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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, in addition to the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, the amendment also has to do with recording and measuring what happens in nursery education if or when the nursery voucher scheme is introduced. The amendment directs the chief inspector to keep the Secretary of State informed about, inter alia, the qualifications and training of staff, child/staff ratios and space/child ratios in provider organisations.

We have argued in this Chamber at length on two occasions about all these matters. There are real doubts as to what effect the Bill will have in these respects. There are doubts as to whether providers will be able to fund improving qualifications for their staff; as to whether or not the competitive situation will result in worsening staff/pupil ratios; and as to the likelihood or not of competition for pupils and for the funding they bring with them leading to a tendency to over-crowd classrooms.

Argument in this House and outside is all very well. But one of the points of this amendment is that the inspector should include in his reports data on these important matters so that all of us, and in particular the Government, may have the data available as a basis for rational decision-making and as a means of checking that the policies are working well.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, quoted the remarks of General MacArthur, saying that he would return. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, did not have to return. Sadly, I do have to return on these occasions.

As I believe I have explained on other occasions, it is unnecessary to prescribe the precise scope of the chief inspector's duty to report to the Secretary of State, or the scope of inspections, in any greater detail than the Bill already does. Again, I refer the noble Lord to my earlier remarks about the 1992 Act and the occasional need to keep a degree of consistency, which his noble friend does not always like.

Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1, relating to the inspection, sets out the scope of the chief inspector's report. It is very broadly drafted. In the light of that, the chief inspector has developed a framework of inspection which incorporates all these issues in assessing whether the SCAA desirable learning outcomes are likely to be achieved. The provision for the inspector and chief inspector to consider the quality and standards of funded nursery education embraces the standard and suitability of teaching alongside other aspects of quality. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will accept that, even if like General MacArthur he wished to return to these matters, on this occasion his amendment is not necessary.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord did not feel able to indicate that at least he would expect the chief inspector to include in his report the sort of information that is outlined in this amendment. I understand that the Minister might not want that on the face of the Bill. However, this sort of general information is a way of objectively monitoring the progress of nursery education in the years to come. I am sorry that the noble Lord did not feel moved at least to say so in reply to my amendment.

Nevertheless, I do not wish to pursue a battle at this stage, even though I am a member of the infantry. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 not moved.]

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 23:


Page 6, line 18, leave out ("with others") and insert ("with another member or other members of the inspectorate").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, in moving this amendment I shall also speak to Amendment No. 24. I hope that that will lead to a slight shortening of our time in the House.

Both amendments speak to the quality and impartiality of the inspection process. Amendment No. 23 would prevent the chief inspector delegating his powers to other organisations. It is in response to government suggestions that a number of umbrella organisations, as they are called, might be suitable as contracted inspectors. One suggestion is that the Pre-School Learning Alliance would be a suitable body. I yield to nobody in my admiration for the work of the PLA, but I do not believe that it would be the best body to ensure an independent, professional and disinterested group of inspectors.

All providers should be inspected under the same rules, against equitable criteria. Some progress towards that has been made during the consultation period of the DfEE's quality assurance procedures. That should not be undermined by the chief inspector being given powers to delegate responsibility to any organisation he chooses. Our amendment would prevent a patchwork of organisations emerging and would keep accountability firmly within the realms of Ofsted.

Amendment No. 24 would ensure that all inspectors have experience of teaching the age group for which nursery education is provided. It may be argued that such a specific requirement as the amendment demands is not put on registered inspectors under the 1992 Act. The 1992 Act specifies the non-teaching experience of lay-inspectors, and by implication all other registered inspectors must have teaching experience. The judgments of inspection teams under the framework are required to be corporate and therefore always include the views of an inspector with teaching experience. However, under this scheme, the arrangements are that a single inspector will be making the judgments. How much more informed and appropriate those judgments would be if the inspectors had experience of teaching four year-old children. We note that the credibility, even of Ofsted inspectors, can be undermined if inspectors

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have no experience of the relevant age group. We maintain that the best inspections do include a real understanding of the process being inspected.

I would remind the Minister that earlier today he said that inspectors would monitor language skills and that those providers who fell short in satisfying the outcomes in the matter of language skills would be criticised. Yet language teaching is a subtle skill best appreciated by those who have practised it.

Therefore we should take account of these considerations and ensure that inspectors have experience of teaching the particular age group that we are concerned with.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I speak to Amendment No. 23 and in support of Amendment No. 24. This amendment does not prevent the chief inspector from delegation within the inspectorate, and so does allow for arrangements to be made with another member or members of the inspectorate. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, it is important that there is a consistency of standards and that the quality of experience is such as to give everyone confidence in the process.

I did not think, even at this hour, that I would be standing at the Dispatch Box referring to comments made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in a rather defensive approach to criticism, and that I would be praying in aid the chief inspector, Mr. Woodhead. But at a conference earlier this year the chief inspector said he was not complacent regarding the consistency of inspectors' judgments. He hoped that safeguards would be introduced to redress some of the problems associated with inconsistency of human judgments. This is particularly important in the circumstances of the proposed inspections of the nursery providers. That is not meant to cast aspersions, as the interpretation from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, appeared to imply in an earlier debate. It is extremely important that we establish criteria that will lead to common judgments, as the chief inspector said, and that there should be increased monitoring and training of inspectors and additional monitoring of the practice of lead inspectors.

This is a fraught area. Many people have learnt many skills in the nurturing and education of young children. Often those skills have been developed to a high level, but have never been tested in terms of any formal judgment in relation to the ability of individuals to demonstrate that they have acquired a degree of professional expertise. Our query is not whether those skills exist--they undoubtedly do; we question the assumption that they always exist and that there is no need to come up with imaginative ways of validating prior learning experience.

We agree that there are many people involved in the educational process; we agree that they could be offered opportunities to test that knowledge and skill. But if at the end of the day those involved--the parents and the

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teaching and non-teaching staff--are to have confidence, we must ensure that the quality of those given the task of inspection is accepted by all concerned.

Baroness David: My Lords, I put my name to Amendment No. 24 and I support it. I should like to hear from the Minister a little more about the experience that the new inspectors will have.

I was surprised and shocked when I met somebody at the station about three weeks ago who had been a deputy chief education officer of Cambridgeshire. He is now a consultant, of course, like so many others. I asked him what he was doing in Cambridge that day. He said, "I am going to train some new inspectors for the nursery Bill". I replied that I was not too happy about the Bill. He said, "I am pleased. We are going to make a lot of money out of it".

I should like to know who the people are who are being trained. Are they teachers with experience of teaching nursery children? How many new ones will be appointed to supply the need? I hope that the Minister can give us more information about who and what the inspectors are, what their experience has been and how the system will work.


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