HL Deb 12 March 1992 vol 536 cc1438-56

3.30 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 9 [Inspection of certain schools]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 1: Page 6, line 5, at beginning insert ("the effectiveness of the overall management of such schools, including").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to widen the scope of school inspection to include the overall management of schools. The Bill sets out—in Clause 2(1) for the HMCI for England, Clause 6(1) for the HMCI for Wales and Clause 9(4) for registered inspectors—the general duties placed on inspectors in reporting on inspections. Paragraph (c) of each subsection provides a duty to inspect the efficient management of financial resources in schools. However, if inspectors look only at that one aspect of schools management a distorted picture of the quality of management in a school could appear.

For instance, it may be the case that a school is judged to be financially efficient because it keeps within its delegated budget. If that efficiency is achieved through tight centralised control of the budget rather than through giving staff members budgetary responsibility for their curriculum areas it might be judged not to be effective management. Such financially efficient management could lead to a large turnover of staff, with staff leaving because they have not been given sufficient delegated responsibility and have not been able to obtain the kind of management experience they need in such a Stalinist and centralised school.

The amendment asks inspectors to examine the effectiveness of the overall management of schools and at the same time give a special place to inspecting schools' financial efficiency. We entirely accept that that is also needed and should be singled out.

At Report stage Amendment No. 20 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and Amendment No. 23 in the name of my noble friend Lady David, sought to widen the scope of school inspections to include aspects of the general running of schools. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred specifically to behaviour but his speech was also concerned with aspects of management excluded from inspections under the Bill. He rightly drew attention to the fact that while financial management is singled out, other aspects of management are ignored. He made particular reference to the management of human resources as well as the management of pupil discipline and arrangements for the pastoral needs of pupils. My noble friend Lady David went on to ask for inspections of the whole life of schools, beyond discipline and standards of behaviour to include such matters as the physical environment, staff/parent relationships and so on.

This amendment seeks to find common ground between the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the amendment of my noble friend Lady David. It widens the scope of the Bill to include inspection of staff management and development and the effectiveness of schools' organisation. It thereby prevents what we see as an over-concentration on financial efficiency by introducing the broader concept of inspection of the overall management effectiveness of schools.

It would be helpful in achieving consistent inspections across the country if that were on the face of the Bill so that all inspectors have a clear duty to inspect the overall management of a school. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

My Lords, we discussed these issues at some length at the previous stage on the basis of an amendment which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, helpfully indicated, stood in my name. The noble Baroness accurately summarised most of what I said but she did not summarise what the Minister said in reply. As what the Minister said seemed to be an entirely satisfactory response to my amendment I hope that the Minister will now repeat it and that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

Part of the Minister's assurance which led me to withdraw the amendment was my noble friend's undertaking that the Government would press upon the inspectorate the importance of exactly the aspects of management to which the noble Baroness referred. If the noble Baroness is in a position to do so it would be helpful if, in withdrawing her amendment, she would tell the House that her party is also committed to a similar treatment of the matter.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I should like to support the amendment. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I refer to something that has already been debated in your Lordships' House, but I was unable to be present during the Report stage of the Bill.

It seems to me that in this connection the subject of catering could be mentioned. I do not know whether that subject has been debated, but I should like to ask the Minister whether it should not be part of the inspectors' duty to look at catering in a school. The amendment might cover that point.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My Lords, it has always seemed to me that one of the most important aspects of inspection is that it is very different in kind from a management consultancy. It does not look at the theoretical organisation of management but concentrates on the effectiveness of the delivery of what the management does in a school at the point where the education is delivered to the pupils or students. I should be very sorry indeed to see the words set out in the amendment put into the requirements for inspection.

It is my firm belief that if what is already set out in Clause 2(1)—which states that it should be the duty of the inspector to report on the quality of the education provided, the educational standards achieved, the efficient management of financial resources and the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils—is reported on, then the effectiveness of management has been reported on in the only way which is right and proper in the context of inspection. If a school or governing body wishes to have a report on management and the way in which the school is organised and structured and the way the management goes about its business, it should call in management consultants.

I know that my view is shared by all members of Her Majesty's Inspectorate. It is the custom and practice of the inspectorate to comment on management only in so far as it can be measured at the point of delivery to the pupil. I hope that that will be maintained and carried forward under the new inspection arrangements. Therefore, I do not support the amendment.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on the assiduity with which she has pursued her aim of including the word "effectiveness" on the face of the Bill. This time she followed up the debate which I had with my noble friend Lord Elton at the last stage of the Bill in which, as he has just said, I argued that there is no need for the management policies or any other policies of a school to be singled out for particular mention since they will all form part of the inspection report on the school, and in particular the quality of education offered.

That was an interesting debate because it approached the matter from the right end. The primary concern of the inspection process is to investigate and report on what is seen, but we must make sure that its contributory causes—such as the effectiveness of management—are not ignored. I hope that I convinced your Lordships that such causes would not, and could not, be overlooked in inspection reports.

HMI focuses its inspection reports on what the inspectors see in the school. Inspectors look at the education—in its widest sense—being offered to pupils, and its observable effects. They then look for contributory causes, which are by no means all a reflection of the effectiveness or otherwise of the school management, and report on those. That is the process we have sought to reflect in very summary terms in the Bill as drafted.

If the noble Baroness would have us believe that this process is equally consistent with her amendment, I argue simply that we might as well keep the Bill as drafted, which is a closer reflection of the process we expect to take place. Our drafting makes plain that hard evidence will underpin all the inspectors' judgment about all aspects of the school and that concepts such as management efficiency, about which experts will argue for hours, will be built up from a basis of fact which is exposed for all to see.

The effect of overall management is evidently covered in all aspects of the inspection process. The need to maintain financial management is because, as we said earlier, it is not self-evidently part of the education and inspection process.

If the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, believes that she is genuinely shifting the Bill away from that factual basis—that inspectors will be able to offer judgments of effectiveness against their own criteria rather than reporting factually on what they observe —she is offering us a dangerous shift in the Bill. I hope that on reflection she will not wish to press the amendment.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. I thought her comment at the beginning a little snide. I am not concerned about whether or not the word "effectiveness" is in the Bill. I am concerned to ensure that all aspects of the quality of a school's work should be adequately inspected. It is perfectly possible that the amendment could have been worded slightly differently. It could have said: the quality of the overall management of such schools. I find a little puzzling the fact that we should pick out efficient management of financial resources rather than take a more overall and broadbrush approach to the way in which a school is managed. However, at this stage of the Bill I have no intention of dividing the House on the matter. I regret that the Government are unable to accept the amendment. I believe that it would have ensured that all inspectors considered the question of how well a school is organised and managed, which is an important part of a head teacher's role and the senior management team working under the head. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 [Power of Secretary of State to require information]:

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 2: Page 10, line 42, at end insert: ("( ) The Secretary of State shall within two years of the date of Royal Assent publish proposals to—

  1. (i) consolidate; or
  2. (ii) consolidate with corrections and improvements in accordance with the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act 1949,
those powers to which subsection (10) above relates".).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention a misprint on the Marshalled List. In the last line, the figure (1) should be (10). It is an obvious misprint but I only discovered it when I arrived at your Lordships' House this afternoon.

The amendment arises from the answer given by the noble Baroness to Amendment No. 55 which was discussed on Tuesday at Report stage. I remember saying to her how helpful and interesting I found her answer. However, the consequence has been that both the main local authority associations have been in touch with me. They would like to know more about what the noble Baroness had in mind.

Noble Lords will recall that we discussed the question of whether there was a conflict between these information requirements and the more general information requirements in other legislation. In a very interesting way, the noble Baroness said that one would proceed to consolidation generally, which means also specifically with respect to information requirements.

For a few minutes this afternoon and purely as a probing measure, I want to find out whether the noble Baroness can tell us more about this matter and whether the department has considered the information with a view to consolidating the subject. It is a matter which very much concerns local authorities. They are also rather intrigued with the issue that I raised; namely, whether the department itself has any reason to believe that possible conflict exists or whether subsection (10) is there purely as a failsafe measure. That is the reason I raise this point. I do not want to delay noble Lords too much but I —and more importantly the local authorities—would like to know whether there is any more light that the department can throw on this matter. I beg to move.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, when we saw the amendment, we assumed that it was the academic curiosity of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, which had led to it being tabled. I understand the concerns that he expressed on behalf of the local authorities. I hope that I can put his mind and theirs at rest.

I hope that I do not need to take up too much of noble Lords' time explaining the inadequacy of the amendment as a possible addition to legislation. Proposals for a consolidation Bill are a matter for the Lord Chancellor and are not a matter for any individual Secretary of State. It is not possible to consolidate a power or even a subsection. The object of consolidation Acts is to present the whole body of statute law on a subject in complete form. It would be entirely inappropriate to introduce such a Bill on a small topic within a large subject such as education. And it would be quite improper to try to fix the legislative timetable for a consolidation measure in the way suggested, rather than through the usual procedures which govern such decisions.

Given that the noble Lord wants to find out more about the plans for the consolidation of education legislation and to cover the areas of information to which we referred, perhaps not as clearly as he would have liked, at a previous stage, there is simply nothing more to tell. The case for consolidation has been accepted for some time and work is in hand to that end. But no decision has yet been taken about the timing of a consolidation measure. I can promise the noble Lord that such a decision will not be taken within the next four weeks. I must ask him to contain his impatience and perhaps take the message that there will be an announcement in due course, after we have been re-elected, when a consolidation Bill is ready and time is available. In the light of my explanation I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for the addition she makes to my education in telling me how consolidation proceeds. I am glad to know about it. I do not wish to prolong the discussion. I understand her answer to be that at the moment the department does not see a major problem, which is partly what I wanted to know.

With the prospect of a change of government, we too would both reform and consolidate the education Bills. There is nothing between us on the subject of consolidation. I entirely accept that nothing can be done in the next four weeks on anything that happens in the real world. Having made those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 3: Page 18, line 3, at end insert: ("( ) Nothing in sub-paragraph (5) above shall be taken to apply to an employee of a local education authority whose connection with the school or any person specified in that sub-paragraph has arisen in the course of the exercise by the authority of its statutory functions".).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I moved a rather similar amendment and withdrew it at Report stage. This amendment approaches the matter from a slightly different angle. It seeks to prevent LEAs being excluded from carrying out inspections under the Bill as a result of carrying out their statutory functions. Paragraph 3(5) of Schedule 2 excludes from the team of inspectors people whose impartiality is in doubt by virtue of their connection with the school, with an employee of the school, a member of the governing body or the proprietor. It does not define precisely what "any connection" means and therefore leaves in doubt whether or not an LEA inspector who has been involved in advising or inspecting schools within the LEA would be treated as having had a connection and would prevent the person being involved in an inspection team.

The amendment argues that any LEA exercising its statutory functions should be presumed to have acted in a way that would not put in doubt the subsequent impartiality of its officers. The concern is to prevent partiality being argued against LEAs which seek to bid for privatised inspections. The problem arises because the registered inspector would have to consider partiality in respect of each member of the team. For example, an LEA in the past may have criticised a school. Let us suppose that its chief inspector now forms an inspection team which includes some of his or her colleagues to bid on behalf of the LEA for inspection at the school. The registered inspector, the LEA chief inspector, is under a duty to keep partial people out of the team. The subparagraph refers to "no person" taking part in an inspection, and so on. It is therefore unclear whether that includes the registered inspector himself. The chief inspector should be immune from having to consider whether the LEA's past view expressed through its officers prevents the participation of those officers. We wish some clarification on that point.

Some local authorities—it applies to the authority in which both the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I live—are setting up their inspectors under an agency arrangement so that they will be free to tender for inspections. We wish to know who will and who will not be excluded from that team. I should like some more general information too. I beg to move.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, it is laudable that the noble Baroness seeks information on some points which may not be entirely clear. However, I wish to speak simply to the amendment.

I believe that it is a dangerous amendment. It is paradoxical that the Opposition should propose such an amendment when at an earlier stage it was anxious to ensure the independence of the inspection team from the governing body of schools and from the schools themselves. Indeed, many of us at a much earlier stage of the Bill were anxious that if the governors alone were to appoint the registered inspectors there could be a cosiness between the inspection team or some member of it and the governors; and a relationship might arise. At that stage I used the term "back-scratching".

I realise that this may not be the intention underlying the noble Baroness's amendment; I do not wish her to take what I say amiss. It would be a matter for disquiet if the Opposition sought to weaken the provisions guaranteeing the independence of inspection teams from the schools and governors of the schools. It would be a pity if the Opposition sought to diminish the distance between the inspection teams and the schools which they seek to inspect.

Let it be stressed that under the new Clause 15 local education authorities have powers of inspection outside the normal perennial cycle under Clause 9. In general there is nothing against an employee of an LEA being part of an inspection team under Clause 9 and Schedule 2 unless he has had a connection, of a kind which might reasonably be taken to raise doubts about his ability to act impartially". I see no reason to modify that phrase in any way. It is very clear. Therefore why do we have the amendment?

One can conceive of cases—they may not be those which the noble Baroness intends to address—where an LEA employee has had a close connection with a school in the exercise of his statutory duties. He may have been an adviser of the school over a long period or served as part of the inspection team under Clause 15. It would be altogether inappropriate if he were also to be part of the inspection team under the quadrennial arrangements that we now discuss.

The effect of the amendment would nullify the impartiality provision with regard to LEA employees. For that reason I believe that it is a dangerous amendment. However, I do not believe that the noble Baroness intended that effect.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, we discussed the issue at Report stage. I had hoped that I had managed to reassure her and to put on record the thinking underlying the Bill's provisions on impartiality of inspectors, and our views on how that might work in practice. I hope that I can now reassure the noble Baroness. My noble friend Lord Renfrew stressed that the determination is to ensure impartiality for the protection of the inspection. Therefore the amendment is unacceptable and probably flies in the face of all that has been said on this topic by both major parties.

One—though by no means the only—purpose of the impartiality provision in Schedule 2 is to rule out inspection by those who are closely identified with the work of the school through their previous advisory work. The need to split inspection and advice—not to put advisers in the very difficult position of having in effect to report on their own work—is a key element of our policy. It has also been thought, at least until now, to be the policy of the party opposite and is a central part of its most recent policy document.

As I hoped that I had reassured noble Lords on Tuesday, an individual will not be barred from inspection simply because he or she is or has been employed as an inspector, adviser or advisory teacher by the LEA which maintains the school, or indeed simply because he or she has been employed in the school itself. The schedule is deliberately drafted so as to allow a decision to be made having regard to the circumstances of each case. The registered inspector is placed under a specific duty to ensure that no member of his or her team has a connection with the school such as to call into question his or her ability to report impartially upon it. The registered inspector will have to be in a position to defend the impartiality of the team he has chosen when he submits a tender to the chief inspector; and I am sure that in the vast majority of cases the chief inspector will be able to decide on a common sense basis whether the Bill's requirements in this respect have in fact been met.

If an individual has given advice to a large number of schools throughout the authority, that might indeed suggest that they would be capable of acting impartially in relation to one of them. But if an adviser has formed a close relationship with one or more schools in the course of his or her duties, that might be less acceptable.

The test in the Bill is a straightforward one, and I cannot imagine a serious attempt to argue against the commonsense principle that inspectors should be impartial about the schools on which they report. We cannot accept an argument that the test of impartiality should not apply to anyone who just happens to be employed by an LEA, whether as teacher or adviser.

I am sure that professionals will try to be as impartial as possible, whoever employs them. But there is nothing about employment by an LEA which guarantees detached judgment and fairness in all cases.

Some LEAs already manage a clear separation of the functions of advice and inspection by employing staff as advisers to schools in one part of the LEA, and as inspectors of schools in the remaining part. Such an arrangement would be perfectly acceptable under the terms of the Bill, and I am sure that many more authorities will adopt it.

The need for inspection to be impartial, for reports to be fair and without bias, is a matter of common sense. It would simply not be right to allow those with a past close connection with a school to report upon it. There is no room for special pleading on that score.

I hope very much that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

Baroness David

My Lords, perhaps I may ask for further elucidation before I reply. At the end of my speech I stated that the registered LEA chief inspector is under a duty to keep partial people out of the team. The wording in the Bill refers to "no person" taking part in an inspection, and so on. It is therefore unclear whether that includes the registered inspector himself. Will the noble Baroness clarify that?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, the registered inspector would be bound by his conditions of employment which would cover impartiality.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It has clarified the situation. The LEAs will better understand the position. I therefore have no regrets about putting down this variant on the amendment that I put down at Report stage. I thank the noble Baroness for that reply.

Now that the HMCI is in charge of the whole inspection duty, we may have more faith in the chief inspector's impartiality than the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, has. Such provision makes all the difference. However, in the light of what the Minister said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4 p.m.

Schedule 2 [Schools Inspections]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 4: Page 19, line 49, at end insert: ("(1A) An appropriate authority which has prepared an action plan in accordance with sub-paragraph (1) above shall so far as practicable undertake the action proposed in the report within the period or periods therein specified".).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I moved a similar amendment on Report. It proposed that local education authorities should intervene to ensure that action plans were implemented. The Government were unhappy with the amendment because they considered that it would give too much power to local education authorities. I wish to make it clear that the purpose behind that previous amendment was not to increase the powers of local education authorities but simply to ensure that there should be some mechanism for making a school implement its action plan.

We have now tabled an alternative amendment which I hope will be more acceptable to the Government. Paragraph 10 of Schedule 2 specifies that the appropriate authority is under a duty to: prepare a written statement ('the action plan') of the action which they propose to take in the light of his [the inspector's] report and the period within which they propose to take it". However, it is not stated in any part of the Bill that the appropriate authority has a duty to carry out the action plan that it has prepared. Therefore, it would be possible for a governing body, where that is the appropriate authority, to decide on a range of action and a timetable for carrying that out but to fail to do so. That would be rare, but it could happen. It could occur for a number of different reasons. For example, the action plan might be decided by the governing body at the end of its term of office. The new governing body, perhaps with a new chairman, might not agree with the action plan and decide to ditch it.

Alternatively, the governing body may feel that implementing the action plan will in the end be too expensive and will run the school into budgetary difficulties. For that reason it may chose to ignore it. Another possibility is that the governing body may have several inquorate meetings—I am afraid to say that that is a common occurrence in some parts of the country—and therefore may never be able to act on the action plan.

Since the legislation does not at present require the governing body to carry out the plan, nor does it lay down that any other body such as the LEAs or HMCIs must do so, no action might be taken to deal with the failure of the governing body to act on the plan. That appears to us to be a serious omission from the Bill. There is little point in having a requirement in legislation for an action plan to be drawn up if there is no requirement for it to be carried out. The amendment would ensure that the omission from the Bill was rectified by giving the appropriate authority a duty to carry out its action plan.

I assure the Minister that in moving the amendment, as with the different amendment that I moved on Report, our only concern is to ensure that there is adequate follow-up to an inspection and that improvements in the performance of the school take place. The amendment is about obtaining higher standards in our schools and I hope that the Government will be willing to accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, at first sight this may seem an innocuous amendment. It is certainly a well meaning amendment. However there is a real risk that in the end it will prove counter-productive. It should be noted that subparagraph (6) of paragraph 10 of Schedule 2 also places on the governing body a responsibility to publish later in its governors' report what action has been taken under its action plan. I do not believe that the noble Baroness mentioned that provision. Therefore, even if there were a new governing body it would have the responsibility of publishing what action it had taken under the action plan of the former governing body.

It appears to me that there is a real risk that the amendment will prove counter-productive in a literal sense. If a governing body knows that when it is formulating an action plan it will have a legal obligation to carry it out, and that therefore it will be in difficulty if it does not succeed in carrying out every element of the plan within the period of time which it has specified, there may genuinely be a tendency for the body to make a more modest plan with an extended period of time. In doing so it will be more confident that it will be able to carry out that action plan within the time that it has set itself. The outcome might easily be the formulation of more modest objectives and of longer time periods because the governing body would not wish to find itself in breach of the law in failing to carry out the plan which it would have a statutory obligation to carry out. For that reason this clearly well-meaning amendment might rebound in a manner which the noble Baroness does not intend and therefore I doubt its utility.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we have built into the Bill an additional element of accountability for governors by requiring them to produce and to distribute action plans, and to report annually on their progress. That makes sure that parents will know what is planned to follow up the inspection findings and what happens as a result. Parents will have an annual opportunity at their open meeting with the governors to ask about the most recent plan and progress with its implementation, including any readjustments of priorities to take account of changed circumstances.

The amendment before us seems to take no account of this system, which is both open and flexible in its operation. The amendment would impose a direct duty upon the governors, once they had produced a plan and set out their timetable for action, to meet that timetable unless to do so proved impracticable.

But let us suppose that following the detailed plan simply proves inappropriate in the light of changed circumstances. The duty to implement the plan would still apply. Let us imagine that another situation has arisen in which urgent attention is required in another activity in the school for which it is entirely sensible to switch priorities. It could still be deemed practical to pursue the original timetable but not necessarily the most sensible or appropriate action. Again, that would not make good sense for the school. In such circumstances, we should soon find that action plans were being very carefully drafted to involve the minimum of specific plans and the maximum of general and unfocused enthusiasm for improvement. That point was well made by my noble friend Lord Renfrew. Such plans would serve schools, parents and the whole community very poorly indeed.

It is also possible that the appropriate authority, knowing that it will be bound in law by a duty to meet a timetable, will be very cautious about time limits which it must undertake to meet. There is no flexibility in the amendment nor is there any mention of a sanction if the governing body does not meet the time limit. It would be in breach of the law. It would be against the law to go over the timetable by a day.

Of course we could get round these practical problems. We could require plans to be regularly updated. We could have a process of formal adjustment, by agreement with the chief inspector. But this is all entirely unnecessary. The position that I outlined at the start of my remarks—the openness of the plan and its regular and public review—should surely serve the need of the school.

My noble friend has touched on the matter but it was worth pointing out that the Bill not only requires the action plan but also a timetable and a period within which the appropriate authority shall take that action.

Amendment No. 49 tabled on Report by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, gave the LEAs powers to have access to a school where they had concern. HMIs have also retained powers to enter a school in addition to the regular four-year inspections. There are annual reports whereby not only are they required to discuss the action plan with parents but they must return to it each year and indicate the progress that has been made. Those requirements are also supplemented by annual meetings. It is the argument about duty and inflexibility versus what we all want—and as I know the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, wants—namely, to make sure that action plans are produced, that they are realistic and that they build on the strengths and address weaknesses in schools. Governors will not be able to ignore their published plans nor will they be able to adjust them without good reason. However, over the course of a four-year cycle, they must have scope to revise and review their plans and to develop their thinking. I am sure that we have struck the right balance in that respect and I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, my experience of being a school governor over many years suggests that governors are not nearly as Machiavellian as the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, and the Minister suggest.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I do not believe that my noble friend or I were suggesting that governors are Machiavellian. It is important to say for the record that if this amendment were accepted the governors would have no flexibility to do what is appropriate and sensible. They may need to extend the timetable slightly in order to do that. This amendment does not allow a governing body to act in a sensible and an appropriate way for the school.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I take the point about flexibility. Perhaps I misheard the Minister and the noble Lord but I thought that they were suggesting that governing bodies might adjust their action plans if they were under pressure to implement them and may be inclined to be rather less ambitious and less concerned to follow the recommendations made by the inspectors. I believe that that is a rather cynical view of governors. I do not believe that they are that Machiavellian, nor that they operate in such a way. Governors sometimes fail to do what should be done through what I would call the "cock-up" rather than the conspiracy theory; that is, that they are not sufficiently well organised to take on some of the responsibilities required of them.

I am worried that simply requiring governing bodies to report on progress in an annual report seems to be a rather weak way of ensuring that the action plan is implemented. I believe that the Minister is rather over confident in what she has said. However, in the unlikely event that the Bill is implemented, we shall watch with interest the progress which it makes and see whether the mechanisms in the Bill are sufficient to ensure that the action plans are properly implemented. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. We have had some eventful sittings during our consideration of this Bill, and we are finishing at an eventful time. The Bill has been subjected to open-heart surgery and, following a short period of attention, it underwent further treatment and the patient has been declared to be in robust health. The Bill leaves this House ready for implementation, subject to the final agreement of those in another place and is ready to take forward the Parent's Charter.

The main task of opposition has fallen upon the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who have been supported by a number of their colleagues; in particular, the noble Lords, Lord Dormand of Easington and Lord Glenamara, who occasionally offered valuable support by joining with us to oppose amendments which would not have been in the interest of the teaching profession. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Lords, Lord Ritchie of Dundee and Lord Beaumont of Whitley, have, together with noble Lords on the Labour Benches, seen to it that all parts of the Bill were challenged. The debates have been lively, always courteous and of a high order, whatever disagreements there might have been about the content of the Bill. There is, I believe, a philosophical divide between us in that the Government would have devolved more responsibility to schools and governing bodies whereas noble Lords opposite would have left control with local education authorities.

The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, held strong views about the Bill, as indeed did other noble Lords, and he fought his corner with characteristic tenacity, with great courtesy and from a position of considerable experience, having worked with local education authorities. He has made the case for a restatement of a provision in another education Act of the role of LEAs on the face of the Bill and I am sure that the House will join me in thanking him for that. I only regret that my promise to bring forward such an amendment was not accepted by the noble Earl.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, who is not in his place, has also taken a great interest in the Bill. His sagacious advice during our deliberations on a variety of issues, but in particular on the sensitive issue of religious education, has been most welcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has been instrumental in persuading the House—although I have to say the House succumbed readily to the case he made—that the spiritual, moral, cultural and social dimension of education should be made subject to inspectoral scrutiny. I was impressed with his case from the start and I am delighted that the appropriate form of words was agreed and now form part of the Bill.

I wish to record my thanks to my noble friends on these Benches. They have offered valuable support and constructive criticism, though not always agreeable to the Government; for example, from my noble friend Lord Beloff. However, no-one can doubt that the motives of my noble friend Lord Beloff are of the highest, and that is in the interests of high quality education. My noble friend Lord Elton has pressed his great eloquence for assurances on a number of points some of which are now either incorporated in the Bill or will be addressed subsequently as the Act is implemented. On those issues on which he was not so successful the debate will continue, and he has my assurance on that. I am grateful to my noble friends Lady Young, whose credentials in these matters are well known to the House, and Lady Perry, who has contributed to this Bill from her vast experience in the field of education and in particular as an HMI. My noble friend Lady Faithful] has once again ensured that the question of special needs has been fully examined. My noble friend Lord Renfrew has played a major role in filling a lacuna in the original proposals which he did very effectively. Even though his efforts were overtaken by the "ambush", his expertise has nevertheless added considerably to our debate.

I wish to thank my officials for the skilful way they have served my Front Bench team on this Bill. Finally, I thank my noble friend Lords Strathclyde who "kilted" the Bill with style, as only he knows how, and to my noble friend Lady Denton, who is making a very impressive introduction onto these Benches and has taken a considerable workload in her stride. Of course, I never doubted that she would and her assistance to me on the Bill has been tremendous.

Inevitably, I will not have covered everybody but I am very grateful to all who have contributed for the intellectual and good humoured debate we have experienced, which is in the best traditions of the House.

This is the Parent's Charter Bill. It sets the seal on the education reforms we have put in place over the past few years. Those reforms were designed to improve standards and quality in our schools. This Bill will give everyone, at every level, encouragement to ensure that the full benefits of the reforms are realised, and will demonstrate that achievement to parents.

The Bill will ensure the regular inspection of all schools to high standards set and monitored by Her Majesty's Inspectorate. It will require the publication of a full inspection report on each school, and make sure that each parent is sent a readable summary of that report. It will require governors to prepare action plans to follow up inspection, and to report regularly to parents on progress; and it will ensure that parents and others can compare the performance of all local schools in key areas of educational activity.

The Bill is essentially about more and better information; not for its own sake, but because governors, teachers and parents need the best possible information if they are to play their proper part in improving educational standards. Professionals, governors and parents all have much to gain from this Bill and so, as a result, have all our children. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Blatch.)

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I regret that due to a long-standing commitment, I shall have to leave before the completion of the Third Reading of the Bill. The Chief Whip is looking rather surprised but he knows that the date of this Third Reading was brought forward with our agreement.

I thank all Members of your Lordships' House who have taken part in the debates on the Bill. In particular, I thank the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Denton. They have been given the most unenviable task in this House in this Session in being asked to take through its various stages such a misguided and unpopular Bill. We all feel sympathy for them. They have done their best to defend the indefensible and to cope with the follies of their right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I am grateful to them also for their patience in dealing with such a large number of amendments at the Committee stage of the Bill. They accepted the amendments on which the Government were defeated in Committee and came back with further revisions to ensure that the purpose behind those amendments was reflected in the Bill and that the consequentials were all in place. We recognise that that entailed extra work for both noble Baronesses in a tight timetable and we are truly appreciative for that.

On the Government Benches I should like particularly to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beloff—I see he is no longer in his place—for his independence and integrity in stating what he believes, and the spirited way in which he attacked the Bill. He has been much quoted, deservedly, because he always puts things in a pithy way—good sound bites I believe is the modern jargon—but also because he put his finger on what is wrong with the Bill. He and I do not always agree but on this Bill we are in almost complete agreement. I am grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for the considerable work he put in on the Bill. He managed to secure some improvements in the Bill through his amendments, improvements with which we agree and which we endorse.

On the Cross-Benches I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin. He always brings to debates on education a quiet authority based on his long experience of schools and his work as an education officer. We on this side of the House greatly appreciate his contributions, and particularly value the way in which he handled the important amendment—Amendment No. 11A—that he moved in Committee. On the Liberal Benches I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who share our opposition to the Bill.

Finally, I come to my noble friends on the Front Bench, Lord Peston and Lady David. Without their enormous support I would have found tackling the Bill much more difficult than I did. I mention also my noble friends on the Back-Benches, Lord Young of Dartington—who all his life has been a champion of the consumer and of parents as consumers—and Lord Dormand who, like the noble Earl, also spent time early in his career as an education officer and has a great deal of experience and knowledge of the subject.

Many Members of this House and, more important, many people outside it who will be affected by the Bill if it is implemented, were delighted that the combined forces of the Opposition with Cross-Bench support were able to amend it so that two of the worst features of the Bill were removed. Schools will not now be able to choose their own inspectors. Local education authorities will be able to inspect schools in their areas when circumstances require it. Those are major improvements. However, I regret to say that in spite of those changes the Bill is still one of the worst pieces of educational legislation that has been brought to Parliament since the war.

We are still left with the absurdity of the privatisation of the system of school inspection, although now it will be slightly better regulated than before. We are still faced with a wholly untested system of private firms being set up to inspect our primary and secondary schools. At no time in the course of the Bill has the Opposition claimed that everything about the existing system of inspection is perfect; it is not. The Labour Party's longstanding policy is to place Her Majesty's Inspectorate under an education standards commission independent of Ministers, reporting to Parliament, who in turn would direct and advise on the work of local inspectors who would operate at arm's length from the local education authority.

It was deliberately misleading of the Secretary of State to claim, after the Government lost the amendments in Committee in this House, that it is Labour Party policy that all inspections will be on the basis of allowing local councils licence to inspect local schools. Incidentally, his claim that the amendments were sponsored by trade unions was utter tripe. I assume he thought that making the claim would in some way discredit those who tabled the amendments. I can assure the House that it does not.

The use of private firms as inspectors will not improve standards in schools; it will do the reverse. It will mean that people with insufficient experience and expertise will be let loose on our schools. There is also a serious danger that there will be insufficient funds available to allow high quality inspections at the kind of intervals that the Government claim they intend. That is why the major firms of management consultants who already do educational work have stated clearly that they will not become involved.

Finally, by including further requirements on schools to publish information under Clause 16, the Government are claiming to be implementing the Parent's Charter. There is a serious question of whether the clause is necessary as the 1980 and 1988 Acts already require the publication of almost all the information required in the Bill; only data on the destination of school leavers is a new requirement. We made clear that we believe that that data will be valueless. But our real anxiety is that league tables based on raw data alone will not provide the kind of high quality information parents deserve in a genuine Parent's Charter of the kind we want to see. Moreover, many parents will be misled and many teachers will be complacent, some even smug, when it is not merited, and others demoralised because their success in difficult circumstances goes unrecognised.

However, a general election has been announced. In just over four weeks' time, after a Labour victory, the Bill will be dead, buried and no more than an unhappy memory in a long chapter of unhappy memories we have had to endure since 1979.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I should like to add a few words of appreciation from these Benches to all those who have taken part in the prolonged and interesting discussions on the Bill. First, I should like to mention the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Denton, whose clarity, coherence and courtesy throughout the Bill has been remarkable. Most remarkable of all has been their stamina. It has been required at a late hour in your Lordships' House on more than one occasion.

We have had many worthwhile debates and I should like to add appreciation for the work of the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady David, and the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Dormand of Easington, whose pugnacious sincerity is remarkable. I should like to make special mention of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin. His contributions are unfortunately comparatively rare but their incisiveness and authority are in proportion to their rarity. My thanks go also to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who has sat faithfully on the Front Bench also to a late hour and whose name has not yet been mentioned.

Your Lordships' persistence in scrutiny through long and weary hours and attention to detail is remarkable and has been exemplified in discussing the Bill. We, too, are pleased that we have achieved the two points already mentioned; first, an arm's length relationship between schools and their inspecting authorities, which is to be carried out by the chief inspector. As I remember, that was the purport of an amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, which I moved at Committee stage. It is gratifying to know that it has substantially come back from the Government's hands. There is also the right of local education authorities to go into the schools and to inspect those for which they are responsible.

We too regret certain things about the Bill, particularly that the HMI annual report will no longer be based on its own inspections but on inspections carried out by other inspectors. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that what you have not inspected yourself you never know so well as that which you have. We also fear that too much time will be taken up with administration and monitoring the inspections of the registered inspectors which should have been taken up with their own experienced inspecting. They will be inspecting inspectors too much of the time.

We also regret that the registered inspection teams will lack expertise, particularly the expertise to give continuing professional advice to teachers which is what the HMI has been able to do in the past. With its truncated numbers it does not seem that it will be able to do so in future. We also regret that the published league tables will not be modified by any value added or supplementary information.

I notice that in Clause 16(6) (c) the Secretary of State may command that supplementary information should be given by local authorities. I hope that it will include the kind of information that we have been seeking. We must hope that the education service will make things work and that somehow benefit will accrue from the more frequent inspections. We say goodbye to what has been described as the silliest Bill that has ever come before your Lordships' House. We hope that it leaves us a little less silly.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I will not follow other speakers in a long catalogue of comment on my colleagues' performance or in an analysis of the effects of this worthwhile Bill other than to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for her kind remarks and to say that it was a pleasure, although a rare one, to find myself in agreement with her. Under those circumstances her eloquence is a great deal more persuasive than it is under others.

As a former Minister of State in the Department of the Environment I should remind your Lordships that my noble friend Lady Blatch is a Minister of that department and not of the Department of Education and Science. She has put in a most remarkable performance, as has my noble friend Lady Denton, in taking this not uncomplex and not uncontroversial Bill through this House with unconquerable competence and in the wake of formidable legislation on behalf of her own department. That is a matter of note and I congratulate both my noble friends.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, I imagine that we all have mixed feelings about the passage of this Bill. Believing that it is overall not a good measure, I am glad that certain important changes have been made on the way. The key one of course is the choice of inspection teams: here I believe most people will think that common sense has prevailed. The establishment of an LEA's right to inspect its own schools is important no less for the messages it gives to hard-working professionals of experience and integrity round the country than for the principle that it secures. The Government's hostility to LEAs en bloc has come across fairly unmistakably, and I do not believe this is conducive to good decision-making. There are things to criticise, but there is much that is good at local level, too.

The Government's determination to provide information for parents is entirely right, and I think they can justly claim credit over the past 12 years for helping to change the climate of opinion in this particular. Over the methods of doing so we have argued in this Bill, and I sense some degree of convergence of views. I would be happier if I felt that the Government fully appreciated the danger of raw league tables, already referred to, for they can do a lot of damage which is not easily undone.

My main worry, which I put in question form at Second Reading, remains unanswered. It is the debate which we have never had. The assumption that the present situation in our schools calls for a massive programme of full inspections every four years rests on very shaky foundations. We need more information, yes. But the leap to what schools are now going to face is an example, I believe, of overkill on the grand scale. In a debate last May introduced by my noble friend, Lord Annan, who is not in his place, I do not think I was the only noble Lord who stressed that the pace of enforced change in the educational world was greater than any organisation could reasonably absorb. Evolutionary change is one thing, but change that is imposed is that much harder to digest—as well as frequently being less effective.

I would beg the Government to consider—they could even take soundings and consult in the way they have not done before this Bill—whether a four-year interval between inspections is really wise. An awful lot of precious money is involved, with an awful lot of time, and an awful lot of disruption. My own suspicion is that most of what the Government want to achieve, and what we all want to achieve, in monitoring and raising standards, can be done by reforms of a less elephantine nature. Previous inspection intervals were undoubtedly too long. Something like seven years may be nearer the mark. It may be, from what some noble Lords have argued, that the economics of the exercise will dictate some relaxation even if the Government do not.

It is not just a courtesy in this case to congratulate the noble Baroness the Minister on the way she has handled the Bill. We differed over most things, and she may not always have represented me correctly, so I am sure she will believe me when I express real admiration for her stamina, her readiness to meet serious argument with serious argument, and her willingness to concede some minor amendments where common sense suggested them. These all contributed, as she said, to some debates of high quality in which many of your Lordships took part. I enjoyed them all. I should add that the Minister was most ably abetted by the noble Baroness, Lady Denton of Wakefield.

Whichever government is returned in April I hope we may see a period when educational change is kept to a minimum and the need for consolidation is understood. I hope also that future governments will see the virtue of working with the educational profession and not against it, because that is the way that we shall see lasting improvements made.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.