HL Deb 13 January 2005 vol 668 cc363-97

11.37 a.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.(Lord Filkin. )

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 5 [Duty to inspect certain schools at prescribed intervals]:

Baroness Walmsley

moved Amendment No. 22: Page 3, line 39. after "prescribed," insert— ( ) in the course of any inspection of a school to consult and have regard to the views of the head teacher, staff, parents, pupils and governors of that school, The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 22 is all about consultation during the course of inspection with heads, staff, pupils and governors and having regard to the views expressed by them. In the run-up to this Committee stage, various organisations got in touch with us and suggested that when conducting an inspection the team needed to consult all these various groups. The simplest thing appeared to us to be to incorporate them all within one amendment. Importantly, the amendment says that the inspector must "have regard" to their views, not just consult them.

I recognise that we have a dilemma here. On the one hand, how can Ofsted achieve the desired short, sharp, very short notice inspections and yet arrange to see and talk to all of these people? Yet, on the other hand, how can it really get an impression of how well the school is performing, particularly within its wider context in relation to the well-being of children, without talking to this range of people? There has been a real advance in recent years with Ofsted paying more attention to such issues of governance, and meeting and talking with governors, and most recently with it taking the views of pupils into account, which is all very welcome. It would be a great shame if all that were lost.

Specifically, how can an inspection be completed without considerable discussion with the head and the staff about the aims and objectives of the school and how they go about trying to fulfil them? It is really vital that that goes on to the face of the Bill. Of course, you then get into, "If heads and staff, then what about parents, pupils, governors and support staff?", and we quickly get down to a list—which the Government hate, I know.

The issue is that all these stakeholder groups representing all the people I have mentioned need to be established and consulted, as that will enable each of their different standpoints about the school to be taken into account in the school's own self-evaluation. Information gathered on how well a school is performing will therefore reflect more directly the priorities of all these stakeholders who have a close day-to-day involvement in the school.

Teachers' judgments need to be at the centre of assessment and evaluation. The evidence from countries which have adopted this kind of bottom-up self-evaluation is that such approaches have contributed to high levels of achievement for the vast majority of young people—where teachers' own assessment and evaluation of their standards goes up and not down.

Similarly, it is vital that all those within the school community have a proper stake in and ownership of the inspection and improvement process. This consultation and having regard to their views would contribute to that.

Parents undoubtedly have more information about schools than they have ever had before, but the nature of this information has in many cases been somewhat misleading, involving a concentration on tests and examination score outcomes.

Issues of concern to pupils and parentssuch as care, enjoyment of learning and emotional security—have been overshadowed by a national focus on targets and performance tables. The Ofsted consultation document, New Inspections and the Viewpoint of Users, referred to questions parents are most likely to ask about schools, such as, "Will my child be happy, safe, learning something, secure from bullying, able to enjoy school?". Yet Ofsted has not provided the means to be able properly to assess whether the new arrangements will achieve that purpose.

Under the new arrangements it is proposed that Ofsted no longer has a meeting with parents and instead seeks their views via a questionnaire. That brings certain dangers. These meetings have long been criticised for their low turnouts and the new arrangements may well be a more sensible development, but they have the potential to place additional burdens on schools unless they are carefully managed. Given the reduced notice period for inspection, can the Minister say who will be responsible for the reproduction, distribution and collection of the parents' questionnaires?

There is also the question of the ability of the parents to complete the questionnaires. As communication with Ofsted is now to be primarily in written form, those parents and carers with poor literacy skills and/or those who have English as a second or third language would not have equal opportunity of access to express what they feel about their concerns or even their praise for the school. Can the Minister tell us how the profile of parents and carers who fill in the form and participate in this consultation will be monitored? What action will be taken if there is any evidence that certain groups have been disfranchised by the new arrangements which are now to be in writing?

It is for these reasons that we feel that our amendment would be much more appropriate and would avoid that danger. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

I speak to my Amendment No. 36 which follows on from the contribution that we have just heard. On the first day of Committee my noble friends were particularly helpful in their responses and I hope that my noble friend will agree to consider this matter.

Section 6 sets out the duty on the appropriate authority to inform parents that the chief inspector proposes to undertake a Section 5 inspection of their children's school. But it does not specify that a meeting should have to take place between the chief inspector and the parents of that school. My amendment ensures that wherever it is reasonably practical —I stress those words— such a meeting should be held.

I am very happy with the proposed new inspection regime—shorter notice, shorter time, more frequent inspection and, in particular, the fact that a greater number of inspections will be led by one of Her Majesty's inspectorate; also, the chief inspector will be accountable for all reports. All these changes are warmly welcomed. I believe that they will lead to a much more realistic inspection and I hope a rather less stressful one for teachers. But I have a real concern about parental involvement.

11.45 a.m.

I understand from a very helpful letter from my noble friend that because of the short notice it is considered unreasonable to require schools to arrange the kind of parents' evening that is now arranged prior to the inspection. I also acknowledge that some of the practical points about that were discussed in the DfES paper, A New Relationship with Schools. The paper gave practical examples of about two to five working days' notice being given of inspections. One example was that staff would be informed towards the end of a week, with an inspection running in the following week—from, say, Tuesday lunchtime to Thursday lunchtime.

Unfortunately, in these illustrations, there is to be no opportunity for a meeting between parents and the inspecting teams. That would be a great pity and I ask my noble friend to give further thought to this. After all, the whole purpose of Ofsted is to improve the quality of schools. To exclude parents from the most visible part of that process would be a major mistake.

As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, schools will be obliged to inform parents of the inspections and give details of how to contact the inspector. But it is very different relying either on a paper-based response or on one-to-one meetings between parents and the inspectors which to many will be intimidating. One cannot substitute that for an opportunity for parents, in the round and collectively, to meet the inspecting team. Not all parents will take up that opportunity, but many will come and many will come at short notice.

Ofsted may say, as I think it has, that some of those parents will be unrepresentative. But are we to say that because parents are active and take the trouble to turn up they are to be discounted by Ofsted because they are regarded as somehow peculiar and unrepresentative?

My own experience in Birmingham with state schools, with four children, has generally been a happy one. My noble friend knows that I have been concerned, along with many parents, about the direction of my youngest child's primary school, Kings Heath. We have not had an Ofsted inspection for years. If we were to get a short-notice inspection—in a school where there is concern among a lot of parents— and then found out that there would not be an opportunity for parents to come together to discuss their concerns with the inspector, particularly where the concern is about the leadership of a school, the result would probably be that parents would have far less respect for the inspection report.

On the practicalities, I recall many occasions when a school has forgotten, for example, that there is a concert next week, so we get a letter on Friday about the school concert on Monday or Tuesday, and we all troop to it. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that parents will come to a meeting with two or three days' notice. Ofsted has enormous powers over these schools. On the first day of Committee, we debated the accountability of Ofsted; surely one of the most appropriate ways by which Ofsted can be accountable is its accessibility to parents. The meeting with parents is very valuable and I hope that my noble friend will agree to give this further thought.

The Earl of Sandwich

In view of the shortage of time for these inspections, does the noble Lord completely discount the possibility of parent governors taking that role? That is why they were constituted in the first place.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

If the parent governors were doing a good job, that would be perfectly possible. However, what about a school where the governing body is weak and has no control over a strong, assertive head? If parents make their concerns known to the governing body and find that nothing happens, what should they do? One of the great opportunities is to go and meet the inspectors. If a lot of parents turn up at the meeting, as they do with some inspections, the inspectorate at least knows that there are some issues that must be confronted. It is in such circumstances that we need the opportunity.

The Earl of Listowel

I rise to support what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said about Amendment No. 36 and to speak to my amendment. Amendment No. 37.

If my noble friend Lord Northbourne were able to be here today, he would strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said. There is an important principle involved: parents should be involved at every opportunity in every way possible in decisions that affect the upbringing of their children. That might seem to go without saying, but I do not think that it does.

I listened with great interest to the Conservatives' debate yesterday on a low-tax economy and to what my noble friend Lord Skidelsky, the economist, said about the importance of a low-tax economy. He did not argue that the primary reason was an economic one but that it was a question of responsibility, a moral question, and that individuals should not have their responsibility eroded by an unnecessary tax burden.

I have come across the issue in past debates on childcare. We know that many children arrive at school with language difficulties caused by their poor experience of parenting and that good childcare can help to remedy that and prepare children to arrive at school in better shape. There is a danger that people will say to parents, "We can look after your children better than you can. You can trust us with your children when they are very young", when sometimes the quality of the childcare is not what we would wish. That tension needs to be attended to. I am concerned that we should not, even with the best intentions in the world, erode the sense of parental responsibility. That is why I support strongly what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said, among the other reasons that he gave.

My Amendment No. 37 is similar to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. It seeks to involve those in the care system concerned with children who are looked after by local authorities. In particular, I think that it is important to involve birth parents, where it is possible and safe to do so. Many children in the care system return to their birth parents, and it is important that the parents are kept in touch with the process. Birth parents often feel excluded and frustrated by the system.

I shall give an example. A mother with mild learning difficulties might have her child placed in the care of the maternal grandmother. It may be a marginal case, and one would hope that the child could soon return to the mother's responsibility. It would help the mother not to lose hope that she might one day be fully responsible for her child again, if she were involved in the process and could feel that people were still interested in asking about the fate of her child and the decisions taken about the child. A mother in the process of recovering from alcohol or drug addiction could be kept involved with her children and in any important decisions about them.

The issue also highlights the need for a designated senior teacher at the school, as the guidance on the education of looked-after children recommends. That teacher could liaise and would be well aware of the situation in the local authority, so that, even at short notice, he or she could think, "Who shall I speak to? Who might it be helpful to contact in the short period before the inspection?". There might be a good deal of utility in that. Many foster carers and many people who work in residential childcare are concerned about the quality of the educational experience that the

looked-after child receives in school. They might have something useful to say to the inspectors, if it were possible to involve them at short notice.

It is a probing amendment. I am seeking information about what happens currently and what might happen in the future with children who are looked after by local authorities. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Lord Hanningfield

Amendment No. 38, which is in the group, is similar to the two amendments that have been spoken to.

The key change in this Bill from the one that it follows so closely—the 1996 Act—is the scrapping of the meeting between the inspector and the parents of children at the school being inspected. We believe that that is a retrograde step and will act as a further disenfranchisement of parents.

The Explanatory Notes point out that such a meeting would be impractical, as we heard from other speakers, given the intention to reduce notice of inspections. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that it is neither impractical nor impossible. The two—sides inspectors and parents—have a great deal to offer each other. Both have valuable insights and information that it would be advantageous to share. Inspectors can get a true picture of the wider environment in which the school operates, including any ongoing concerns that might not be understood or spotted in an all-school environment. It is very important that parents are involved.

It is an easy opt-out to deem such a step impractical. We simply do not agree that that should happen. It would be relatively straightforward for the head teacher in a school, once he or she knows that an inspection is to be carried out, with the support of the appropriate authority, to set up a meeting between the interested parents and the inspection team. Parents are well aware of the importance of an Ofsted inspection, so attracting interested individuals would not be a problem. The intention behind our amendment is to leave it to the discretion of the head to arrange a suitable meeting.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

I want to make three points about Amendment No. 39. First, I support the thrust and intention of the amendments grouped with mine. I spoke about that at Second Reading, so I shall not repeat my arguments about the importance of the parents' role in the process.

I noticed in passing, with some wry amusement, that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, managed to identify a school that has not had an Ofsted inspection for some time. No doubt, Ofsted will take note. He may be thanked for that; he may not. We shall see.

My second point is that the amendment presses the importance of a meeting with the governors. There are two reasons for that. The first has already been alluded to in the debate: the governing body includes parent representatives. As a fail-safe position, the amendment would be one way of ensuring that some parents— those elected to represent the parents—met the inspection team. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, reasonably pointed out, it may be that the governing body is weak and the parents on it not very active or particularly representative.

That brings me to the other reason why a meeting with the governing body is important. If the governing body is not strong and active and playing its part in the school, that fact needs to be drawn to its attention. Who could do that well, other than the inspectors with whom it should properly meet? The governing bodies of schools have had their responsibilities increased over the years, and rightly so. They can be a major source of support to the head teacher and other teachers and a major source of policy making in the school. The responsibility that they have for being accountable to the wider community is wholly in line with the intention of the Bill. Hence the importance that my colleagues and I attach to a meeting with the governors.

Governors ought to be available on short notice for such an important matter, but we suggest a failsafe position, so that, if they were not, it should not be a reason for not meeting the chairman. Whoever chairs the governing body ought to be available for such a session. Not only should the chair of the governing bodies and the other governors available be given the opportunity to meet the inspection team, it should be drawn be drawn to their intention as a responsibility. How else will they realise what their responsibilities are and ensure that those responsibilities are taken seriously by the department, the parents and the community at large? How else will they face up realistically to the report that will be made on their school? They ought to see the whites of the inspectors' eyes early and know how serious they are about their business.


Baroness Howe of Idlicote

I speak to Amendment No. 39 and support very much the intentions behind the other amendments in this group about which I shall say something later.

It is pretty clear that the intention behind the 1998 and 2000 Education Acts was to give greater responsibility to governors. At the moment what is being put forward is a reduction in the involvement of governors in this particularly important aspect of the inspection of schools. I am with those who are in favour of shorter inspections.

There are three reasons why I, and others, such as the National Association of Governors and Managers, which has just changed its name, and the NUT, are not entirely happy with what is proposed. My first reason is that during the passage of the Children Bill many of us argued for schools and the governors being involved in the delivery of children's well-being and, turning to the comments of my noble friend Lord Listowel, particularly that of the most vulnerable children.

There are requirements in the Bill for inspections to report on the school's contribution to the well-being of pupils. Secondly, therefore, it is more important that there is a meeting with the governors while the inspection takes place.

My third reason is a little different. All schools are now to have rather more responsibility for their budgets over a period of three years, which is excellent. There will be a huge range of different sorts of schools under the Government's plans. They will have greater responsibility once they have been approved as a specialist school or an academy. The governors' role will be even more important and, therefore, they should have a much greater say and be spoken to when inspection takes place. Those are my reasons for very much wanting to support a greater role for governors in the important inspection procedures.

As regards the parental side, I support very much what has been said, particularly the extremely effective and persuasive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. It is not good enough to say that, because parents do not attend meetings at the inspections, that is a reason for cancelling them. Sadly, it is more likely to be an indication that the school is not doing enough to communicate with parents. It may be that that side should be considered.

At a time when the Government are recognising the issues rather more effectively—and I note, sadly, the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who is so passionate about parental involvement in all aspects of children's upbringing—it is a backward step not to have this subject included. As regards the idea that parents are likely to feel included by filling in a series of forms, even if they have the capacity to understand them, that is a laughable suggestion. What is needed is a demonstration of how a closer relationship between parents and schools can be achieved, which is increasingly recognised as necessary for getting the very best out of children in attainment and well-being. How is that to be achieved? What is suggested now appears to be a step backwards towards earlier days in my time when there was a notice outside the school saying. "No parents beyond this point". We need to watch that danger.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

I offer my support for all these amendments, although my name supports only Amendment No. 38. There is a great body of research that shows the importance of the relationship which children sense between their home values and the school. The more a child feels that there is continuity of understanding between the parents—or whichever one it is living with—and the teacher, the more the child's work improves and it thrives as an individual. Sadly, the reverse is true. The more the child senses that the parents and the parental home are at variance with the values and understanding of the school, the more the child's work is liable to suffer. The visible example of the parents being brought in at a meeting at which the performance of the school is being discussed with the involvement of the parents is an immensely valuable part of the inspection experience.

Similarly, governors have had more and more responsibility placed on them in the past 10 years. Being a member of a governing body now is quite a scary thing. The legislation for which you are responsible is pretty formidable. The idea that we take away the valuable meeting between the inspectors and those who are in law responsible for the overall educational character of the school is very retrograde.

I have been asking myself why the Government— and, presumably, the current chief inspector—are in favour of this change in the arrangements. My own experience in all three roles as a parent at my children's schools when inspected, as an inspector, and as a governor of one or two schools is that such meetings have been very positive and contributed to the inspection and to the long-term well-being of the school.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, there may be anxiety on the part of the Government and the inspectorate that the short timescale of notice is not enough to allow attendance to happen. I agree with the noble Lord entirely that that is not the case. Parents and governors will make themselves available and will turn up. Perhaps not all of them will attend, but certainly enough to be a representative group. Ministers tended not to want to accept any amendments at the first meeting of the Committee on Tuesday, but I hope that they will take this amendment away and think very seriously about reinstating the meetings.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, to expand on a point that he raised. I am grateful for his support. I do not usually enjoy much support on education matters from those Benches. It is an enjoyable position to be in. Amendment No. 38 appears to leave to the discretion of the head teacher whether a meeting should take place between parents and the chief inspector. In those few schools where there are real problems over leadership, does the noble Lord accept that the head teacher will often discourage such meetings taking place? Will the noble Lord reconsider leaving the matter solely at the discretion of the head teacher?

Lord Hanningfield

In tabling this amendment we felt very strongly that 99 per cent of head teachers would want the parents involved in the inspection. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was very persuasive. In a school where there are considerable problems with the head teacher, there might be difficulties as regards him wanting to have other people involved. That is a point the noble Lord made in his speech. However, I would be most concerned if the situation were not apparent to bodies other than parents, such as the local authority. That would ensure that the point was covered.

We have tabled our amendment because we felt that it might be one which the Government could accept. It is not as strong as the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and given that it is slightly milder in tone, we hope that it will be accepted.

Lord Lucas

I support Amendment No. 39. Given the consequences of an inspection, how can a school be inspected without consulting or even seeing a body as important as the board of governors? To leave the governors out of the consideration seems entirely inappropriate.

I also support the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. If you were trying to form a picture of a business, this would be like not talking to the customers. It would be similar to sticking close to the factory, watching what goes out of the door and assuming that everything is all right outside. If something is causing concern in a school, it is more than likely to be revealed in the parents. It is much easier to find out something subtle, unusual or difficult to elicit from the ordinary procedures and school records by talking to the parents. As the Minister knows, I built a business on those grounds. You find out a lot of things from parents which would never be revealed by simply going around the school. Meeting parents is an absolutely crucial element when trying to understand how a school is working.

I turn to the questionnaire. It will have to be sent out with the agency of the school, because there is no other way in which it will happen. The questionnaires will have to be returned to the inspectors before they leave the premises. It is not possible to deal with a disparate collection of responses without having an opportunity to discuss them with the school. If this is to be done within the timescale, there may as well be a meeting of the parents involved in the process.

Beyond anything else, a meeting would allow parents to express points that are not raised in the questionnaire. I have never seen one that asked the right questions. It cannot be done in a one-size-fits-all-but-it-must-fit-on-to-two-sides-of-A4 exercise. Such questionnaires always ask the questions you are not interested in. Moreover, because the questions go through so many committees, they will be totally anodyne and lacking any point. There will never be a question such as, "What is the history teaching like?". If there are real concerns, they are likely to be much more focused than anything that would ever appear in a questionnaire.

However, at least the questionnaire may act as a prompt. I approve of it because it may encourage parents to recognise that they have a real role to play. But for goodness' sake give them a meeting because that is where the real information will come out.

Baroness Andrews

We have had a good debate on an important group of amendments. My noble friend has already told me to stop nodding, but there is much that the Government can agree with in the spirit and intent of what has been said. I hope to be able to demonstrate that in my response. I want also to address the many concerns that have been expressed, such as time factors, the imperatives of the new system and what impact they will have on the processes and the people involved.

I shall start by addressing the general amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, which sets out the stall for the group. We welcome the positive statements from all around the Committee about the vital roles played by all the different participants in a school when it comes to inspection. As each amendment has been spoken to, warm tributes have been made to those roles, which I wholly endorse. We do not take any of those for granted and acknowledge their value in the year-on-year improvements in performance we have seen in schools.

The current position is that the School Inspections Act 1996 places a requirement on schools to arrange a meeting with parents and inspectors, and requires inspectors to consult the appropriate authority about the inspection. However, there is nothing in the statute about consulting pupils, head teachers or staff. That is something on which we shall reflect. However, we know that in the past inspectors have consulted widely with all the relevant parties. That has always been extremely important. Without that, we would not now have a school inspection system. However, the question of why we should put certain provisions into statute has been raised.

I shall address first the issue of head teachers and staff before turning to the role of parents. We do not believe in general that the amendment is necessary because— recalling our debate on Tuesday—of self-evaluation, which lies at the heart of the new system. Self-evaluation means looking at the way things are done at each level within the school teaching, learning, organisation, leadership and the relationships between teachers and the whole range of people involved in educating and bringing up children.

The inspection will start with a professional engagement between the inspection team, the head teacher, his senior management team and the staff. Inspectors will examine the self-evaluation exercise, looking at how it relates to their experience of what is going on in the school during their time on the premises. They will ensure that the initial statistical and other data concur with what they find. They will then sit with the senior management team to explore and challenge the self-evaluation. They will work alongside and engage with independent members of staff in particular areas of the curriculum to understand what people are actually telling them about what is going on. During the event, there will be similar engagements with pupils and parents. The aim is to verify the evidence set out in the self-evaluation summary, ensuring that it accords with what people without any vested interests tell the inspectors about their experience of the school and how it is delivering.

12.15 p.m.

That is a fundamental principle. One must involve the child and the parent at all stages. Each of the views gathered will be used to inform the final judgments that the inspector puts into his report. The inspector will provide verbal feedback at the end of the inspection, at which the governing body should be represented, with the draft report following shortly after. Where it has not been possible to meet the chair of governors, Ofsted intends to provide every opportunity for the chair to speak to the lead inspector at first hand. At that point additional evidence can be brought forward. Time will be available to correct any factual mistakes.

I am not talking about theory in my response, but about what is now being tried and tested in the 100 pilot inspections. The results of those are constantly being fed back to Ofsted so that the process itself can be refined and improved. To date we have had, as I said, 100 pilot inspections in which the head, staff, parents and governors have each had a full opportunity to take part in what is after all a defining moment for the school. Is it working? Noble Lords would expect me to say that it is, but not only does Ofsted believe that it is going well; schools themselves are telling us so. Satisfaction ratings, which are measured independently of the inspection team, show us that almost every school feels that the report resulting from the pilot inspection is a fair and accurate reflection. Almost 100 per cent of those schools taking part have expressed that they were very happy with both the process and the final report.

But do not mistake this for complacency. We are looking to improve on those findings. I shall explain how that is to be done, particularly in relation to the points raised about governors. We are in a process of iteration about improvement.

First, I shall address the issue of parents. There is a clear sense among noble Lords that we are somehow giving parents less or even inadequate opportunity to make their views known. Let me reassure noble Lords, especially my noble friend Lord Hunt, that that is absolutely not the case. The whole thrust of what we have been trying to do with parents in our school improvement policies over the past seven years is to bring them into a proper relationship with schools— not an occasional meeting to talk about the curriculum or visits if the child is in trouble. We want to see proper relationships based on continuing dialogue. We see that as part of the process we are now engaged in with the inspection system.

In response to Amendments Nos. 36, 37, and 38, we want to strengthen parents' hands. We would not make impracticality an excuse, but there are issues regarding time that we have to address, which is now being done in the pilots. We are looking for improvement. However, it will be difficult for all parents to meet an inspector during an event that schools will know is taking place only at very short notice, and which might last for no more than two days. It would be a burden for both schools and parents to arrange meetings with a representative number of parents at such short notice. Indeed, schools might complain that on the one hand we are giving them less notice and asking them to do more. However, they will continue to be under a duty to notify parents of an inspection, and that has certainly proved possible in the pilot.

We should also remember that in Ofsted's consultation parents were strongly in favour of reduced or no-notice inspection. They also wanted to continue with the requirement that all schools must arrange a meeting, which is often poorly attended and does not necessarily contribute to the cycle of school improvement. So we believe that this would not add to the inspection's findings and outcomes.

The latest, very recent, figures show that attendance at pre-inspection meetings for parents averages 16 in a primary school and 30 in a secondary school. That

could be 15 families out of 300 or 400 in a secondary school. We may deplore the reluctance of parents to come to these meetings but the reality is that this is not a very efficient or humane way to engage people in this process. Given the views received from parents we have sought to find better ways of encouraging their participation.

I intend to talk about the questionnaire and address any practical problems but the most important thing I wish to say is that this has been worked through with parents themselves. We are being kept informed by the pilot schemes and are working with focus groups who are helping to develop a friendly and accessible questionnaire. We should not patronise parents by expecting them not to be able to fill it in. Parents are extremely well used to dealing with forms, not least on the web.

This questionnaire will be something that the parents themselves will own. I take the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Questionnaire-creating is a science as well as an art. One has to get the language right and ask awkward as well as comfortable questions. If parents are involved in that process we can trust them to do that properly. The schools will circulate that questionnaire and it will be returned to Ofsted.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked me how this would be done. Schools will issue the questionnaire as part of the notification of parents provided by Ofsted. The questionnaire will be returned via the school but it will be the inspectors who analyse it. We do not anticipate any additional burden on them because there is no evidence of that in the pilots. There has been a good response and we believe we are getting it right. The questionnaire will be in minority languages as well as English and I hope that will encourage the participation of parents. The letter within which the questions are presented will provide details of how parents can make contact with the inspection team.

What can we do and what else are we doing to involve parents? Parents can provide comments on a confidential basis directly to the inspection team, who will use them as part of their evidence-gathering. We are working with parents' groups to understand how best to manage that process in the light of the shorter notice. However, let me stress that questionnaires are not the only option.

I was interested in the exchanges between my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. During those exchanges the Government were asked if we would retain the discretion of schools to retain meetings. Yes, Ofsted will encourage schools who wish to do so to arrange a meeting. There is nothing to stop the head teacher from setting up a meeting if there is demand for it. That does not need to be specified in law. I have an interesting example of one school in the pilot where 400 parents signed and submitted a petition to Ofsted complaining about the school prior to the inspection. That was part of the process.

We all know that some head teachers are more charismatic leaders than others. We know that some are reluctant to meet parents and engage with them but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield said, there are ways to encourage them to do that, not least through the governing bodies or the parents' associations themselves. I believe that parents and schools will take up this opportunity. I would argue that we are looking to the best of both worlds. It will be a more systematic means of gathering evidence. It also be more democratic since the questionnaire will go to every parent and every parent will have the opportunity to respond and at the same time have an opportunity for face-to-face meetings. This is a system whereby schools are free to build on their strengths and reflect on the way in which they manage their relationships.

Turning to the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, he will know that, following the Children Act, local authorities have a duty to raise educational achievement and ensure that foster carers, children in care and key workers are fully responsible and fully engaged with the school. We want them to come along, not only to parents' meetings but at every possible opportunity. The designated teacher responsible for looked-after children has a duty to ensure that these key workers are fully engaged in the process. While I am very sympathetic to his amendment, I should point out that we are putting a whole raft of guidelines in place. We are looking constantly at whether these are robust and I believe that we are getting better at this. The national minimum standards on fostering will have something in the placement agreement about these necessary meetings between key workers.

Several noble Lords spoke about inspectors meeting with the governing body. We do not intend in any way to reduce the scope, the competence or the opportunity for the governing bodies to be fully involved not just in a meeting with inspectors but in the whole process of self-evaluation. This will not work unless parents, children and governors are fully engaged in that process. Self-evaluation is about ownership. I should point out that the amendment has a flaw because it would require the appropriate authority—in most cases the governing body itself—to arrange a meeting with the governors of the school. I am sure the purpose of the amendment was to place a duty on the chief inspector to meet with the school governors.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, talked about the greater role of inspectors in auditing. However, development to inspection forms a key part of the strategy for accountability in the new relationship with schools. There will be no diminution of the principles underpinning the role of governing bodies. I must point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, that governors have a key role to play in the self-evaluation process. They will contribute to the process of gathering evidence as well as being responsible for signing off the self-evaluation form. That way they know whether there are any discrepancies.

This annual process will be linked to the planning and improvement cycle. One great burden on the governing body is how to be fully engaged with such a cycle. They will take forward any actions arising from the inspections. This is a massive challenge so we have to ensure that they are clear about any essential outcomes. In recognition of this, under the new arrangements. governor representation at the feedback meeting with the head teacher and the senior team will be standard. Lead inspectors will be able to invite a governors' representative to attend the feedback meeting. That is in itself a major improvement. The current system provides that governors can be represented only at the discretion of the registered inspectors. In the majority of cases no governor is currently present at feedback sessions.

Members of the Committee were concerned about meetings with the inspectors and governors. We recognise that the issue of short-notice inspection raises a challenge. The difficulties are not insurmountable. I am able to say that because in the pilots, during the 100 or so trial inspections that have taken place, governors have participated in every single inspection. Ofsted has used a variety of methods to secure that, including telephone discussions if that is more convenient. We have been monitoring this process and have insisted that inspectors meet with governors to discuss their role. This has happened as the trial inspection process has developed.

We have also asked governors about matters arising from the standard evaluation. When the school is contacted about its inspection we ask that the chair of the governors be available at the beginning and end of the inspection. We expect governors to meet with inspectors on every inspection. However, neither we nor Ofsted are complacent. We are watching the trials and effectiveness of these arrangements.

12.30 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I have not participated in the debate but I have listened very carefully to it. The Minister referred to 400 parents who protested in advance of an inspection. Did the inspectors meet representatives of those 400? What was the further outcome, as it were, of that protest?

Baroness Andrews

The school was judged to require special measures. Although I do not have much detailed background, I should imagine that the parents involved wished to draw quite a number of different aspects of the school to the inspectors' attention. I would have thought that almost certainly there would have been a meeting. I shall check on that and write to all noble Lords.

In conclusion, I hope that I have addressed every issue raised. If I have not, I shall certainly write to noble Lords. It has been a high-quality debate. It is always a pleasure to read Hansard the following day and to reflect on the quality of the arguments. In the mean time, I hope the amendment will be withdrawn.

Lord Hanningfield

I was pleased that the Minister basically agreed with our amendment that heads could call a meeting of parents. She went on to give several instances of where Ofsted could require meetings—for example, with the chairman of governors. Will this requirement be given to the school by Ofsted in notes of guidance during a pre-inspection phase, or something like that? Obviously, if a note goes to a school saying that a meeting with parents is desirable, the school is likely to arrange it. Although the noble Baroness has said several times that this is desirable, we will feel much more comfortable if we know how the school will know that, what will be the process and how it will happen.

There have been several references to the 100 trial schools. Of course—I have been trying to make a quick calculation—100 schools is not even 0.5 per cent of all the schools in the country. I suspect that the 100 schools were fairly good ones which volunteered for the process. Perhaps the noble Baroness will let the Committee know at some stage how those 100 schools were chosen. They represent a very, very small percentage of the total number of schools in the country and I do not know whether one can make a judgment on such a small sample. Perhaps the noble Baroness will tell the Committee about the process of Ofsted alerting a school to what might or might not be desirable.

Baroness Andrews

The answer is yes, there will certainly be a full statement, which will set out in detail what is expected. Of course 100 schools in relation to the 20,000 schools, or whatever, in England and Wales is a small number. But they are a representative sample—they were carefully chosen—and come from 15 LEAs. This summer there will be a further 100 in the rolling pilot. If the noble Lord would like me to do so, I shall be happy to send him more information about the nature of the pilots.

The Earl of Listowel

I thank the noble Baroness for her helpful response. I did not know that the national minimum standard ensured that foster carers have a duty to be involved in school processes. That is welcome information.

The Minister referred to the designated teachers in a school for looked-after children and the important role that they play in ensuring that foster carers and residential childcare workers are involved. However, let me draw her attention to what is said in the Social Exclusion Unit's recent report, A better education for children in care. It states: Evidence about the impact of designated teachers is mixed. Some schools allow non-contact time for designated teachers to liaise with other agencies … Elsewhere, designated teachers have few or no additional resources and can struggle to reconcile their different roles, particularly where they have to combine teaching and advocacy functions". It has certainly been my experience that while these teachers should be senior teachers, they can be teachers with a very low level of experience.

I thank the Minister for her response but it has not entirely allayed my concerns in this matter.

Baroness Andrews

Let me reply to those two points. First, as to the fostering service, I would refer the noble Earl to standard 13 of the national minimum standards. It is not quite as specific as I said. Standard 13.3 states: The fostering service requires foster carers to contribute to the assessment of the child's educational needs and progress for the planning and review process. The fostering service helps the foster carer to contribute to the delivery of any personal education plan". Standard 13.4 states: The foster carer's role in school contact, e.g., parents evenings, open days, discussions with teachers, in conjunction with the birth parent where appropriate and in line with the care plan, is clearly laid out in the placement agreement". As to designated teachers, I know that there is room for improvement. We are looking at that issue in the whole context of improvement in the delivery of quality to looked-after children.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

Whether correctly or not, I attempted formally to move Amendment No. 39 and it is right that I should for the record formally withdraw it.

Perhaps I may make two comments. First, I appreciate the answer of the Minister and the stress that it puts on the work of the governors. Secondly, I leave one thought for further reflection. The emphasis has been on the rights of Ofsted and the processes that the chief inspector has the right to go through. If I were a governor of a school about to be inspected, I would want the right to see the governors, and this is one of the ways of building that into the system. I ask the noble Baroness to reflect on that.

The Earl of Listowel

I apologise for intervening once more. Can the noble Baroness provide the Committee with more information about the experience in the pilots of parental involvement with the inspectors? What value did parents and inspectors place on these meetings? It would be helpful to have that.

Baroness Andrews

I shall certainly try to do that.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank the Minister for her careful comments on the issue. I hope that she does not really think it was patronising of me to raise the issue of low literacy and minority languages. It is not patronising but realistic in a situation where some schools have as little as 2 per cent of pupils who have English as a first language. But I very much welcome her statement that minority languages would be used where appropriate for the questionnaires.

I thank noble Lords on all sides of the Committee for their support on the issue of parents and governors, in particular, and the importance of them being properly consulted during an, albeit short, inspection. However, I stress that our amendment also included heads, teachers and the children. Although I accept what the Minister said about the professional engagement between inspectors and teachers that occurs at the beginning of the process and the self-evaluation of teachers, I would point out that our amendment contains the two very important words "have regard". The process the Minister described does not necessarily include that. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, the pupils are the customers at the school, and you would not evaluate a retailer without talking to its customers. That is very important.

The Minister's main argument against the amendment is that it is not necessary; it happens anyway and so there is no need to put it into statute. I believe that passing legislation is often an opportunity to send out a message about the importance of things. Clearly the Committee believes that it is extremely important that the opinions of the various stakeholder groups should be fully taken into account during an inspection.

But we are in a new situation; we are legislating for a new kind of inspection. In these very short inspections we are asking the inspectors to do a great deal in a very short time. That is why it is necessary to specify that they consult these various stakeholder groups during the course of an inspection.

I welcome the statement of the Minister that heads will keep the discretion to have a meeting with head teachers, but if it is not in statute, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pointed out, there may well be very dominant heads who really do not want to encourage contact between the inspector and the parents and they will not use that discretion to have a meeting.

For those various reasons, we need to legislate because of the change in the inspection regime. We need to make it very clear how important we think it is that all the various stakeholder groups are consulted and that the inspectors have regard to their views.

I shall not press the amendment but, as the feeling of the Committee is so strong, we may well return to the matter on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Turner of Camden

member moved Amendment No. 23: Page 3, line 41, after "inspection" insert "(including an age-appropriate report for registered pupils) The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 23, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 35, 45, 62, 75, 98 and 99, which are listed in my name in this group. At the outset, I declare an interest. I was for many years a trustee and council member of the well-known charity. Save the Children. These amendments have been suggested to me by Save the Children and I am indebted to it for briefing on the subject. The amendments in this group all deal with the same subject and it therefore seemed sensible to deal with them together.

Save the Children has a long history of working in a participative way with children and young people and has been involved in many statutory organisations, including schools, social services, local authorities and central government. It takes its steer from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Under Articles 12 and 13 of that convention, children and young people have the right to express an opinion, to have that opinion taken into account and to express their own views, unless that would violate the rights of others.

Save the Children believes that the full and meaningful participation of children and young people in school inspections is necessary. It is important that their views are taken into account if an inspection is to be based on a full understanding of how a school is performing and meeting the needs of the community it services. Information regarding the purpose of the inspection, and child-friendly reports following it, would help children and young people to become more involved in the process. Independent inspectors, lay inspectors and Her Majesty's Inspectorate would benefit greatly from training in children's participation. There are resources available on many different methods of participation and consultation that could easily be developed for use by inspectors and incorporated in their initial training or in their professional development. Children and young people could be trained to form part of the inspection team, which is a model that is used by the Social Services Inspectorate. The formal assessment of inspectors could include particular reference to their knowledge of involving children and young people in school inspections. Inspections should involve a broad range of children and young people in the process and should include ethnic minority, refugee and asylum-seeking children.

The aim of these amendments is to ensure that there is a participative role for children and young people. I am sure that this would be to the benefit not only of the children and young people themselves but it would assist the inspectors and the inspection process. I hope what is proposed in this group of amendments, for which Amendment No. 23 is a paving amendment, will receive favourable consideration.

Amendment No. 23 requires an age-appropriate report to be available for registered pupils. I remind the Minister that in earlier discussions she has referred to the need to involve children fully in this process and I therefore hope for a favourable response to these amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley

I shall speak to Amendment No. 34, which stands in my name in this group of amendments. The purpose of this small amendment is to ensure that at the beginning of the process, when parents are being notified about the timing of an inspection, pupils are also informed in their own right. If pupils are to be genuine stakeholders in the school process, they too should be informed. I am quite aware that most schools will be very anxious to tell pupils that inspectors are coming in because they want pupils to be on their best behaviour. But I want to enshrine in statute an equal right for children in the school to have that information. That would respect their dignity and their position in the school. They are vital participants in the school community. I know that it is a small matter, but it is important because it recognises the dignity and the position of the children.

12.45 p.m.

Baroness Andrews

I am grateful to the noble Baronesses who have spoken on these amendments. We fully support the sentiments that have driven them. My noble friend Lady Turner has been a very powerful champion of Save the Children for many years. We fully agree with the importance of involving children and young people in the school inspection process. If we were asked what the school inspection process is for, our answer would be that it is for and about them, their education and their life chances. They have an important part to play in the inspection process. There is an increased emphasis on discussion with pupils under the new arrangements because of the vital element of self-evaluation.

During the pilots, we looked at pupils' views about inspection. Evaluation of the pilot inspections showed that pupils thought that inspection was necessary and important for them and their schools, and that those that had the opportunity to speak to inspectors about themselves and their work enjoyed the experience. They emphasised how important it is for inspectors to ask them questions in order to understand what it is like to be a pupil at the school. That answers in part some of the questions raised by my noble friend about the nature of the inspectors' own qualifications.

The amendments proposed by my noble friend Lady Turner and the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, would put the duty of a school to notify registered pupils of a forthcoming inspection on the same footing as the duty to notify their parents. The noble Baroness spoke eloquently about their equal right to be so informed. It is very important that pupils should be aware that an inspection is taking place; they can hardly have been unaware in the past, given the high degree of activity and stress that they will have picked up on in some schools.

It is important to note that the evidence is that schools do inform pupils in advance of a forthcoming inspection. Pupils need to be made aware that inspectors may want to speak to them about their experience in the classroom and out of it, in lessons, between lessons and during breaks. Schools will want to know that pupils are fully aware of what that will involve. There have been several references to the fact that pupils have been notified to make sure that they are as well behaved as they possibly could be, but in my experience that cannot be guaranteed under any circumstances. However, it is extremely important that pupils know what might be expected of them, if they have the opportunity to reflect on their experience with the inspector. I am sure that pupils are frank in what they say.

There are numerous reasons why schools need to keep pupils informed of forthcoming inspections and we must be confident that schools will involve pupils as part of the normal business of preparing for the arrival of the inspector. When Ofsted notifies the school of a forthcoming inspection, the head teacher informs all those involved. The staff would be informed at a staff meeting. We would expect schools to arrange for pupils to be informed through the normal working mechanisms. In the pilots, we found that all pupils at the schools involved had been told about the inspection in advance. In most cases, this happened at assembly and was followed up by teachers in form time. We have to trust schools and teachers to get this right. I do not believe this practice would be enhanced through a further statutory requirement, but I understand why the noble Baroness's background and conviction make her ask for it.

Notifying parents is a rather different matter. Parents are outside the normal day-to-day running of the school. They are not in the school and there is no vehicle for them like the assembly. That is why we have included in legislation the duty on schools to take reasonable steps to ensure that parents are notified. This is an important protection for parents. They are users, but they are not participants in the day-to-day workings of the school. So, despite my agreement with the sentiments, I am bound to resist the amendments.

I now turn to the amendments to Clauses 5 and 15 tabled by my noble friend Lady Turner. They require age appropriate reports. I want to examine two ideas. The first is the principle of the provision of inspectors' reports to pupils and the second is age-appropriateness. I support the aim of ensuring that pupils and parents receive a version of the inspection report and are informed of the outcome of the inspection. We are working with schools in the trials to develop mechanisms for involving pupils and we are committed to producing pupil-focused feedback after each school inspection.

One new element, for example, is that Ofsted will send to the school council a letter summarising the key outcomes of the inspection. In 80 per cent of our schools at key stage 2, we have school councils. Where no school council is yet in place—the Government are very much behind the idea of school councils—a letter will go to head teachers. That, of course, means that the schools can also cascade the information down. Let us therefore use the internal mechanisms to get it right. That approach was used, and a further evaluation of six schools involved in that process showed that all the pupils in the schools had seen the report.

What is the situation with regard to age-appropriate reports? It is very difficult to define. We had some debate during proceedings on the Children Bill about how we would get reports written that reflected the different age levels and sophistication. In fact, the reading ages varied and were consistent with chronological ages and so on. Because of the diversity of needs across a single year group in a school with many children with special educational needs, it is very difficult to define centrally what would be an appropriate report for any particular age group.

Ofsted is already committed to providing a pupil focused summary of the outcomes of all school inspections, which can be tailored by the school council or the school for all the pupils. That also has been trialled. Those reports are charming and do the job, and I shall be happy to provide some examples of them. For example, in a special school that was inspected during the trials, the inspectors produced a summary report for pupils in Makaton, the communication method that uses pictures instead of words, which was very popular. The letter to the school councils will tell people how they can access the full inspection report.

I therefore fully endorse the aim of the amendment, and I should like to reassure the noble Baroness that steps are being taken to address the issue and that we shall continue to consider what can be done about it.

Baroness Walmsley

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may raise one short point. The Minister pointed out that during assemblies schools will tell pupils about the inspections, about which there is an obligation to inform parents because they do not attend assemblies and are not in school every day. I accept that.

However, what will be the situation of those pupils who perhaps may be absent due to long-term sickness and who may have a view about how well the school is coping with providing them with work in that situation? What will be the position of students who may have been bullied, causing long-term absence because of the school's failure to be sufficiently proactive and effective in preventing the bullying? Such students would have very important opinions to give to the inspectors. Unless there is a good deal of notice of the inspection, which will not be the case under the new regime, the information may not get back to them via the grapevine that there is to be an inspection.

For those reasons in particular, I believe that it is important that the legislation should contain an obligation to inform all pupils of an intended inspection. It is very easy to inform the majority by making an announcement in assembly. However, for the kinds of pupils that I have described, it really needs to be picked up to give them the opportunity of expressing to the inspectors their views about the performance of the school.

Baroness Andrews

Those are very important points in respect of children who are absent as a result of long-term sickness or have a history of being bullied. That is not to say that that is the only or best way in which the information could be conveyed. It certainly would also be picked up through the response of parents. I should have thought that if there are concerns about such important matters, the parents themselves would want to look at the construction of the questionnaire to ensure that they are adequately reflected.

In terms of the pupils themselves, I should have thought that, in its own guidance, Ofsted may want to make sure that schools are aware that children who have particular experiences and views are not left out of the process and are positively encouraged to come forward. However, I shall take advice and return to the noble Baroness on that.

With regard to the publication of age-appropriate reports, as it currently stands, Clause 10 provides the chief inspector with the ability to publish any report made as part of his general or specific school inspection functions. That clause enshrines a general power, which protects one of the key principles of inspection referred to by my noble friend Lord Sutherland—that is, the power of the chief inspector to publish reports. However, it is a general power. It does not specify particular kinds of reports or thematic subjects. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to single out individual school inspection reports for pupils in that context.

I understand that the noble Baroness wants to place on the chief inspector a duty to publish age-appropriate inspection reports, which I have addressed at some length in my reference to the school council or the school itself. The preparation of what I have described as the pupil-focused summary is simply the first step in that process. The idea is that the school council itself should become involved in tailoring those messages. We could not strictly say that any one report that Ofsted could publish would be appropriate for the pupils of the school. Furthermore, one of the key aims is to provide feedback to pupils on how their input had influenced the outcome of the inspection. Therefore, the information might not be as relevant to pupils outside the school who are not parties to the inspection process.

We do not want to increase the burdens on schools. We need to be very careful as we discuss changes to the nature of the inspections. Because of the shorter, sharper inspections, we do not want to do anything that will overcomplicate the processes and increase the burdens. We shall continue to monitor the involvement of pupils.

Finally, in one of the amendments under Clause 48 there is a short reference to religious education. That would place a duty on those conducting inspections of religious education in schools with a religious character to prepare an age-appropriate report and would place a duty on schools to make those reports available.

The Churches and other faith groups have demonstrated that they, too, are keen to move towards the arrangements piloted by Ofsted for Clause 5 inspections when conducting Clause 47 inspections in future. We are working with them on those detailed mechanisms. Our expectation is that they are likely to include the preparation of pupil-focused summaries in the way that I have described. We are working with all faith groups to secure the best practice, and I hope that at Report stage we can update the House on our progress.

With those rather lengthy explanations, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Turner of Camden

I thank my noble friend for that long and detailed explanation of the Government's position. I am glad that she at least accepts the principles involved in all these amendments.

I understand what she said about the phrase "age appropriate". I should like to think about that and consider whether a more acceptable form of wording could be devised. She referred to pupil-focused information. I should like to take some advice on that, which perhaps would result in a better way of devising a suitable form of wording.

I believe that these are very important issues and that some attempt should be made to try to include them on the face of the Bill. A good deal has been said in the press recently about the alienation of some pupils from the whole school system. If steps can be taken to give pupils greater involvement in every possible process, including inspections, it would help to remove the feeling of alienation that may exist in some schools. We discussed that matter yesterday when we debated in great detail the issue of discipline.

These are very important issues and I should like to think about how they may be included on the face of the Bill. However, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1 p.m.

Baroness Morris of Bolton

moved Amendment No. 24: Page 3, line 41, at end insert "and for it to be made available to—

  1. (i) the headteacher, staff, parents, pupils of that school,
  2. (ii) and in relation to a community, foundation or voluntary school, a community or foundation special school or a maintained nursery school, the school's governing body or, if the school does not have a delegated budget to the local education authority, and
  3. (iii) in relation to a school falling within paragraphs (d) to (g) of section 5(2), the proprietor of the school"
The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment, which would place on the chief inspector a duty to make available a copy of an inspection report arising from Clause 5 to a school's head teacher, its staff, registered pupils and the parents of such pupils. Furthermore, it would need to be made available to a school's governing body, its LEA, or in the case of a non-maintained school to its proprietor.

I hope that the Minister can assure us that further parts of the Bill adequately deal with what this amendment attempts to achieve. That certainly appears to be the case under Clauses 13 and 15. However, there is no specific mention of making the report available to staff, students or parents of the school that has undergone an inspection.

Clause 6 places a duty on the appropriate authority to notify parents of a Clause 5 inspection, but it does not place a duty to make available a copy of the completed report. Surely that is an anomaly.

Further, given that the Bill includes scrapping the meeting between parents and the inspectors—an issue on which we have had a most productive debate—is it not crucial that we do everything that we possibly can to ensure that parents are engaged in the inspection process, especially in their knowledge and understanding of a completed report?

Clauses 13 and 16 place a duty on both the appropriate authority and the proprietor of the school to make a copy of the report available to any interested member of the public. That is not the same as including in the Bill named individuals, such as staff and parents, who must be made aware that such a report exists.

The amendment simply attempts to widen the number of key groups that in our view have the most to gain from an Ofsted report. Surely there can be no harm in including them in the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Andrews

I hope that I can give the noble Baroness the assurance that she seeks. Clauses 13 and 15 provide that inspection reports are made available to all stakeholders. The provisions are wide, providing for the chief inspector to send copies of reports to specified persons and for the appropriate authority in the case of maintained schools, and the proprietor for non-maintained schools, to send copies of the full inspection report to parents and to any other persons who ask to see it. Staff have access to the report through the mechanisms of the school. All inspections are on Ofsted's website.

With regard to pupils, as I said, we are trying a new approach whereby pupils will get their own feedback, following inspection, which is tailored to them. We are involving the schools council in that.

I believe that the scope of the clauses meets the considerations expressed by the noble Baroness. If we have more to say on this issue, I shall do so in writing.

Baroness Morris of Bolton

I thank the Minister for her answer and look forward to receiving further information if she sends it to me. I am reassured by her answer, so beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 25: Page 3, line 41, at end insert ", and ( ) to establish a complaints procedure by which the appropriate body for a maintained school or the proprietor of a non-maintained school may complain about the conduct of any section 5 inspection or the findings of the report of a section 5 inspection The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 25, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 51, 59, 73 and 86.

All the amendments deal with establishing a complaints procedure in relation to inspection reports. There are two different sets of amendments. Amendment No. 25 and its two consequential amendments— Amendments Nos. 59 and 73—were suggested by the National Association of Head Teachers to provide a more generalised complaints procedure. The main aim is to establish some form of complaints procedure. The more specific proposals in Amendments Nos. 51 and 86, which duplicate the system in Wales, come from the National Union of Teachers and are more detailed. Both sets of amendments establish the principle that there should be a complaints procedure, and both would establish a less cumbersome and fairer complaints procedure than currently exists.

It is worth reflecting on the present procedures. The Ofsted guidance on complaints procedure is as follows: If your complaint is fully or partially upheld"— that is by the inspectors themselves— the response will include an apology, an explanation and, if necessary, an indication of what steps have or will be taken to put the matters right. Where allegations or complaints are not upheld the response will say so and explain why. Every effort will be made to reach authoritative conclusions. However, where the Head of Division is presented with two conflicting views and there is no compelling evidence to support either account, it is likely that the outcome of the investigation will be inconclusive. If you remain dissatisfied with OFSTED's response, you will be informed of your right of recourse to the OFSTED Complaints Adjudicator (OCA). The OCA provides an external and independent element to the procedures and may only accept a case once OFSTED's internal procedures have been exhausted. The OCA reviews the handling of complaints but cannot recommend that the judgements of HMI or of additional inspectors are changed". An Ofsted complaints adjudicator does not deal with judgments nor with the inspection outcomes. He or she investigates not the complaint but how the complaint was handled. Even when the Ofsted complaints adjudicator produces a report, it is discussed with Ofsted, rather than the school itself.

In October 1999, Elaine Rassaby, the then complaints adjudicator, stated publicly that the process of complaining was so burdensome that many teachers simply gave up and did not bother. She also described how the office was not truly independent. She was appointed and funded by Ofsted itself.

To some extent, one of the complaints is that Ofsted is both judge and jury. The issue of complaints was raised on Second Reading by a number of people, including the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who I regret is not here today. He was anxious that a form of complaints procedure should be established. On Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said: Ofsted is currently developing a new complaints handling procedure to accompany the system of inspection. The procedure will make it clear that judgments about inspections can be challenged and will be considered seriously and fully". If that is the case, it is welcome, but the amendment would be a further guarantee. The noble Lord went on to say: There will also be an independent complaints adjudicator who will be able to examine complaints about the way in which the inspection has been conducted and the way in which Ofsted has handled such complaints".—[Official Report, 13/12/04; col. 1152.] By that, the Minister appeared to imply that it was a new initiative. As there is already an independent complaints adjudicator for Ofsted and the adult learning inspector, it would be interesting to know precisely what is intended. We question why there is nothing in the Bill to guarantee the continued existence of the complaints adjudicator if such a role is to continue.

Our main concern is with the current role of the adjudicator. It is extremely limited, and nothing in the Minister's statement suggests that that will change. Apparently the adjudicator investigates complaints that Ofsted has failed to resolve using its internal complaints procedure. There are about 20 of those a year. Will the Minister say how the complaints procedure that is currently being developed will shape up? What ideas are there? What will be the role of the independent adjudicator? Will it remain as at present, or will it be expanded? Will there be slightly less of Ofsted being both judge and jury? Will the complaints procedure really be independent? That is what we hope for.

The amendments have come from the head teachers' union and the National Union of Teachers, who are concerned that under present procedures there is not a fair method of appeal.

Given that we are in a new era and these new inspections will be short and sharp, at the moment the assumption is that the report will be published within three weeks. Yet, schools and teachers can be damned by those reports. It is vital that there is a fair complaints procedure. These amendments aim to achieve that. I beg to move.

Baroness Morris of Bolton

My Lords, I support the amendment and shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 46, 60, 74, 84, 89 and 90.I note with interest that the intention of Amendment No. 46 is similar to a number of amendments tabled by noble Lords from all opposition Benches. I shall own up now to say that our amendment is undoubtedly the weakest in drafting terms.

With tongue firmly in cheek, perhaps I may suggest to the Minister that before we reach the next stage of the Bill, he, too, might attempt to draft his own version of the amendment. It would complete not only a full set from all sides of the House, but, given the evident strength of feeling, I suspect that we shall return to this issue throughout the passage of the Bill.

I have had a number of meetings with interested parties in which a common concern emerged that, under the reform system, there is an inadequate appeals process. The Government intend to speed up the inspection process and we welcome that. However, it should not be at the cost of putting into the public domain any reports that are manifestly inaccurate or unduly misleading. In speeding up the inspection process, there must be suitable safeguards to ensure that the school has a reasonable opportunity to comment on the draft report before wider publication. Careers of staff and, particularly, head teachers can be changed for ever with the publication of an Ofsted report—not to mention the impact upon the morale, and the entire future of, a school. That aspect should not be rushed.

Amendment No. 46 would therefore ensure that the chief inspector could not publish an inspection report unless its contents had been agreed with the education establishment in question. We are trying to achieve a difficult balance, and, perhaps, that amendment would not quite address the issue, as it should. We are trying not to hamper the chief inspector in passing a suitable judgment on a school, but merely to ensure that inaccuracies are corrected. Equally, the school should have the right to appeal when it believes that the inspection has been conducted in a less than professional manner. Maybe that could be achieved by a longer interval between inspection and publication, to allow time for appeals to be conducted more discretely.

Our amendment would allow the Secretary of State to create by regulation an independent adjudicator who could examine any difference of opinion between the chief inspector and the education establishment regarding contested reports and would report on that, as necessary. The chief inspector would then have to take note and act upon any pronouncements from the adjudicator before publishing the final version of the report. We believe that this amendment would create an important appeal system that would help to guarantee the accuracy and fairness of inspection reports.

Amendments Nos. 60 and 74 are consequential to Amendment No. 46 and ensure that neither the relevant LEA nor proprietor of a school were able to make available to the general public, as specified under Clauses 13 and 15, a copy of the report if there was disagreement between the school and chief inspector before the adjudicator had reported and his remarks had been acted upon.

Finally, Amendments Nos. 84, 89 and 90 would have exactly the same effect as the amendments that I have described, but in relation to Wales and to the Welsh Assembly.

1.15 p.m.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

In speaking to Amendment No. 49 in this group, I pray in aid the support of my absent colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who would wish to make some points that I shall try to describe.

Amendment No. 49 follows others in this group in seeking a fair and clear appeals procedure and we support the thrust of them. This amendment takes on board the difficulty of encapsulating all that should be on the face of the Bill, so we seek a requirement to have regulations dealing with this matter, which may have to be altered from time to time as we learn through experience. One of the points of our amendment has already been made—the damage done to a school by a bad report can be considerable. As the chief inspector in post when the first school in England was declared by an HMI report to be failing, I do not flinch from speaking the truth, if that is the reality.

On the other hand—such points were made by the noble Lords, Lord Dearing, Lord Tombs, and others, in a debate about Ofsted in September last year—I am aware of the damage that a report can do. If that report is not wholly fair and accurate, the damage is almost infinite, because no retraction will receive the same publicity as the first negative report. Hence, our amendment reflects our keenness for a requirement that a report should not be published until any reasonable appeal or correction in terms of accuracy is received by the chief inspector. We are moderate in what we say thereafter, but it is vital that the chief inspector has total confidence in the report, which means giving a school the opportunity to point out errors in procedure.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 84, 89 and 90, to which I have added my name, although they share the imperfections that my noble friend on the Front Bench attributed to the similar system of appeal that is proposed for England by my noble friends. Amendment No. 49, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, may well be more appropriate, although I am not sure that even that achieves perfection.

The whole point of inspection is to appreciate what a school is doing right and to identify where it is performing inadequately and going wrong. The latter element may become hurtful, especially when the identified defects are obvious to outsiders, but not so obvious to those who become over-familiar with them and ignore them. Criticism of that kind is inevitable in any inspection report and so, arguably, is the hurt that goes with it, unless some special steps are taken to soften the tone of criticism.

I was reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the NUT has referred to the punitive nature of past inspections. That punitive element is certainly present in any kind of critical inspection report. Our real concern is the possibility of gross error or misjudgement by inspectors. We are all human and mistakes can be made which appear in reports. That becomes more likely as inspections become shorter and sharper. When such mistakes occur, they can be grossly damaging to the reputation of schools.

Ideally, schools should have prior knowledge of the contents of inspectors' reports, and steps have been taken to ensure that schools are aware of the drafts. Whether they should actually approve of reports before their publication is a totally different matter. I think that it will be very difficult to secure such approval. But if there are serious errors in a report, schools should have some remedy. They should be able to remonstrate with the inspectors at an early stage and, if necessary, appeal to a higher authority.

The higher authority seems to be within, or related to, the inspectorate. As always in such circumstances, the question arises of quis custodiet custodes —who inspects the inspectors? The obvious answer is the chief inspector. So far as concerns Wales, there is to be provision to remove an inspector from the register and that is to be preserved for the time being in Wales.

However, so far as I understand it, the existing system does not provide the appropriate answer for a school which believes that it has been very wrongly represented in an inspector's report. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the chief inspector cannot be judge and jury in these matters and there must be an independent system of appeal of some kind. I do not suggest for a moment that in our amendments any of us have achieved such an independent system, but I am sure that the Minister has grasped the fact that such an independent system is required.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

I rise briefly to support all the amendments. There is a really important point of principle here and, wider than that, of natural justice. Clearly the old procedure had flaws and I am sure that that is being investigated by the Government. Indeed, I am hopeful that we shall hear from the Minister a satisfactory answer to all the points raised. The three issues are: first, it is imperative that there should be a short period before the report is published; secondly, the effect on parents and others of the standards provided by the schools should be taken into account; and, thirdly, it is important that an inspector should be independent of Ofsted. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer all those points and that he will be able to satisfy all those who tabled the amendments.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

I also support all the amendments—particularly Amendment No. 49, which certainly comes closest to addressing the points about which I feel most concern in relation to the current procedure. Because the period of time over which the inspection and report are carried out will be fairly short, it will be all the more difficult for the report to be accurate factually.

We are addressing two separate issues: one is that of a school's complaint against the judgments made; and the second is that addressed by Amendment No. 49 where a simple factual error has occurred. The school must be given an opportunity to put that rightnot only for its own sake but also for the sake of the reputation of the inspectorate. It is very easy for a school not to produce the evidence of an activity that it undertakes. I can think of examples where the inspectorate's report has said that it is unfortunate that very little effort is made on out-of-school activities. It may simply be that the school was not asked the question sharply enough or in a form that it understood and therefore it did not produce the evidence. Once the school sees that that is what the report says, it can produce a mass of evidence that it is doing all kinds of things.

This is a simple issue, but it concerns the reputation of the inspection process and what it can achieve, the reputation of the inspectorate and, of course, the reputation of the school and the accuracy of the report. It is vital that there is an opportunity for such dialogue between the inspectorate—particularly the writer of the report—and the school so that the report is correct. The issue of an appeal against the judgments is far more substantial and difficult.

Lord Filkin

The amendments concern a very important set of issues and this has been a clear and focused debate. We very much accept that the quality and credibility of the complaints process and the ability to resolve disputes, which is ideally what the complaints process should be about, is integral to the development of the new system.

Perhaps I may give a little of the background before I go into the specifics of the amendments. We are not starting from a position that the process is a disaster. Clearly, in the vast majority of cases under the current system there is a high level of satisfaction with the inspection processes. When Ofsted carried out a post-inspection survey in 2002–03, of the 2,811 head teachers who responded to it, 90 per cent agreed that the inspection judgments relating to their schools were fair and accurate. I consider that to be a remarkably high satisfaction rate. Of course, that does not mean that there is total justice for everyone; it simply means that, from what head teachers are saying, there is at least a good sense that, by and large, what is being done is pretty impressive.

We hope that our proposals for inspection will bring greater consistency and reliability of judgment. Perhaps I may talk about the process for making the judgments before I deal with the process for handling complaints.

First, self-evaluation, which underpins the format, puts the school at the centre of the process and engages it in a meaningful and, it is hoped, professional dialogue with the inspectors about the school's performance. That participation should contribute to greater reliability. In other words, Ofsted is not going in and making 1,000 judgments; the school is making its appraisal and the inspector is then having dialogue and listening to testimony.

Secondly, increasingly both schools and inspectors will have access to more sophisticated data. Through the Bill, we are also seeking to make the chief inspector directly accountable and responsible for inspections and reports. That will provide a powerful incentive to ensure that he secures the highest possible standards in delivery.

The Bill also seeks to enable the chief inspector to make greater use of his professional HMI workforce in conducting inspections and assuring their quality. These changes will enable Ofsted to make important improvements to the quality assurance process itself. In addition, every draft report will be reviewed and signed off by an HMI managing inspector. Records will be maintained on the performance of each inspector—HMI included—and those will be used to inform the performance management process.

Furthermore, where the inspection team forms the view that a school is causing concern, the school will be given feedback, including that provisional judgment. This will trigger a process of moderation, involving senior members of HMI, to test and confirm that the evidence supports the judgment. All that will build even further on what we think is a good base of reliability and consistency of inspections and inspection judgments. That is the basic system.

I move on to the issue of complaints handling. Ofsted is now developing a new procedure for resolving concerns at the earliest possible opportunity. In many cases, this process will take place during or shortly after the inspection. Schools that have concerns about the way in which the inspection is heading, including the emerging findings, will in future have access to a helpline where they can discuss those concerns with a professional who is independent of the inspection team. Where necessary, it will be possible for an HMI managing inspector to visit the school during or shortly after the event as part of the process of seeking early resolution of the concerns of the school.

I shall talk later about the independent process but I emphasise that, in terms of achieving effective justice, the quality of the informal process is crucial. If we simply rely on formal processes, we are less likely to achieve justice than if we have a culture and a system in which an attempt is made to achieve early resolution within the system.

1.30 p.m.

These improvements are possible because of the changes being introduced by the Bill, which will make the chief inspector directly responsible for all inspections and reports. Currently, registered inspectors are responsible for the reports that they produce. This makes it extremely difficult for the chief inspector to secure early resolution of concerns. In a situation where the chief inspector thought that an adjustment was necessary, he has very little power or locus should the registered inspector say, "No".

Therefore, Ofsted will shortly be consulting teacher and governor associations on the informal process that I have outlined. In addition, there will be formal processes and the formal complaints process, which will be necessary only where the early resolution action does not satisfy the school. The formal complaint procedure will be rigorous, involving a number of different management tiers within Ofsted and will culminate where necessary with a final review—separate from Ofsted—by an independent adjudicator.

The adjudicator will look at complaints about aspects of the inspection or conduct of an inspector and at how Ofsted has managed complaints. She—it is a she—will look at complaints about inspections, the content of Ofsted and its staff and she may involve the conduct of inspections, the quality of reports, mistakes, delays or the response provided to complaints. If Ofsted do not accept her recommendations, it must publish the reasons. In direct answer to the question: essentially it is the same system as at present; but, on the independence issue, the independent complaints adjudicator is appointed by the Secretary of State and, therefore, is separate from Ofsted. Her independence is protected by that process.

The issue of whether the publication of reports should be delayed until complaints are resolved is sensitive and tricky. Where a school has a complaint, it is right that it has proper access to every stage of the complaints procedure, including external adjudication. A number of amendments have called for the chief inspector to delay publication of a report while a complaint is being considered. On occasion, delaying publication will be the right thing to do. That happened on one occasion during the trials.

While on the face of it delaying reports where a complaint is ongoing seems just, making that a feature of the inspection arrangements could be bound to encourage complaints to become more protracted. It could also provide an incentive to make a complaint, particularly if the school did not like the findings— regardless of the evidence—leading to an unnecessarily long and drawn out process. That would not be in the interests of parents or children because they would face substantial delays in getting reports which identified issues that needed to be addressed.

Therefore, we need to strike a balance between the importance of schools being able to make complaints and challenging inspection findings when they think that they are wrong in fact or wrong in judgment and the right of parents and pupils to proper, timely information. The chief inspector will publish reports only when he is satisfied that they meet his quality requirements. The Bill provides him with flexibility to do that. Therefore, he will delay when he deems that is necessary, but delay must not become the norm.

I appreciate the feelings behind this group of amendments. We want our schools to have confidence that the inspection team is skilled, but there is an opportunity for the school to make representations about fact, process and judgment before matters are finalised.

Ofsted already is committed to a complaints procedure that I have covered in detail. In short, the chief inspector, under the new system, will ensure that no report is published until the school has had the opportunity to comment and provide additional evidence where appropriate. The introduction of new informal processes focused on early resolution and a rigorous formal process developed through consultation with key stakeholders has to be the right way forward. I stress that the informal process followed by the formal process of Ofsted is in addition to the independent process to the independent complaints adjudicator.

On Wales, I shall speak first to Amendment No. 86, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp. It would add a power by regulation to appoint an independent adjudicator, who would be required to consider complaints lodged against the conduct of a school inspection. That could include complaints that an inspection had been conducted in a manner inconsistent with legal requirements.

In such circumstances, the chief inspector would be required to act in accordance with the findings of the adjudicator. It is quite right that there should be clear and readily available avenues for redress for those who wish to lodge complaints about both the conduct of a school inspection and the findings in an inspection report. That is why Estyn has detailed and transparent procedures for the handling of such complaints.

The procedures are published and made widely available. They provide for complaints to be lodged initially with the lead inspector. If not satisfied with the response, the complainant may require the issues identified to be considered by senior HMI and ultimately by the chief inspector. Those dissatisfied with the conduct of an inspection can approach the Welsh Administration ombudsman.

Initial consideration has been given to the appointment of an independent adjudicator in Wales akin to the post put in place by Ofsted in partnership with the Adult Learning Inspectorate. However, given the relatively small number of complaints received each year alongside the ready access to the Welsh Administration ombudsman, we do not believe that such an appointment would improve current procedures or provide value for money. So we do not propose any action in Wales at present, although we shall keep the matter under review.

Amendment No. 84 would require any complaint made by a school to be resolved before the inspection report was published. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, had a twinkle in his eye when he recognised what that implied. I would love to be in negotiation with a party whereby nothing could move forward until I was satisfied. Of course, that is a power of veto. I recognise that that is not what was intended, but it illustrates the difficulty of legislating in that form.

It is quite right that an inspection report should not be published without the prior knowledge of a school. Current procedures already provide for that. I have sought to illustrate how we shall go into that further in terms of ensuring very active participation with the school about the report and its draft findings. There must be opportunities throughout the inspection to discuss the inspection findings.

There must also be opportunities for formal challenge to both the professional judgments and opinions expressed. Again, Estyn has such procedures which are published and made widely available. Ultimately, the professional opinion of the inspectorate has to be recognised and accepted. In a sense, the power of the ombudsman in that respect and of the independent adjudicator is foursquare with the power of ombudsmen elsewhere: they can make findings, but they cannot overturn the decision, otherwise the independence of the inspectorate is compromised. However, when a complaint has been made, it is an unwise body that does not listen seriously.

With regard to the processes and procedures followed during an inspection, it is right that schools should have access to further and independent avenues for redress. Those dissatisfied with the conduct of an inspection or with how Estyn has managed the complaint can approach the Welsh Administration ombudsman, as I have said.

I have covered the point about delay and not publishing until there is agreement.

Amendments Nos. 89 and 90 brought forward by the noble Lords, Lord Hanningfield and Lord Roberts of Conwy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, would establish procedures by which maintained schools and non-maintained schools would not be required to make an inspection report available or take reasonable steps to ensure parents receive a copy until any appeals by the school have been finalised. That links with Amendment No. 84 to Clause 27, which would require a complaint to be resolved.

I can only emphasise that it cannot be right that an inspection report should not be distributed to parents and others simply because the school disagrees with the report. As I have already indicated, there must, of course, be opportunities for schools throughout the process to be able to challenge findings of fact and judgment. There is a flaw in saying that the report cannot be published until the school is happy, as I have already pointed out.

I have spoken at length. This is an important debate. I believe that I have fully answered the points raised— but this is not the first time that I have said that. I was invited by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, to draft my own amendment. I thought one of the purposes of being in government was that one did not have to draft one's own amendments. Nevertheless, I understand what she says. I shall read what has been said to see whether anything further is needed. At this point I am unpersuaded that we have not put on the record an adequate set of responses, but, as ever, we shall reflect on the situation. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Morris of Bolton

We thank the noble Lord for his very detailed response. We want to take time and care to digest what he has said. Appeals must not only be fair but also be seen to be fair. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, put her finger on the point when she said that this is about principle and natural justice.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I, too, thank the Minister for his very full and helpful response and other noble Lords for participating in the debate. This is an important debate on a serious issue. I believe we shall return to it because, although the Minister has given us reassurances, it seems to me that it is important to have on the face of the Bill at least the form of wording in Amendment No. 49, which states that, "Regulations shall provide".

The Minister has told us that a lot of detailed work is going on and that regulations and guidance will be produced. But it is important that on the face of the Bill there is a reassurance to those who at the moment feel a little dissatisfied with the way procedures are that there will be a fair appeals procedure. For that reason I think that we shall return to the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Andrews

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Committee stage should begin again not before 2.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.