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The amendment would reintroduce a provision in Section 24 of the School Inspections Act 1996, which enables an LEA to provide an inspection service for schools. The involvement of LEAs in the inspection of schools has declined markedly in the past few years. In 2001 LEAs represented about a third of the 125 providers of inspections nationally. In the past two years the number of providers of inspection services has fallen to two dozen and has not included any LEA providers. I suppose that they are not doing Ofsted inspections in that form currently.
We also think that it is consistent with the general development of a more strategic role for local authorities as the champion of children and education rather than necessarily the direct provider of services. The provision in Section 24 of the 1996 Act is no longer needed under the new arrangements, under which Ofsted will let contracts to a number of regional inspection consortiasubstantial groups of inspection consortia. However, it will still be possible for local authorities to be involved in school inspections by subcontracting with regional consortia. Therefore, it will be possible for local authority advisers to take part in school inspections. That experience will benefit advisers and the authorities for whom they work.
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Clause 50 of the Bill also provides a local education authority with power to inspect a school maintained by the authority, where it needs to do so for a particular purpose in order to enable the authority to discharge its statutory responsibilities. That power is still there, as it should be, without the local authority being seen as an essential provider of services to Ofsted. They can be a sub-contractor who is part of a wider consortium. I hope that that is helpful and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will not press her amendment.
Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for his reply. In the past, a third of inspection services have been provided by local authorities. In the new situation of the "light touch" and the "single conversation", it could well be that more LEAs would be interested in providing such services in the future. I thought that the suggestion that they should continue to be allowed to do so as the prime mover was interesting. I accept what the Minister said about advisers being able to subcontract, but that is not the same as being in charge of the inspection. I shall read the Minister's comments carefully and consider whether we shall want to come back to this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 53, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 56, 64, 70, 91 and 94, which are grouped with it. The purpose of the amendments in this group is to change the designation of schools in "special measures" and those requiring "significant improvement" to a new, more positive, categorisation: "schools in need of additional support".
This is not just semantics, although it has to be said that the tone of the designation can affect the morale of a school; it is also about the right of the school to appropriate support. In its document Bringing down the barriers, the NUT argues that the terms "special measures", "significant weaknesses" or "notice of improvement" should be replaced by the term "schools in need of additional support". Such support may involve external support. If external evaluation identifies problems in a school, the local authority should be required to provide support, including advisers and seconded teachers based in the school. There should be no "one size fits all" deadline for improvement. That is the NUT's view on this and I have considerable sympathy with it.
The initial Ofsted consultation on the future of inspection, which was published in June 2004, states that "schools designated as requiring significant improvement" suggests that the inspectors' judgments
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would be largely reliant on performance data, even though it is widely recognised that the accuracy and reliability of such quantitative data are not always secure. The consultation document also implied that such schools would be reinspected within a year. It is important that LEAs should have the responsibility for supporting schools with problems, including the provision of additional targeted resources. The progress of each school toward resolving its problems should be evaluated on merit by validation teams and LEAs.
I think there is a great deal of merit in a system similar to that in Guernsey. There, if serious problems are identified as a result of an external validation review, the school is given three months to draw up an action plan to address the problems identified. It also has active support and input from an external adviser, such as an EMI, to enable the school to make progress in the right direction. A year after the initial visit, the school is revisited by the external validation review team to look at the progress that has been made. The emphasis is on supporting the school. There are no labels such as "special measures" or "improvement notices".
All noble Lords are keen on ensuring that the inspection process results in a school improving. It is important that we are very clear that schools have a right to the appropriate support to make that improvement. It should be done in a way that sounds supportive to the school and makes it feel that it is not being punished or criticised, but is being helped. Even if there is fault, or less than the best teaching practice, the carrot always works better than the stick. Semantics are important, but the right to appropriate support is extremely important. I beg to move.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I have put my name to Amendments Nos. 91 and 94 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, but I agree with everything that she has said. It is not just a question of semantics or political correctness. The phrases in her amendments usuallybut not always, as the noble Baroness indicatedshow what a school needs; that is, the extra time, resources and staff needed to cope with the special needs of often multiply-damaged children. I had this argument years ago, when I served on the ILEA. Personally, I would pay teachers in such schools double and have a contract to ensure that they achieved whatever they declared they would achieve within a limited period. That is what schools need. They need more teachersthe best teachersand outside support than schools in middle class areas that are better able to cope and to benefit from the education provided in the generality of schooling. I hope that, as well as approving these amendments, the Minister will indicate that these schools will get the extra resources that they undoubtedly need.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: One of the pleasures in taking part in this kind of debate is the evidence that there are very few ivory towers here. I do not live in an ivory tower. On Tuesday afternoon, when I was in
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your Lordships' House, I was handed a note from Portsmouth that told me that St Luke's School, which is not in a middle class area of the country, had just been designated the seventh most improved school in the country. Having watched that school, and others in other parts of the country, going through the process of being "improved", persuades me that these amendments merit careful attention and possibly even improvement.
Lord Filkin: This is an interesting opportunity to go back to issues that we touched on briefly at Second Reading because they are part of the central architecture of the Bill. Therefore, this amendment gives an opportunity to engage with those issues.
After a lot of consideration and consultation, we decided on two categories for schools causing concern; that is, "special measures" and "significant improvement". These categories, defined in Clause 43, underpin the provisions in the Bill relating to the schools. The amendments in this group would provide for one category of cause for concern, "in need of additional support", in relation to the schools causing concern provisions in Clauses 12, 14 and 43. We should pause on that before we engage with the question whether one uses positive or negative language.
The Bill seeks to capture the differences between schools that are very seriously failing and there is no confidence that they will turn themselves around. It is the most serious signal possible. In different language, that has been part of the history and development of Ofsted designation and governmental interventions to try to turn schools around.
Without being able to recollect off the cuff the figures, the experience has been a powerful onethat although it is ghastly for a school to be so designated, sometimes one has to say that a spade is a spade. The consequence of that is that although it must be dreadful for heads or governors to know that they are put into that category, the need for improvement is so massive and serious that it also engages a range of other action, such as planning and intervention, and the evidence from that has been that schools so designated have turned around. I wish that I could remember the date of it. No doubt I shall.
If we went from that system and sought to put everything into one category, as is suggested, and did not make the differentiation that we are talking about, either the schools needing significant improvement would be put into the very heavy sin bin category or we would compromise on the very heavy intervention sin bin category because we had many others that needed significant improvement. That would not be good public policy. For those reasons, I do not believe that it is right.
We agree, of coursewe are full square with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on thisthat schools facing particular difficulties should receive additional support. It is not a case of saying, "Let us give you some marks and then leave you to sin or fail for ever more". It is a case of trying to evaluate fairly where
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schools are not performing and, as part of a whole range of processes, to turn them round and make them better.
Under the Bill's arrangements, a designation will continue to trigger such additional support where necessary. In the new relationship schools, we will be able to look to the school improvement partner for ongoing advice and support. The school improvement partners will have important roles in relation to schools that fall into any "cause for concern" category. They will work closely with the school to address weaknesses, mobilising additional support from the LEAs or other agencies where appropriate.
We recognise the wish to see more positive terminology used for schools that cause concern. However, we do not believe that it would be right to refer to schools as "in need of additional support" in that terminology. That would be misleading. The term "special measures" is now well understood in the education world and by parents. It is synonymous with school failure. All concernedpupils, parents, LEAs, governors and staffrecognise that a designation of special measures is very serious and that radical and urgent action needs to be taken to turn round the school. I believe that children and parents in such schools need that clear signal for those limited number of very serious cases. The fudging should stop and there should be a recognition that things must change.
The designation of "in need of additional support" would carry the implication that matters were not so bad, that all a school needed was a little extra support. The risk is that it would be taken less seriously by schools and LEAs and would not trigger the urgent action, including the very significant support that sometimes forms part of it, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, wants to see, that the special measures categorisation currently brings with it. We therefore risk undermining our policies to tackle school failure rigorously and drive up standards.
The "schools causing concern" categorisation is about more than just identifying schools that need additional support. It is certain that most, if not all, schools would welcome additional resources, and many would welcome additional support. Schools that fall into one of the two "cause for concern" categories will need a range of challenge, support or intervention. The lesson from our experience of school improvement is that the solution must be tailor-made for the school.
Every school can improve. A key role for SIPs will be to challenge schools to have the highest aspirations and expectations. The new "significant improvement" category will help to identify those schools that are not performing as well as they should. The remedy for such a school is not necessarily, although it may be, a range of additional support. Where a school already has strong leadership, it may be able to develop strategies to improve performance, with the school improvement partner playing a part as necessary.
As we all know, leadership is a key factor in the success of a school. In some cases of schools causing concern, weak leadership will be a major issue. Intervention may be necessary to secure effective
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leadership and management of the school. It would be misleading for parents and the wider community simply to refer to such a school as being in need of additional support. It would not. It would need new, stronger, tougher, more skilled, more effective leadership. We believe that the Bill's arrangements provide the necessary framework for accountability and intervention to tackle failure and drive up standards.
The current definitions have been successful in raising standards. We believe that the revised arrangements build on that success and will ensure that the schools that need significant improvement are identified, supported and challenged to raise standards. The current system for schools causing concern has therefore worked, and the designations have concentrated minds on remedying weaknesses.
Our proposals are designed to build on the success of the current arrangements. We still need to single out the very worst casesspecial measuresand to recognise that in some cases improvement is necessary but that the failure is not so serious. Since 1997, over 1,200 secondary schools have recovered from special measures. As a consequence, over 400,000 pupils have benefited from special measures.
In summary, although I do not believe that a shift to a single category would be right and although I believe that support is a necessary component of improvement in many cases, one needs to identify the cases in which it is not only about support but may also be about leadership.
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