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Baroness Blackstone: In speaking to these amendments, I underline the importance of Clauses 62 to 64, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, has indicated she will oppose. Instead of Ofsted being responsible for leading area inspections of 16 to 18 provision, we should have broadly analogous provisions making the adult learning inspectorate responsible for area inspection of provision for all ages. I am grateful for the opportunity to reiterate our position on this rather important issue.
Area inspections represent an important new policy. The focus of our concern is the very pressing need to raise the standard of 16 to 18 provision in certain parts of the country. These are mostly, but not exclusively, urban communities where both participation in full-time education and, I am afraid to say, attainment are particularly low. The inspections will make a major contribution to raising the standard and relevance of provision for young people who must have access to high quality education and training if they are to obtain jobs and remain employable.
It is perhaps worth explaining further that these inspections will provide the means by which we can judge whether the entitlement that we have given to young people between the ages of 16 to 19 is being discharged properly. If young people are being let down in a particular area, if resources are being misapplied, we need to instigate action on their behalf.
The same issues do not arise in post-19 learning. As the noble Baroness probably knows, our intention is to expand greatly the number of adults in learning and certainly to improve the quality of learning that is available. But, where there is no entitlement to education and training, we do not have quite the same requirement for inspections such as those intended in the clauses.
In replying to earlier amendments, I explained how essential it is for Ofsted to be involved in post-16 work. Let there be no mistake: Ofsted already makes a crucial contribution to the inspection of 16 to 18 education. It has inspected every school with a sixth
That is why Clauses 62 to 64 are constructed on the principle that Ofsted will lead area inspections, albeit with the assistance of the adult learning inspectorate. I cannot accept a series of amendments which would give this vital work to the adult learning inspectorate alone, to the exclusion of Ofsted. The logic is absolutely clear: Ofsted not only has the most extensive expertise in this area, it has the majority of the 16 to 18 remit under the Bill's provisions. Ofsted should lead. It would be ludicrous to cut Ofsted out of the equation or to make its role a very minor one.
Area inspections are needed to ensure that local providers meet local labour market needs; to see that we get best value for money from the substantial public funding being invested; and that where standards need to be raised, there is a sound basis for intervention.
The role of Ofsted is essential for the same reasons that we need Ofsted to take on the 16 to 18 remit. At the risk of repeating arguments, let me once again stress the existing crucial contribution it makes to the inspection of 16 to 18 school education. It knows what to look for and it will do the bulk of the work. I have every confidence that Ofsted, ably assisted by ALI, will make a massive difference to the educational and eventually economic well-being of these disadvantaged areas.
We shall need the provisions in Clause 63 in full. There must be a single report made by Ofsted, as it is the lead inspectorate, but the report will of course reflect the views of ALI where it has made a contribution to the area inspection. I do not believe that the noble Baroness has argued against the principle that we need single reports to be handled in this way--only on the question of which inspectorate should lead. For the reasons I have given, the duty to make the report needs to fall to Ofsted.
It is also self-evident that we need action plans after area inspections. At present, there is no obligation for anything to happen once an area report is received. The clause will make sure that the funding bodies--the LSC and the LEAs--in consultation with schools, colleges, employers and all other relevant bodies concerned with education and training in the area, take matters forward. The issue of ensuring good 16 to 18 provision is far too important to allow the possibility of inertia.
Those are the arguments why Clauses 62, 63 and 64 must stand part of the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment and agree that those clauses should stand part of the Bill.
Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Baroness decides what to do about her amendment, perhaps I may press the Minister further to define what the Government see to be the problem. I understand the Bill to bring coherence to 16-plus education. Much has been said about raising standards, not only among those not
I have always had enormous admiration for the colleges of further education. One of their predominant tasks is to take up those young people who, for all kinds of reasons--health, poor family support, or the chemistry has not been right, for one reason or another, between the individual and pupils in the school--have not gained what they should have done from school between the ages of 11 to 16, or even between the ages of 11 to 18 years.
Therefore, the colleges of further education have had to take up those people in addition to those who genuinely move out of school-based education into further education as a stepping-stone either into the field of work or into higher education. It would be helpful to know from the Minister what has been failing there and also what is the evidence for that. I would like the noble Baroness to tell us what in this Bill is destined to raise those standards.
Thirdly, as regards the world of work and the national training organisations, seen from the outside, as providers they do a pretty good job. Therefore, one wonders what there is in this Bill that will raise those standards in training for the world of work. We know that there are employers who take their responsibilities towards young people in training very seriously. There are others who leave them to get on and hope that they will pick up the skills and training that they need on the way.
I am at a loss to know what the noble Baroness defines as the problem which underpins the need for this Bill and then link it to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to bring some coherence to area inspections. Can the noble Baroness say why it is, from that purely observational culture of inspection, Ofsted should be given the remit to carry out all the area inspections which take into account all these various forms of education, training and skills training?
These questions are not playing politics with the Bill, but arise as a result of genuine bemusement about the definition of the problem and the specific pointer in this Bill to tell us how this Bill will make life different. What will make the institutions behave differently? Can the noble Baroness say in what the way these different inspection cultures are going to make sense of what is happening for 16 to 19 year-olds?
Baroness Blackstone: I am not going back into the issue of different cultures. We have been through that. I will do my best to answer the new questions that the noble Baroness has raised. She asked about the evidence that school sixth forms are inadequate. I suggest that she looks at the recent annual report of the
The noble Baroness asked about further education. I was given what I believe to be a slightly odd definition of the intake of the further education college sector. She suggested that it is those who did not get what they hoped from their schools and those needing a stepping-stone into the world of work. That is a rather strange definition of its composition.
Baroness Blatch: I included also those going through further education into higher education. There are people who are making up lost time in school education; those moving through further education into higher education and those going through that sector into the world of work.
Baroness Blackstone: If the noble Baroness will let me finish, I could then comment on the third point that she made. The further education sector is filled with students who have made a choice, not because they are students whom the schools have failed, or going into further education as the route to the world of work or because they are returning in order to go into higher education. They are people who sometimes live in areas where are there are only schools for the 11 to 16 year-olds in any event and there is a tertiary solution to the provision of education for 16 to 19 year-olds.
However, I should like to move away from what is perhaps a red herring and turn to our proposals to address the problems and then improve the quality and standards of further education. Unfortunately, retention figures in some FE colleges are inadequate; attainment figures are poor and overall standards need to be improved. In some areas, we have a mix of provision, some of which is in good sixth forms, some in bad sixth forms, some in FE colleges and some in sixth-form colleges. The whole purpose of the area inspections--which, adding to my earlier response to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, address 16 to 19 provision rather than adult provision--is to seek to come up with better solutions for those areas where the provision is poor.
The inspections will examine those areas where outputs are poor and devise solutions for raising standards; making recommendations for more collaboration across the different sectors or possibly making recommendations for mergers where that would provide better value for money. More choice should be made available to individual students within an institution.
I should like to make a final point. The national training organisations to which the noble Baroness referred are not providers. They do not provide education and training. They are central bodies offering advice based on employers' needs in a particular sector to the actual providers in FE colleges
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for her reply to the amendments. We do not dispute the need for area inspections; nor do we dispute that at present there is far too much variation in the quality of provision across areas and that improvements need to be made. However, we are concerned that in such area inspections, Ofsted will always take the lead, as specified in Clauses 62 to 64. However, when looking at the country as a whole, it is clear that in many areas school sixth forms play only a minor part in the provision of post-16 education. For that reason, we feel that the chief inspector of adult learning should be given at least an equal role to that of the Chief Inspector of Schools. That is the burden of these amendments. The chief inspector of adult learning should be put on a par with the Chief Inspector of Schools and should be able to call on the schools inspector to provide advice and guidance in relation to school sixth forms when necessary.
I say again that we do not dispute the need for a team effort here. However, under the provisions of Clauses 62 to 64, there is no doubt that the chief inspector of adult learning will play second fiddle to the Chief Inspector of Schools. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment, but we may want to return to this on Report.