. Other changes were requested by the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches. I am sure that our acceptance of those will be welcomed on all sides. The other amendments were largely technical and did not affect the substance of the Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and her colleagues attacked the Bill as evidence of the Government's wish to demolish HMI and destroy its independence. At the same time she and her colleagues trumpeted the proposals of their own party for an education standards council. However, those proposals, as the previous chief inspector, Eric Bolton, made plain, really do wreck HMI. We would set up HMI as an independent department of state with statutory independence. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, advocates putting HMI under the control of a politically controlled quango. We would preserve the crucial relationship between inspection and advice to Ministers. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and her colleagues advocate dividing up HMI between those who inspect and those who advise Ministers. Those who inspect will not advise; those who advise will not inspect.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene but I must correct something which the Minister said. It is not our intention to divide the inspectorate into those who advise and those who inspect. There will be a small group within HMI who spend time advising Ministers for a period. They will then return to inspection in the education standards commission. Similarly, people from the education standards commission who have been inspecting and working with local authorities in schools will advise Ministers. That seems to me a reputable and sensible way of preserving the independence of the inspectorate and making sure that inspectors who advise Ministers have some knowledge of the system.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I have also read the document and I believe that it is a certain recipe for the destruction of HMI. That is not only my view and the view of the Government; it was also the view of the senior chief inspector.
We create a national system of inspection under the control of HMI ensuring consistency of approach and consistency of standards. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, advocates a local system run by LEAs with some loose or undefined form of validation by HMI. That is essentially the system which has served us so ill in recent years. The monopoly of the LEA is not a model which inspires confidence. We know of the virtual non-existence of inspection in some local authorities, and only very few authorities achieve anything near the standard we set in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, asked why we did not require inspectors to assess the adequacy of the resources available. I suggest that that is another windmill to tilt at, another Aunt Sally. Inspectors will be entitled to report on any factor on which the 670 inspectorate wishes to report. But the focus is on the way in which resources are used because resources are finite and it is for the Government and others to decide whether they should be increased. It is also a very important part of the inspection to ensure that the resources available are used properly.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, will have to do better than pose rhetorical questions about whether HMI has failed to please. The Bill increases the independence of HMI.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, if I am to do justice to the debate I shall have to leave those comments to Committee stage.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I must be allowed to continue in the interests of the business of the House. We wish to increase the independence of HMI and broaden the range of its responsibilities. Why should we perpetuate the canard that we are diminishing the status of HMI?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, some hours have been given to noble Lords to put their opinion. I am responding to what has been said in the course of the debate; that is my duty at this stage. I have a very long submission to make to the House in response to individual points and I hope that the noble Lord will not interject. There has already been one interjection and here is another. It may well be that the noble Lord will wish to interject on every point that I make with which he disagrees.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, will the noble Baroness give way for one moment? I have sat here for as long as she has. I shall listen for as long as she wishes to speak. I shall not wander off early. I simply wish her to know that my questions were questions to which I want answers. I will not tolerate being told that they were rhetorical. They were questions to which I want answers. If the noble Baroness does not want to answer them, that is one thing, but she must not accuse me of asking rhetorical questions when I would not dream of doing that. I asked her some questions and I should like the answers. I shall not interrupt again because I should like to hear the answers.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the particular question which the noble Lord asked and to which I referred was asked rhetorically.
HMI has no direct remit and no prescribed duties under existing legislation. It is a body which is at the service of the Secretary of State to carry out inspections as he may direct. It is a matter of convention that it is independent. That independence, which is not guaranteed by law, consists of being able to define its own broad programme of inspection and having the right to report its findings in its own words so that if Ministers decide to publish its reports the words are those of HMI. However, that is convention, 671 developed over many years. It is not backed by statute. The Bill strengthens HMI by giving it for the first time ever a statutory basis which underpins its independence.
A number of noble Lords referred to value added. From what I have heard today it appears that a number of noble Lords have very different views as to what they mean by value added. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, will agree that the important point is that we need objective information about a single cohort of young people which can be assessed at a later stage in their education so that one can measure whether value has indeed been added to the education of those young people.
Many noble Lords referred to the authority and independence of HMI and the fact that its reports are published. The availability of published HMI reports is a recent innovation. It is also an innovation of this Government. It was my noble friend Lord Joseph who took the important decision in 1983 to make all inspection reports public. This Government agree that HMI is a valuable bulwark of the education system and an essential source of independent advice. That is why we made its reports freely available to the public for the first time. That is why we intend to extend published inspection reports to all schools under arrangements which will guarantee high national standards.
The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, asked how people would know about sporting achievements, make judgments about ethos and other things. The reports will be comprehensive, whole school reports. But I think we delude ourselves if we believe that parents do not understand. I would not wish to be as patronising as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about parents. Parents are able to make real judgments about the ethos of a school. After all, they live in the area and are witnessing the behaviour of young people every day. They know a great deal about those schools.
The analogy of the restaurant was an interesting one. The noble Baroness referred to a restaurant buying in its own inspection. The analogy which was used by my noble friend was not that the restaurant should choose its own inspectors but that the customers should do so, which is a very different proposition altogether.
I welcome the remarks of my noble friend Lord Renfrew. He was absolutely right. He talked about an "open system", unqualified raw data, examination results, truancy reports, the destination of young people, the effectiveness of a common form and the understandability of information that is put before people. He also came to the House with an interesting proposition about an obligation in relation to an impartial qualified assessor sitting in when schools are requisitioning inspections. I was struck by his suggestion that we might reinforce the governors' position and help them in a new and difficult task by involving HMI or those appointed by it in the process of selecting an inspector. I believe that could serve two purposes, perhaps more. It would offer independent professional advice to governors and allow HMCI to be alerted to any signs of possible collusion. I know 672 that that concern has been expressed throughout the House. More generally, it would keep HMI in touch with governing bodies on a systematic basis. The suggestion appears to work with the grain of our proposals, and I hope that my noble friend will allow me time to consider the proposals he has made. Perhaps we may talk about it between now and Committee stage.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford and the noble Baroness, Lady David (who is not in her place now), made reference to LEAs, governors and head teachers being charged with the duty to exercise their functions. That point was made by a number of your Lordships, including my noble friend Lady Cumberlege. It was said that the LEAs would exercise their functions with a view to securing the implementation of the curriculum, including the national curriculum, in every school as laid down by the 1988 Act. Noble Lords will argue: How can LEAs do that if they are no longer empowered to inspect?
First, the duty to secure implementation of the curriculum also rests with the governors. In the Bill we have shifted the balance of functions from LEAs to governors, and it is the governors rather than the LEA who have the main duty to secure implementation of the curriculum. For that reason they have the duty to secure regular inspection. Secondly, LEAs will continue to be able to carry out routine monitoring. The combination of inspection reports, published comparative tables and day-to-day contact with schools will give LEAs regular information evidence of a much higher order than they have at the moment. LMS schemes will secure the flow of information on financial management. Local education authorities can also secure detailed written reports on any aspect of a school's activity. Thirdly, LEAs continue to have a right of entry to tackle specific problems or in the exercise of their specific functions. That right can be exercised when it is necessary on an objective test; it cannot simply be exercised when the authority would like to exercise it. That is the simple answer to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady David.
My noble friends Lord Renfrew and Lady Cumberlege will, I think, continue to concern themselves with this point, and I offer a meeting to anybody who wishes to consider further the issue of rights of entry. But inspection reports, annual reports to parents, governors and the LEA, examination results, the duty to oversee governor training, LMS flow of information will serve to help the LEA fulfil its duties under the Act.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that there is no need for an amendment to enable rights of entry to schools for LEAs. Local authorities will still have right of entry but they will continue to have to justify it, especially to the governors.
I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady David, who made governors responsible for carrying out the action plan. Governors have an obligation to report annually to parents. Both the report and the summary of the inspection will be in the public arena. Parents will expect to see an action plan and action to be taken. Of course, four years later that is justification 673 for the inspection team to come along and make judgments about whether what they said was followed up.
The quality control of school inspections was an issue of concern to many noble Lords. The detailed arrangements for securing quality control of school inspection teams will be for HMCI to determine. The Bill secures two levels of control over registered inspectors. In addition to carrying out basic checks on the fitness and competence of candidates for registration and ensuring they are properly trained, the HMCIs will be able to ensure that inspectors work in particular ways which are imposed as conditions of registration under the Bill, as well as having regard to the national guidance which they will issue on the way in which school inspections should be conducted. Any significant failure to comply with any conditions of registration would be a sufficient reason for removal from the register. The national guidance will have a less direct force, but if inspectors do not work in accordance with the guidance it will contribute to the view that they are not capable of conducting inspections as required under the Bill.
In addition, all inspection reports will go to HMI. HMI will be able to look at the information which underpins the report and the inspection schedules which contain the raw evidence. HMI will accompany each registered inspector on an inspection at regular intervals. It will be for HMI to decide what degree of scrutiny any particular inspector requires.
As to team members, we would expect HMCI to include in the national guidelines for the conduct of inspections guidance on the nature of the team required to inspect different types of school and the competencies to be expected of team members. All will receive training which will be designed to give them a full working knowledge of the national guidelines and their implications. Both the inspector and his teams will be monitored by HMCI and by the school authorities which employ them to ensure that they observe the guidelines in practice and are competent to offer an accurate report on the school.
The primary responsibility for ensuring that team members are and continue to be fully competent will, quite rightly, rest with the registered inspector. The fact is that registered inspectors will want to be confident that those they employ are up to the job. The registered inspector knows that his livelihood depends on the quality of the team he chooses to work with him. He cannot afford to carry weak or unsuitable team members who will not inspire confidence and help him win contracts. An incompetent team member may cause him to be struck off the register as being no longer able to conduct effective inspections. The registered inspector is best placed to judge on the basis of experience over time whether a person is able to make a satisfactory contribution to the work of a team.
Those who commission inspections will also have a quality control function. They will want to be assured that the team they are offered meets the published guidance and the requirements of the Bill. If they wish, they may seek assurances about the checks which have 674 been carried out on team members. If they are offered a team or an individual whom they judge unsuitable no doubt they will complain to HMCI who will be able to investigate. The key points are the following. We are concerned not to write into the Bill details which are properly the prerogative of HMCI to settle. We believe in the independence of HMCI. We have provided a broad framework which gives a basis for the kind of delegation and accountability which we believe is likely to enable a cost-effective system of quality control to be established with a minimum of bureaucratic interference. It would be a mistake to add to that framework more detailed requirements which at this stage could not take account of the national guidance to be prepared by HMCI and which it would be hard for HMCI to alter if, in the light of experience of the new arrangements, he wished to do so.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford and other noble Lords commented on Clause 14. As noble Lords are aware, religious education is part of the basic curriculum and must be offered in all schools, a position that has been re-established most recently in the Education Reform Act. Religious education in most schools is carried out in accordance with an agreed syllabus for the area, formulated by a standing advisory council on which local church and other religious groups are represented, and adopted by the local education authority. I sat on one such committee for many years. However, voluntary and certain grant maintained schools may be subject to trust deeds which require them to offer religious education of a particular type. Those schools are not required to use an agreed syllabus.
I was slightly puzzled to hear the right reverend Prelate regret that continued separation in the Bill. The only alternative would be to allow HMI for the first time ever control over denominational provision; but we amended the Bill to make clear that denominational religious education is to be inspected with the same frequency and depth as other provisions, and indeed to encourage joint inspection arrangements. The governors will be able to use registered inspectors to carry out such inspections, but they will not be obliged to do so if they wish to use other means of inspection that they believe better suited to the particular needs of their religious community.
I find it almost impossible to disagree with anything said by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and my noble friends Lord Elton and Lord Pearson. Certainly education, if it is anything, must address the spiritual, cultural, moral, physical and academic dimensions of the upbringing of young people. The spiritual and moral development of all pupils must be one aim of the curriculum in all state schools. That is fully secured by Section 1 of the Education Reform Act. In reporting on the quality and standards of education in schools, as HMI and registered inspectors are bound to do under Clauses 2 and 9 of the Bill, inspectors will be required to address that aspect of the curriculum as well as others. They will not be limited to looking at the formal curriculum. They will also be able to report on the so-called hidden curriculum, which includes the 675 values and relationships established within the school community. So I do not believe that noble Lords need fear that the matters which concern them will fail to be dealt with by inspectors under the Bill as drafted.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked about the scope of the special arrangements under Clause 14. The only religious education which schools are required to provide other than in accordance with an agreed syllabus, is that required by the trust deed of a voluntary or former voluntary school. Provision in accordance with an agreed syllabus will be inspected under Clause 9 and provision in accordance with the trust deed under Clause 14. Under Section 84(12) of the Education Reform Act 1988, which applies to grant maintained schools which were county schools, if parents of pupils withdraw them from religious education and desire them to have their own denominational religious education, that may be permitted so long as no costs fall upon the governing body. Such RE may be required to be carried out on the school premises.
Similar arrangements may be made for pupils in aided schools. But we did not intend to cover such provision under Clauses 14 or 9 of the Bill. After all, it is provision made while pupils are withdrawn from the education which the school is obliged to offer them. In some cases such education will take place elsewhere—for example, at a religious centre—and it is not the intention to subject such additional denominational provision to inspection under the Bill. It would be wrong to hold a school accountable for a provision that takes effect outside the school curriculum.
League tables are another cause of concern. League tables cannot tell parents about the ethos and values espoused by the school. They will be set out in the school's prospectus. The league tables will give an important additional piece of information, information which on the whole—in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone —is meaningful and not misleading. The inclusion of information about truancy and pupils' destinations will perhaps reflect as much as anything on the values and attitudes of the pupils as on academic success.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether she would deal with the issue of how the Government will deal with misleading information in school prospectuses. I accept that there will be other information about some of the aspects of the school which many noble Lords are concerned that parents should understand and know of. It is equally possible for that information to be misleading. How will the Government cope with that problem?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I have addressed the point of misleading information. I am barely half way through the points that I want to address during the course of the debate. I shall not neglect the point. I hope that I have a reputation for not neglecting points. If I do not cover it in the debate, I shall write to the noble Baroness.
The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, asked a number of questions. How can a school establish an ethos? There is nothing in the Bill that precludes a 676 school from establishing an ethos. Indeed, one would expect schools to do so. How will a child progress? There will be a great deal more information that measures whether a child is progressing and at what pace. It will be possible to use that information, which builds on the child's strength and addresses the child's weaknesses. Will it stretch the most able? The same arguments apply. The information will provide a very important database for teachers, schools, parents and all those involved with the education of children, to help them achieve their potential.
Inspectors often find problems that are not known at the school and problems of which the school is not aware. That is the whole point of inspections; namely, to raise awareness of things which may be happening to which the school has been too close for too long. I feel that inspections in that situation can be very positive. The noble Lord was concerned about how they will choose. That ties up with the point about collusion. But even if at worst there were sycophantic teachers and governors, I simply cannot harbour the patronising view that parents would also go along with soft options, soft reports and whitewashes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was concerned about current LEA practice. In the case of school inspection the ratio of one to 10 is not, I am afraid, in favour of a good and effective LEA. There are only nine local authorities which HMI now suggest have strong and effective inspection systems. As my noble friend quoted earlier today, only a third have systems likely to yield reliable outcomes. We simply cannot accept that situation.
My noble friend Lord Beloff spoke about the French system. The French have a monolithic, uniform system. That is certainly not our intention. We want national standards, but we certainly do not want to go down the road of perpetuating a French-type monopoly. My noble friend suggested that parents will not pay attention to published information or understand its complexity. Again, I cannot share that view. Parents are very anxious to secure the best possible education for their children. We owe it to parents to give them good information to help them with the important responsibilities that they have as parents.
The noble Lords, Lord Walton of Detchant and Lord Skidelsky, referred to raw data. I presume in favour of all that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said about raw results—raw results on what will enable value added to be calculated in due course. I have mentioned that one has to start off with basic, unqualified information, unfettered by subjective judgments. One can later make judgments and add qualifications. It will be possible to refine the situation once the system is up and going. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that it was all very easy. I am afraid that it is not.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, asked how long it took to inspect a school. The answer is, as long as is necessary. It will be a matter for the school, whatever its size, complexity and nature. It will require an inspection and will specify its nature. The inspector will respond to that particular specification. What will be the criteria? I do not know whether the noble Lord 677 suggests that politicians determine the criteria. We have taken a very firm view that the HMI will be independent and HMCI will determine the criteria. It will be very public and very professional. I believe that we should not interfere with that.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, and my noble friend Lady Faithful] asked whether there will be enough money to attract inspectors. Our reforms involve making better use of existing funds for local inspection and advice. Some £135 million is spent by local authorities each year on inspectors and advisers. We estimate that just over half that total—some £70 million—will be needed to meet the costs of inspection for the quarter of schools which must be inspected each year. That is important; it is a quarter per year. Those estimates cannot be finalised until HMCI's guidance is known. We are still some way off the first inspections in September 1993. They are based on a range of costs from some £6,000 for a small primary school to £30,000 for large secondary schools. That reflects current HMI practice in terms of length of inspections and an estimate of about £350 for the daily cost of any inspector. The speculation about the viability of inspection teams, which noble Lords may have seen in the press, has generally been based on a much lower daily rate.
As I have said, £135 million is now being spent by local authorities on inspectors and advisers. A considerable further sum is being spent on the employment of some 3,000 advisory teachers. The new inspection system will require £70 million of that to be delegated to schools each year. That leaves a large amount for the other important advisory functions of the authority about which we have heard much today. They include training, appraisal, curriculum support and the necessary help to schools which for one reason or another find themselves in crisis.
Authorities will need to decide in the light of the new arrangements how to structure their advisory services. Much of the funding could with value be delegated to schools so that they can buy in the help which they need to follow up inspections and to meet other priorities. However, they will need to retain the capacity to intervene, in, thankfully, rare cases, where schools cannot cope. We believe all that is fully possible within the sums which will remain available.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, was critical about consistent standards. That will be a matter for HMI. We believe in their professionalism. A great deal has been said about that on all sides of the House. The criteria will be established by then and information will be published in a common format.
My noble friend Lady Young was right in saying that each school will be different. Some will have a technical bent. Indeed, BTEC courses are very much a feature of key stage IV and above. If that is an important element of the school it is important that it should be inspected. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, asked about VAT. LEAs will be able to reclaim VAT. They must pass that back to the schools once it has been reclaimed. Therefore, VAT is not a part of the figures which we have been talking about.
The noble Baroness, Lady McFarlane, asked about 678 the training of registered applicants. I do not know where she obtained her information about the training lasting one week. There is nothing in the Bill which spells out how long the training will be. It will be as long as is appropriate. That will also be a matter for HMCI.
The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, asked: why four-yearly inspections? I thought that he was on weak ground in asking why once there has been a full inspection the school should be bothered again. He added that it would be a long time before a school was again inspected. I cannot agree with his argument. If a school has had an inspection it will not need another for a long time. Four years is more than the lifetime of a child in an infant school; it is comparable to the lifetime of a child in a junior school and it is only one year short of the lifetime of a child in a secondary school up to the age of statutory schooling—
§ Lord Ritchie of Dundee
My Lords, I said that it might be unnecessary to have a full inspection. However, I specify that inspectors would return to the school to look into any matter that was not up to the standard required. That might happen frequently.
My Lords, there is absolutely nothing in the Bill to preclude a school from calling in inspectors at almost any time. Of course there will be inspectoral activity between the four-yearly inspections. We are making a guarantee to parents that once every four years all schools will have a full inspection. That is important information for parents. This is not a cost-cutting exercise.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, that the Bill makes explicit the principle that HMIs should in their work have regard to government policy. That aspect has worried many people. It is having regard to government policy. I hope that noble Lords opposite would expect any HMI to have regard to their policy for education. They have been so influenced since 1839. It would be no use having HMCI as an entirely loose cannon operating wholly independently of government policy. Perhaps that is what noble Lords opposite are advocating.
HMIs now report and must continue to report not only on educational quality and standards but on contributory factors. They include the way in which resources available to the school are managed. How otherwise are we to secure the improvements? Clause 2 does not limit HMIs' right to report to the Secretary of State about any matter, whether asked and whether the information is solicited or unsolicited.
My noble friend Lady Perry made an excellent contribution to today's debate. She pointed out that numbers will be adjusted according to the size of the task. That is right; nothing is static. She also said that an important feature would be to take into account the views Of parents in making such a report. That too is an important point. I believe that what we are doing recognises the professionalism of HMIs to do the job and we believe that they will rise to the challenge.
My noble friend Lady Carnegy was concerned with points Scottish. She made a number of points about Clause 17 as it related to Scotland, as did the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. She correctly noted that the Bill 679 does not contain provisions on schools inspections in Scotland. However, that does not mean that no changes in inspection procedures are proposed for Scotland. We propose to bring forward regulations under existing powers to require each school in Scotland to set out its educational plans and targets for two years ahead. That document will be given to parents and an audit unit will be established with an HMI to collect, analyse and publish evidence about how well schools are performing. In future, inspectors will take parents' interests and views fully into account in carrying out inspections.
My noble friend also pointed out that a number of local education authorities in Scotland have blocked the issue to parents of the summary leaflet describing the Parent's Charter. That leaflet met the strict conventions for government publications. It also contained information to which parents have a right. Indeed, some 20,000 copies of the charter leaflet have since been issued to parents and to others on request. That is why Clause 17 introduces a new section by means of which the Secretary of State may make regulations to require the distribution by local authorities in Scotland of proscribed information on school education.
My noble friend Lady Carnegy also asked whether the Secretary of State for Scotland had plans to issue a consultation paper on the information provisions along similar lines to the paper recently issued for England. I can give her an absolute assurance that that will be the case.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, queried the decision to include a clause containing Scottish provisions in a Bill which in the main applies to England and Wales. Clause 17 relates to the publication of information about schools in Scotland and in Clause 16 it makes similar provisions for England and Wales. Therefore, it makes sense for the necessary enabling powers relating to information about schools to be contained in a single GB Bill. Your Lordships will be aware that there are many precedents for such Bills over a wide range of subject areas and I assure the House that there will be ample opportunity to consider the Scottish application of the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Elton raised the issue of confidentiality. Again, the Government are acutely conscious of the need for confidentiality both for teachers and for pupils. They expect HMCI to ensure that such confidences are preserved. Registered inspectors may need to look at pupils' records in order to judge whether pastoral care is effective. In that context, the point about confidentiality is important.
My noble friend Lord Elton asked whether the inspectors would make recommendations. The inspections are designed to report on what has been achieved and to identify the causes of both good and bad results. Therefore, the report will be diagnostic but not prescriptive. It will be for the governors, with advice and help from the LEAs and others, to decide what to do to follow up such a report.
The Secretary of State has a duty to approve courses of initial teacher training which will lead to qualified teacher status. He relies on HMI's advice on all such courses. As a result HMI has for many years 680 inspected universities and colleges which provide such courses. The new office of HMCI will continue to do that and will advise the Secretary of State as necessary.
Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lady Faithfull that the current HMI is within the Department of Education. All other inspectors are within LEAs. The new system will allow for real independence. It is not cost which leads us to choose a system of local inspectors supervised by HMI but the desire to set up a flexible system rather than a monolithic central structure, but with national standards. I repeat that the aim of our plans is not to cut costs. It would be irresponsible not to plan for the number of inspectors at the same time as increasing the overall volume of inspection as provided by the Bill.
I should say to my noble friend Lady Faithfull that we do not believe that the publication requirements will make schools any less likely to accept pupils with disabilities or those who are simply less able. Schools named in statements of special educational need must take the pupils concerned. In other cases it would be unlawful to discriminate against a child on the grounds of ability unless the school is selective. Schools have published examination results since 1981 and we are not aware of any evidence that they are discriminating against less able pupils as a result. Indeed, there is rarely any chance for the school to know about the ability of a particular pupil until he takes up his place.
My noble friend Lord Rennell made a thoughtful contribution to the debate today. He described a school which I visited last Friday—Great Barr School in Birmingham. I cannot tell your Lordships how uplifting it was to visit that school. I have confirmed with my noble friend that it is the same school. If any noble Lord is worried about ethos or the moral, physical, academic or spiritual dimensions of education he should visit that wonderful school in Birmingham. There one can see all that is best in education for young people.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was extremely precipitate, as she has become accustomed to be, with her criticism of the Government. She referred to the Parent's Charter and the fact that there was only a cursory comment about inspection. She asked what the Government are doing. The Government have introduced a Bill before the House and are addressing that gap—namely, that there were only 150 inspections per year.
The noble Baroness referred also to poor continuity. It is important to inspect the institution but it will not be possible to inspect a cohort of 11 year-olds at the first year of secondary school without having some view or understanding of the school or the sector of education from which they came. Equally that will apply to pupils going on to tertiary education because we have built into the system that we should know the destination of young people. Secondary education is all about preparing young people either for tertiary education or the world beyond.
My noble friend Lady Faithfull referred to her visits to schools and how uplifting she found them to be. I have referred to my recent visit to a particular 681 school and how much I enjoyed that. My noble friend asked why children leave school without being able to read and write. The present framework of the national curriculum and regular assessment and testing—and, my goodness, how the passage of that provision was opposed when it went through this House—will help, as will regular inspection of schools and clear, raw information for people to couple with all the other information which is available. There will be annual reports to parents, giving them information. I do not believe that, unless there is a very good reason, it will be possible for young people to leave school without being able to read or write. We shall know about their weaknesses much earlier in the system. The tests will be objective and I hope I have addressed the point about statemented children.
The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, asked what kind of inspectorate we need now because there is a diversity of schools emerging under the new system and the broadening of choice. That is an important point to raise and no doubt we shall discuss it further in Committee. It is not an argument against inspection. There are standard factors which one will look for whatever the school. What is essential is that, when a registered inspector is inspecting a school with his team, he understands the nature of the school, the aims and objectives of the school and all the measurements are against that information.
I do not intend to address in detail anything said by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin. He was puzzled and dismayed and wholly wrong in almost all that he said. I simply pose four questions to him. What is wrong with aiming to inspect all schools on a regular basis? What is wrong with taking stock of what is being achieved against consistent criteria? Why deny the information which will act as a positive basis on which action plans can be developed to build on strengths and to address weaknesses? Finally, what is wrong with governors, parents, staff and the wider public having access to that information? I can think of no argument against it and I dismiss almost everything said by the noble Lord that countered that information.
There was recently a reading survey. What was quite tragic was that the Government did not have the information to counter the survey. What was even worse was that the local education authorities also did not possess the information to counter the survey. The reason was that local education authorities did not keep the data and they were not available nationally.
I must wind up. We owe it to the pupils, above all, to ensure that these disturbing facts are not just exposed in a national document each year, but are reported on in detail and tackled effectively in each school where they occur. Indeed, we must make it our aim to raise expectations for all pupils; to see that, whatever their ability, they are offered real challenges and then given the help that they need to meet those higher expectations. The challenge for us is to set in place systems which will ensure that all pupils achieve the very best of which they are capable.
I believe that these issues will be tackled with more vigour when we have well-informed public debate 682 about quality and standards in our schools. I believe that they will be tackled to better effect when governors have detailed and dispassionate reports on their schools and can direct their energies accordingly. That, in essence, is why I commend this Bill to your Lordships.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.