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The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): As Amendment No. 110 is also being spoken to, I must point out to the Committee that if that amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 210A to 210E inclusive.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Lucas: Before we add to the weight attributed to the results of Ofsted inspections, we should take a short pause to consider whether the judgments of Ofsted are of sufficient quality and reliability to allow that to be a sensible course to take. I admire and approve of many of the things Ofsted has done. I think that it was one of our fine creations when in office. But one of the things I least admire about Ofsted is that it has not submitted itself to any form of research or evaluation. There has been no research into the validity of its inspection system; there has been no comparison of pre-announced and surprise visits; there have been no studies of how long inspectors need to spend in schools to achieve a reliable judgment; and no comparisons of results. In fact, there was one tiny study, using inadequate research criteria, of whether different inspectors inspecting the same school and the same lessons come to the same conclusion or whether there is too much variation between the conclusions that different inspectors reach about individual teachers. There has been no comparison between the results of inspection and independent evidence of how well a school is doing, such as value added data.

It is not right for an organisation such as Ofsted to stand out against a proper evaluation of how good its judgments are, particularly when they are to be put to the use which we are considering in this part of the Bill. It should be a research oriented, research-based and respectful-of-research organisation. It is not. I hope that the Government will set their mind to changing that approach.

We also need to consider the difference in style between Ofsted and the FEFC. The FEFC has run what might be called a professional audit style of inspection. It has worked with the organisations it has

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inspected. In the judgments it has made it has carried with it not only the organisation but the individual teachers through feed-back from individual inspectors and from the teams of inspectors working in a school. Ofsted has maintained throughout a purity of stance which has made it difficult to live with in a school. It has refused to provide or even contemplate providing advice to a school on what it should do or to work with the school, let alone individual teachers, in order to provide feed-back on inspectors' views on individual lessons, on the school or on how the school might work to improve itself.

I understand the purity with which the Chief Inspector of Schools approaches this matter. But when one is coming down to a delicate decision about whether a school should have a sixth form or whether it is inadequate in relation to the local demands of its customers, one needs a much more participatory style of inspection in order to arrive at an answer which will be seen as valid by the people who at the end of the day will be subject to the results of that inspection. There is a great deal to be done by Ofsted in moving towards the old FEFC model of inspection if its verdicts are to be accepted as well-based, well-founded and in tune with what is required by the local people. Beyond anything else, if we are to have Ofsted involved in this kind of decision, it must operate in a much more transparent and open mode than it has heretofore. It must be possible for people to understand what its judgments have been and why its judgments have been and to criticise intelligently the judgments it has arrived at.

At the moment, Ofsted is a closed organisation. It is sometimes hard to understand how it has reached its judgments. That must change. Until those things have been changed, we should be cautious about expanding its powers in the way envisaged in this part of the Bill.

Baroness Warnock: I should like to say a few words in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Not enough thought has gone into the concept of inadequacy in a sixth form. Provision, particularly in rural schools, may be exceedingly good but not cover all possible ranges that are now open to people of 16-plus. It should be made known on the face of the Bill what the criteria for inadequacy are to be: whether they are a matter of poor provision, bad teaching, and all the things that point to proof of inadequacy, or whether the question of breadth of provision will also be taken into account in judging whether a school is inadequate. Given the huge range of options which are properly spelled out in the Bill as being open, with luck, to people of 16 onwards, there is a very limited number of institutions that can feasibly provide all of those options. Questions of transport between different schools and colleges of further education will become enormously important. The business of timetabling a student's whole programme seems a schoolmistress's nightmare.

Apart from that, it is totally unclear from the Bill as it stands what criteria will be used. A new Sword of Damocles is hanging over schools. They will not be

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clear from reading the Bill what it is their duty to provide. Therefore, I strongly support the amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: I should like to consider Amendments Nos. 209 and 210 together. No one, I hope, doubts the Government's commitment to investing in high-quality school education. We have increased funding and ensured that more of is it passed on to schools to spend on improving pupil performance. We have also increased the rigour with which poor standards are tackled in following up inspection reports.

The Bill demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that the learning opportunities available to all students aged 16 to 19 are of similarly high quality. That is why we have in the Bill established a level playing field in inspections, with Ofsted looking across the piece at 16 to 19 provision in schools and colleges and applying similar standards. It would be quite wrong to apply different standards in one sector from the other--to suggest that a student choosing a school rather than a college at age 16, or vice versa, was thereby opting for a sector where the standards applied were different and possibly less rigorous. But that would be the precise effect of the noble Baroness's amendments. They seem to be driven by an attachment to sixth forms which is perhaps a little blind to the need to take action to address poor standards.

Having secured a level playing field in inspection, we need to ensure that it is followed up with equal rigour in both sectors. If any provider of post-16 education fails to provide the standards which students deserve, it must make the necessary improvements without delay, or face the possible consequences. The Bill secures exactly that for further education colleges, in respect of which the LSC and CETW will have significant powers to intervene where necessary. The councils must have parallel powers in respect of inadequate sixth forms.

Schools providing high-quality education for their sixth formers have nothing to fear from the proposals in Schedule 7, under which the LSC and CETW would have powers to propose the closure of inadequate sixth forms. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that that is defined in Schedule 7--after two successive reports to that effect.

These powers are part of our strategy for ensuring high quality throughout post-16 learning, as was outlined in the White Paper. They are consistent with the principle that intervention should be in inverse proportion to success. Where any provider fails to meet the necessary standards of quality, firm action will be needed. In the first instance, it will be for providers to take that action, so as to secure the necessary improvements within a reasonable time. In the case of schools, that action will involve the governing body and the LEA. But where their response is inadequate, we shall look to the LSC and CETW to propose remedial action.

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I must stress that the powers in relation to school sixth forms are a fallback to operate where the local education authority and the school governors have not managed to sort out persistent failure. I am confident that in most cases they will do so, as they currently do under the arrangements that this Government have developed for schools in special measures and introduced for schools with serious weaknesses. Those arrangements are working well: during 1999, the number of schools in special measures fell, as did the average length of time that schools spent before coming out of special measures. We expect similar success in turning round inadequate sixth forms, thus ensuring that all students get a fair deal. Inspection reports will be clearer about inadequacy in sixth forms, and so the school and local authority will have a more focused agenda for action than has been the case up to now. Improvements must be secured quickly.

But we have to recognise the possibility that, in a particular case, for whatever reason, the governing body and LEA may not succeed. The powers to which Clause 98 and Schedule 7 give effect are powers of last resort in those circumstances. In that respect, they are consistent with the Secretary of State's and the National Assembly's existing power to direct the closure of a school in special measures.

No school should allow standards in its sixth form to fall to a level which results in an adverse inspection report. But, if that happens, the school will have the opportunity (with support from the LEA and, if appropriate, the diocesan body) to make the necessary improvements, as will be secured by government amendments that we shall discuss later.

Only where a second consecutive adverse inspection report is made about a sixth form will the LSC's or CETW's powers to propose closure be triggered. We shall ensure that schools and LEAs have a reasonable time to make the necessary improvements before re-inspection. I hope that that is helpful to Members of the Committee who have taken part in this short debate. That will generally be around two years, as it is for schools with serious weaknesses. If schools have failed after that time to do what is needed to provide their students with the standard of education that they need and deserve, the situation cannot be allowed to continue.

The powers which are then triggered are not of summary closure. The power is for the LSC to publish proposals which will be subject to the usual statutory decision-making process by the school organisation committee and the schools adjudicator. Proposals published by the CETW will be subject to the usual procedure for approval by the National Assembly. That means that the LSC and CETW would need to consult widely before deciding to publish proposals; that there would be an opportunity for objections to be made; and that the decision-makers would consider all the relevant arguments and evidence before deciding whether to approve the proposals. The school organisation committee contains all the main partners in the

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provision of school education, including post-16 education--LEA, diocesan authorities, governing body representatives and, in the future, the LSC.

So I do not accept the noble Baroness's suggestion that school sixth forms must be directly represented on the local LSCs. If the committee fails to agree on a proposal, the final decision is made by the adjudicator, who will be looking to ensure that local needs and wishes are given full weight, alongside quality judgments. The parallel arrangements in Wales provide equal safeguards before the National Assembly could make a decision.

These provisions are not a threat to sixth forms in general, or to small sixth forms in particular. I want to give the noble Baroness that reassurance. She mentioned rural sixth forms and was supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. But there is no wish in any way to be punitive about arrangements such as a doubling-up of teaching to first-year and second-year sixth forms in rural schools. Indeed, the Government would certainly want to encourage that kind of initiative and are saying that that might happen in some other schools in urban areas where groups are very small in minority subjects. So that is the last thing that we should want to do.

The issue is this: if students are achieving the standards of which they are capable, there should be no question of Ofsted deeming a sixth form to be failing or seriously weak for such reasons, or even for value-for-money considerations, which may have been behind the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock.

These judgments can be triggered only where students are achieving significantly below comparable standards elsewhere. In such cases, we should be doing the students no favours by protecting such provision. These arrangements are not in any way about limiting choice between what are equally good alternatives, but are part of a crusade for high quality across the 16 to 19 spectrum, for which I would have hoped and expected enthusiastic support from Members of the Committee all around the Chamber.

Regrettably, not all sixth forms are of high quality. A-level students at about 10 per cent of maintained schools achieve an average points score of less than 10 compared with 19.3 in school sixth forms overall. The students who attend that minority of sixth forms are not getting the opportunity that they deserve at a key moment in their education and, as a result, their ability to move on to further study or employment may well be seriously compromised.

The provisions in the Bill which allow proposals to be brought forward in the case of persistent failure are already surrounded by the safeguards that I have mentioned. They ensure that schools have a real chance to make improvements before any new intervention powers apply, and that proposals which are made by the LSC or CETW are subject to full and open decision-making processes of the kind to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred. But the need to safeguard the interests of schools must be

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balanced against the need to safeguard the interests of students by ensuring that all 16 to 19 education is of high quality. Paragraphs 1 to 5 of Schedule 7 are needed to provide the same safeguard for students in sixth forms as those in other types of post-16 provision.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about the formula for the distribution of funds to sixth forms. We are consulting on the technical details. We shall consult schools, LEAs and others on exactly how the funding process will operate. The National Association of Head Teachers is among those to be consulted. Indeed, the association has already been consulted on earlier stages of the whole process and welcomes the suggestion that the LSC should be involved in distributing funds to sixth forms.

It is not the case that the Bill allows the LSC to determine how much money individual sixth forms may receive. That will be a matter for the LEA. The LSC will not fund individual schools directly. We shall provide funds to the LEAs and are working with them to determine over the coming months the most sensible way to distribute funding from the authorities to the sixth forms.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, questioned whether Ofsted was the right organisation to do the job and asked a variety of questions about its performance. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has direct responsibility under legislation for managing a high quality inspection system and answers to the Select Committees of Parliament for that function. I have confidence in Ofsted. There is wide agreement that so far the process has had a significant impact on standards. Ofsted and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector are committed to continuing improvement in quality, and I am sure that they would be interested in any suggestions by the noble Lord about further research that might be done to evaluate and monitor performance.

I hope that I have managed to respond to all the issues that have been raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I do not always agree, but I think that she shares with me a passion for maintaining and improving standards in sixth forms. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.


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