Education Bill

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Mr. Timms: We have no interest in funding recruitment and retention incentives for teachers in private schools or colleges. The hon. Gentleman speaks about teachers transferring between sectors, which of course they are at liberty to do, but it would not be appropriate for the Government effectively to provide subsidies to make it easier for teachers to move from the state-funded sector to the private sector.

The scheme in the Bill is part of a strategy to recruit high-quality teachers of shortage subjects to maintained schools and further education and to keep them there. We must be able to tailor eligibility requirements to the type of institution in which the teacher is working, so that we can focus the scheme on the eligible shortage subjects.

All maintained schools will come within the parameters of the scheme. The hon. Gentleman is right that academies are technically independent schools, so we also propose to include teachers in non-maintained special schools, city technology colleges and city academies, in line with our policy of putting all those institutions on an equal footing with maintained schools. We propose to cover publicly funded further education colleges and further education lecturers working in higher education institutions. We shall consult on those proposals shortly, but it would not be right, and the Government certainly do not intend, to extend the scheme to teachers working in the private sector.

The amendment would insert a reference to determining eligibility for the measure on the basis of a teacher's income, but we do not intend to base

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qualification on income. All new teachers of shortage subjects who enter teaching from September 2002 will have their loans repaid provided that they meet all the eligibility criteria set out in the policy statement that Committee members have seen. The intention is that those who work full-time will have all their outstanding loans repaid over a period of up to 10 years and that those who work part-time will receive a pro-rata benefit.

Mr. Brady: The Minister has answered many of my questions, but I should like to press him further on one point. If a maintained school buys in services, either from a company or an independent school offering educational services that might include the provision of teaching in the maintained school, will the provisions apply?

Mr. Timms: No, they will not. The provisions apply only to employees of the type of schools that I described. The amendment would prevent us from introducing the scheme in the form that we propose, but that form will have the maximum impact on teacher supply in shortage subjects, where there are serious pressures. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman feels that the scheme will make a valuable contribution to arrangements for school children and that he will withdraw the amendment.

10.45 am

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. This has been an interesting if brief debate. In a year or two, as more independent schools are funded by the state and Ministers use powers under clause 13 to reintroduce free places at independent schools and the boundaries between the state and the independent sectors become increasingly blurred, the Minister may want to reconsider this. For the time being I am content. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 180, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 181

Education action zones

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Turner: In earlier conversations about education action zones the Minister emphasised that they are not closing yet. There is no provision for them to close at all. Why has the Minister not taken the opportunity presented by the Bill to provide for their closure? Indeed, it may be the wish of some education action zones to close earlier than the Minister desires. There appear to be no provisions for closure anywhere and there will clearly be assets and liabilities.

Mr. Timms: We had an exchange about this at an earlier sitting. There are no provisions in the Bill for the closure of education action zones because they are contained in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, which is the legislation that established them. I made the point that it was always intended that the zones would have a fixed life. They were never intended to go on indefinitely. They were originally

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established for three years and, as the 1998 Act allows, they have all been extended for five years. The Secretary of State will make a separate order in respect of each zone. The arrangements that we talked about last time will be in place to ensure that the zones will close down in an orderly way.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 181 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 16 agreed to.

Clause 182 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 17

Amendments of School Inspections Act 1996

Mr. Willis: I beg to move amendment No. 557, in page 175, line 16, at end insert—

    'In section 2(7) of that Act after paragraph (a) there is inserted—

    ''(b) shall at least once in each period of five years commencing upon the coming into effect of this Act carry out a review of the system and framework of inspection and report thereon to the Secretary of State who shall lay a copy of that report before each House of Parliament.'.

This is a brief amendment and I am sure that the Minister will agree to it readily. This picks up a recommendation that was made by the Minister's good friend, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who would like his job. As chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Skills he produced a report on Ofsted. One of the report's most interesting recommendations was that there should be a quinquennial review of Ofsted. That was a serious suggestion. Ofsted was introduced 10 years ago. It was interesting to note that in November, when Ofsted appeared before the Select Committee, the chief inspector said that he saw no need to alter its fundamental structure. The organisation began in such hostility a decade ago and has embedded itself in the education system.

Most commentators, professional associations, heads and teachers accept the need for a rigorous, independent inspection system. However, there is a need to create a structure that is in tune with the thinking of the Government—and, I believe, all political parties—who want a new, more vigorous, innovative, dynamic and diverse education system. Instead, we continue with an Ofsted framework that remains largely unchanged since its origin, although I accept that its style changed substantially, particularly under Mike Tomlinson, to the benefit of the entire system.

The Select Committee's view was that Parliament should have an opportunity every five years to review the structure and effectiveness of Ofsted. All organisations, including those that are created for the purpose of audit and inspection, should be subject to regular scrutiny to ensure that they are effective and that they change with the education system. That view was shared by some, but not all hon. Members. The former hon. Member for Guildford, Mr. St. Aubyn, who has moved on to better things, objected to any changes in the Ofsted system.

The Liberal Democrat party prefers a self-evaluation process at the heart of school

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improvement. Most modern companies and organisations do not wait for the auditors or an inspector to come in every year, or every two, four or six years; that is a thing of the past. They try to achieve constant, incremental improvement, and the concept of total quality management affects every activity. Our vision is that a modern Ofsted would have as its prime function inspecting the inspection and audit systems of the schools, which should vigorously and constantly examine and question what they are doing.

A five-yearly review would enable the House of Commons to examine openly the work of this important body and make necessary recommendations. That would be good for Ofsted, the parliamentary system of scrutiny and our schools, which would see that the body that inspects them is also inspected.

Mr. Turner: Can the hon. Gentleman assist me—I do not have to hand a copy of the School Inspections Act 1996—by explaining on whom the responsibility would fall?

Mr. Willis: The responsibility would fall on Parliament. Any organisation that changes its terms of reference should be subject to scrutiny by Parliament in an affirmative resolution; the hon. Gentleman may disagree with that. A quinquennial review of Ofsted would fall into that category. Far too many organisations that have been set up in the gift of the Government or as quangos never come under parliamentary scrutiny. The amendment would provide for such scrutiny.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for endorsing the statement made recently by the Leader of the Opposition about putting such appointments in the hands of Parliament. I wonder whether he has in mind that the Select Committee should be responsible for auditing and reviewing the performance of the inspection body. In which case, does he agree that it is vital for us to see an improvement in the means of selecting the members and, particularly, the Chairmen of Select Committees? Such selection should have been taken out of the hands of Government Whips in the way that the Liaison Committee recommended last year, but the Government would not let the House debate it.

Mr. Willis: I often agree with the hon. Gentleman, because he is fine fellow, but this time I agree wholeheartedly. He made the serious point, as did the Liaison Committee, that if we want to return to a situation in which the Select Committees are genuine scrutiny bodies, they must have an air of independence that they do not have at the moment. The Education and Skills Committee is a classic example. There is not the necessary rigour, as we saw recently with the light touch way in which Ministers got off the hook over individual learning accounts. [Hon. Members: ''Hear, hear.] Conservative Members should not shout too loudly because it is bad for my image.

I urge the Government to accept the amendment.

 
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Prepared 24 January 2002