Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am entirely sympathetic to the motives of the noble Lord in moving the amendment. He is right to say that it is important that an education development plan should set out what an LEA will do to improve the performance of its schools. He is right to say that we all want to see school performance improved. That is the whole purpose of the exercise. LEAs have an important role to play in supporting and challenging schools to drive up standards and through their eduction development plans they will be held accountable for their success in carrying this out.

Amendment No. 29 would require an LEA's proposal for improving its school performance to be assessed by measures to be prescribed in regulation. We need to be clear what an improvement to schools' performance means, and the measures by which it should be assessed. We are not at the starting blocks here. There are already well-established means of assessing improvement in schools' performance and information about how well schools are doing is widely available in the public domain. Ofsted inspections of schools provide a clear means of judging schools' performance and improvement and provide a wealth of information which--perhaps I may add, knowing the Lord's expertise in these matters--is available on the Internet. The performance tables which are published annually set out each school's performance and this can be tracked on a year by year basis. Ofsted has recently made available to all schools and LEAs wide-ranging details of schools' performance in performance and assessment reports and LEA profiles which--perhaps I may add, and LEAs to consider what more needs to be done on the basis of firm evidence of their own and similar schools' performance.

In addition, for the first time, Government will make available national value added analyses. This will enable schools to compare the progress made by a pupil between one stage of assessment and another with the progress made by all pupils nationally with similar starting attainments. Value added relates purely to the prior attainment of pupils and does not take into account other contextual factors which research suggests are of less significance in respect of pupil performance. This information will help schools and LEAs to raise standards by evaluating performance and identifying and encouraging good teaching practice.

The draft EDP guidance, on which consultation has recently finished, proposes that LEAs should carry out an audit of pupil performance and other aspects of performance taking account of available data such as Ofsted schools and LEA inspection reports, performance and assessment reports and LEA profiles. It also sets out draft criteria for how the LEA's school improvement programme will be assessed. Advisers from the standards and effectiveness unit in the department will also be working with LEAs to help them prepare and strengthen their plans.

19 May 1998 : Column 1465

There are therefore a number of mechanisms already in place for judging the improvement of schools' performance and we do not see the need to add to bureaucracy further by specifying measures in regulations which is what the amendment proposes. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Before the Minister sits down, I am concerned about value added. I understand what the noble Lord says. Can he put a little more flesh on these bare bones and tell me the kind of issues he regards as value added? The noble Lord may remember that I mentioned that certain surveys indicated that such issues cannot be judged on the basis of ethnicity, deprivation and so on. The national value added scheme is important for those of us concerned with the Bill. I hope that the Minister can say more about the issues that the Government will consider.

There have been studies in the past. The Government have undertaken extensive consultation. It would help us considerably on this side of the Chamber if the noble Lord could share some of the insights with us.

4.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not think there are any insights which have not already been published either by this Government or by the previous government. A great deal of work has been done on this subject. I attempted, when we discussed earlier amendments, to give some idea of what, other than the measure of prior attainment, could be taken into account in value added. The noble Lord was quite right in saying that earlier reports show that prior attainment is the most important single factor in predicting future attainment, but of course it is also true that ethnicity, gender, language skills and social background are other elements. They are not elements in replacement of prior attainment; they are things which go to make up prior attainment, and prior attainment is the evident measure which encapsulates them. Our value added measures take that into account.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. We really do need to get this absolutely clear because it is important that schools themselves know against what they are being measured. Let us take two children. Both have achieved exactly the same at the age of 7: there is no difference between them in terms of attainment and they are level pegging. One child is having free school meals and the other child is not. In a year's time, the child who is having free school meals is attaining rather better than the child who is not. Where is the added value? How is it measured? What factors are taken into account in making a judgment as to how the children themselves have achieved and how the school has achieved? The noble Lord has mentioned gender, ethnicity and free school meals. If this sort of information is going to be added to pure academic

19 May 1998 : Column 1466

achievement, then it is important that he tells this Committee exactly how that information is going to be weighted.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I was not talking about them at all. I was challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to say what might be included. The noble Baroness is talking about individual children as if these reports were going to be about individual children. What we are looking at is the performance of schools in aggregate, and of course when we see changes in terms of under-performance or over-performance against targets, we look for explanations. Some of the explanations may be in terms of social background, ethnicity, gender or whatever it may be. It is important that we should understand them but we do not have to say, for example, that gender accounts for 0.35 per cent. of the perceived deviation from the norm.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: These schools will be judged. The noble Lord opposite knows as well as I do that the business of value added has been studied by many bodies and has been the subject of considerable controversy--I repeat, considerable controversy. The noble Lord has been involved in it; I have been involved in it; and the noble Lord knows something about it. What he is proposing in this Bill is to make judgments on the schools on the basis, yes, of prior attainment and value added. But I fear I still must say--I am sorry to have to come back to this--that the noble Lord in his answers has not taken us into the disputes that have arisen and told us what his noble friend's department is considering, because it is going to have to make judgments on a subject that has been in great dispute among people who are supposedly experts. But executive decisions will be taken and I am sorry to say that the noble Lord has not helped us, beyond talking about generalities, as to what line will be taken on the issues which have been put to him. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is sitting behind the noble Lord and he has spent many hours, I should think, and many nights, studying just this subject. But the noble Lord has not taken into account all the pages that have been printed. Even just giving us a clue--a candle in the darkness--would help; a mere candle.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The amendment is concerned with whether the conditions should be prescribed in regulations. I have described why it is unnecessary and might even be damaging for this amendment to be added to the Bill.

Lord Dearing: I recall some time ago I was chairman of the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council and it occurred to me that the purpose of education was to raise levels of achievement from what they had been. I invited the very clever people in higher education to help us develop a measure of value added. They applied their brilliant minds to this and added to the problem a degree of complexity which meant that we made no progress whatsoever. The great danger of value added is sophistication and the inclusion of so many variables that the outcome is not understood by parents or anyone else. It is the case that I offered some advice to the

19 May 1998 : Column 1467

previous government on measures of performance and recommended in 1993 that we should introduce value added. I also recommended the setting up of a working party. The chairman is not a Member of this House but is in the Chamber; he led an excellent committee which produced a report amid many other reports.

I am inclined to say that, yes, we do want value added measures. It is important that if they are to be used schools know the criteria which are being brought to bear; otherwise it is an invalid process. However, I think it would be injudicious for your Lordships to prescribe what measures those should be. It is a matter for experts and for consultation, but before the measures are introduced they must be clear and known to all concerned.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page