The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Government's approach reflects the fact that it is not an offence not to be registered under the current system. This will not change under the new system. The offence of not providing information to an electoral registration officer-for example, when making a household enquiry-will be retained. It will not be extended to require an individual to apply to be registered.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, as far as it goes. He will know that at least 3 million of our fellow citizens, and probably more, already are not registered to vote at all. The independent Electoral Commission is of the view that if registering to vote becomes a voluntary activity, as the White Paper proposes, the result could be that up to 10 million people will fall off the electoral register, and that rates could fall in some areas from 90 per cent down to 65 per cent. Up to 35 per cent of the adult population could be disenfranchised. Is such a consequence acceptable in a mature democracy? Does the Minister agree that if such an event were to happen, no longer could we claim to the world, as we can today, that in Britain we live in a democratic country?
Lord McNally: My Lords, of course it is not acceptable; but neither is it acceptable for a mature political party to go round shroud-waving on a conclusion which involved joint deliberation by the parties that the old system had become increasingly distrusted and that voluntary registration-which would eliminate, or do a lot to eliminate, fraud, and create greater public confidence in the system-should be the way forward. The way forward proposed in the White Paper gives enough guarantees and assurances to show that the kind of language that the noble Lord has just used is, quite frankly, scare tactics which are not worthy of him or his party.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, coming from a country where voting is compulsory, I can understand why it should be compulsory to be on the register. However, as voting is voluntary in this country, what is the difference between not wishing to vote and not wishing to register? Can the Minister please clarify?
Lord McNally: Unlike in Australia, not wishing to vote remains an inalienable right of the British people. Registering is a civic duty and we hope that it will increasingly be seen as such. I certainly hope that over the next few years all the political parties will embrace the idea of an individual register and use their influence to ensure that people exercise their right. Of course, once people are on the register they will retain their right not to vote.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, on the question of shroud-waving, will the noble Lord explain to us why, when this stupid system was introduced in Northern Ireland, the registration of voters totally collapsed? Why did that happen?
Lord McNally: Perhaps someone from Northern Ireland will intervene, but, again, the language is not borne out by the facts. It did not totally collapse. In this gradual process that we are bringing forward, we are learning from the examples and lessons of the Northern Ireland experience, as well as looking at some of the practices that are going on there now. Northern Ireland votes are a standard joke but we are now learning lessons about voluntary registration and its success in Northern Ireland.
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, the existing system, whereby householders can in theory be prosecuted for failing to return their registration forms, has not worked, largely for the simple reason that no one can tell who the responsible householder is in households with more than person. Therefore, does not individual registration offer a good opportunity at least to consider a meaningful compulsory system, and is that not important, given that the electoral register determines not just the right to vote but also the call-up for jury service?
Lord McNally: Those are very valid points. To put the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, into perspective, I again emphasise that the annual canvass will continue to support the maintenance of the electoral register. Significant work, including public awareness campaigns by the Electoral Commission, will be funded in 2014-15 to manage the transition to individual electoral registration. In both those years, door-to-door canvassing will be used by electoral registration officers as part of a wide suite of powers to encourage people to register to vote. This is a step forward against electoral fraud. Instead of making emotional interventions, it would be good if the Labour Party would endorse it and get on with encouraging people to register.
Lord Wills: My Lords, all the evidence that I saw when I was the Minister responsible for these matters in the previous Government suggests that the introduction of individual registration, no matter how desirable for other reasons, is going to carry with it severe risks that millions of otherwise eligible voters will fall off the register. That is why, when the previous Government introduced this measure, they locked it into the achievement of a comprehensive and accurate register.
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The Liberal Democrats also supported this approach. Can the Minister please tell your Lordships what new evidence he has seen that has persuaded him that the careful approach adopted by the previous Government and supported by both main parties in opposition is now wrong?
Lord McNally: I am answering the question. From some of the questions, you would not believe that we will be having a two-year period in which we will be taking a belt-and-braces approach with the present system running in parallel and with every opportunity for democratic organisations and others to persuade people voluntarily to go on the electoral register and exercise their civic duty. The answer is that we have decided on a belt-and-braces approach, which will allow a smooth transition to a new scheme. It is a perfectly sensible approach, which draws on some of the experiences of the previous Government. I think that the Labour Party is being disgraceful on this. It should get on with recruiting members and persuading people to register to vote instead of using these scare tactics, which, quite frankly, are not worthy of it.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, no consideration has been given to the exchange of Saudi Arabian driving licences in the UK. Consideration would be given only after an approach has come from the Government of Saudi Arabia to recognise their driving licences. To date, no such approach has been made.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I am slightly confused by the Minister's Answer. My understanding is that Saudi Arabian driving licences are valid in this country for up to a year for Saudi Arabian citizens. As he will be aware, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to make it a criminal offence for women to drive. Recently, a sentence of 10 lashes was handed out to a woman driver, although that was later commuted. Will the Minister consider the current position? Will he look at whether the UK recognition of Saudi Arabian driving licences for a year should be withheld until driving licences are available to all citizens and
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Earl Attlee: My Lords, on the substantive question about recognition or non-recognition of Saudi driving licences, the noble Baroness will recognise that we are under a treaty obligation in terms of the international circulation order. However, we welcome King Abdullah's overturning of the recent sentence of lashing for a woman convicted of driving. It is well known that this Government, like their predecessor, have particular concern about some aspects of human rights protection in Saudi Arabia, most notably women's rights. The UK has consistently called for women in Saudi Arabia to be able to participate fully in society. That means removing legal and cultural barriers, like the guardianship system and the ban on women driving.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, of course, has nothing to do with theology or Islam and has everything to do with the desire of men in Saudi Arabia to remain guardians of women-in other words, discrimination? Will he tell the House how the United Kingdom voted when Saudi Arabia was elected on to the executive board of UN Women, the agency for gender equality and empowerment for women? If he does not have the answer with him, perhaps he might write to me saying how the UK voted?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as the Arab spring is showing some buds even in Saudi Arabia, with regard to the participation of women on the Consultative Council, could the Government at least indicate to the Saudi Government that, from our experience, women are safer drivers than men?
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, surely the noble Lord could say straight to the Saudi Arabian Government, "We are not going to enter into these negotiations until you allow all women of the right age and with the right experience to be able to drive in Saudi Arabia and we will not accept those licences in this country until that is achieved".
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I think the best way of achieving our objective-I think we are clear about our objective-is to apply steady, consistent pressure to states like Saudi Arabia. We will not get them to roll over overnight. No doubt the Saudis give us friendly advice about, for instance, underage drinking and other cultural matters.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, we are committed to delivering more restorative justice. We want to ensure that victims of the riots have a chance to explain the impact on them and that offenders face up to the consequences.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: I thank the Minister for that response. Would he agree that restorative justice schemes have resulted in victim satisfaction and cost-benefit analysis, and that reoffending has been reduced by such schemes? Would he say how many such schemes there are and whether they will be rolled out more extensively?
Lord McNally: Initially there were three such schemes. There have been about 60 enquiries about restorative justice, and we are very keen to roll out the schemes as quickly as possible. In response to the recent riots, there have been elements of restorative justice in both London and Manchester. I assure the noble Baroness that it is an element of the criminal justice system that we are very eager to learn lessons from and to expand.
Lord McNally: I am taking a wild guess here. I think it is probably because we have opened a new Westminster court at the other end of town. I am trying to remember the name of the road, but just along from Baker Street-
Lord McNally: Marylebone Road. Thank you. I am about to give the right answer now. I appreciate how convenient it was for Members of both Houses to be in Horseferry Road, but in fact they now have to go to a splendid new court in Marylebone Road.
Baroness Trumpington: Is the Minister aware that the Horseferry Road courts, which I presume are the ones he is talking about-in which I sat as a magistrate for several years, although never, I regret to say, when the noble Lord was present-were new buildings and new courts?
Lord McNally: I think I would prefer Judge Jeffreys rather than the thought of being up before the noble Baroness. Again, I will write with full details, but I suspect that under the previous Administration-
Lord McNally: No. The Marylebone Road building is a very fine building and will be a great credit to the system, but I presume that we will be redeveloping the Horseferry Road site to the benefit of the taxpayer.
Baroness Young of Hornsey: My Lords, will the Minister inform the House about the extent to which restorative justice has been used in sentencing young people under the age of 18 as a result of the riots in August?
Lord McNally: I will have to write to the noble Baroness with the specific details but I know that it has been used much more in recent times, and with good reason. It is interesting that Resolution, the magazine of the restorative justice system, reported an ICM poll after the riots that said 88 per cent of victims thought that restorative justice should be used and 94 per cent said that offenders should be held responsible for the repair and harm caused to victims. Restorative justice, when it is effectively used both as a punishment and as a rehabilitation measure has been shown to be much more effective in securing non-reoffending than sending to secure accommodation. I will write to the noble Baroness with the facts that bear out that assertion.
The Lord Bishop of London:In the light of the events in August and of the substantial reductions in the youth service in most London boroughs and other places, do the Government have any plans to assist those voluntary organisations with a proven track record in engaging with hard-to-reach young people, many of whom were involved in the events of August? I am thinking of organisations such as XLP.
Lord McNally: Within the budget constraints that affect both central and local government, we are looking to the voluntary sector to continue to play a part in this area. Where and when we can make resources available, we will do so. There is no doubt that where the voluntary sector, including churches, plays a positive role in a community, the impact on such issues as vandalism and small-scale crime is very favourable, so we will certainly be keeping that in mind.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, in view of the Minister's answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, does he see any tension or contradiction between his declared support for restorative justice and the attitude taken by the courts to many of those who were caught up in the riots?
Lord McNally: Possibly. In the end, it must be the courts, the judges and the magistrates who determine sentencing. It was right that the courts took into account in some of those sentences the fact that the offences occurred in the process of a riot. The riot was a legitimate factor for the courts to take into account in determining sentencing. In the broad sweep of things, I believe, as I indicated to the noble Baroness, that the evidence is that proper restorative justice that has a real impact on the offender is more effective in avoiding repeat offences than sending the offender to a young offender institution. I hope that we can develop a sentencing policy that is based on the facts and what works rather than on knee-jerk reactions.
Baroness Hussein-Ece:My Lords, given the successes of restorative justice, how widely are the principles being used and taught in pupil referral units and, more widely, in schools to enable young people to know that they have to take responsibility for their own actions?
Lord McNally: Increasingly so. This is one of the things that most attract me and others to the idea of restorative justice bringing the offender face to face with the victim. We are being very careful in consulting victims and victims' organisations about how restorative justice fits into this. There is no doubt that sometimes a face-to-face meeting between the offender and the victim has a beneficial effect on both. On the other hand, you do not want a system that revisits on the victim a trauma from which they have recovered. In that respect, we are, I hope, being sensitive. People genuinely want to see restorative justice that has an element of real punishment and real work in it to win public confidence in the exercise.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I agree entirely. One of the things that we are consulting on, working on and hoping to bring forward a paper on shortly is the greater involvement of victims in the justice process. Since it was the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, who asked the question, I also find that the buy-in by police to restorative justice is another factor that gives me encouragement that it is the right way forward.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I understand that HMIC is looking at the riots to learn lessons for the police about the handling of riots in the future. When will that report be coming out and will it be freely available for people to see?
Lord McNally: I would sincerely hope so. There are, as the noble Lord will know, a number of cross-Government studies as well. I would hope, again, that those are published, because I think it is important that we have a proper, healthy debate, based on the facts, to show us the way forward after the summer disturbances.
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, of which St Paul's is a member.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, everybody has a right to peaceful protest, but that right comes with responsibilities, including respecting the rights of others. I understand that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has asked protestors to leave and so enable the cathedral to reopen. The Government believe that the protestors should comply with this request. The police are working closely with the cathedral as they monitor the situation, and the Government are being kept informed of developments.
Lord Lee of Trafford: I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply, but there is a clear difference between a normal protest and a permanent encampment. For some years we have had the national embarrassment, which still continues, of the permanent encampment in Parliament Square. Now we have a situation where one of our major cathedrals, an icon, is closed and the surrounding traders are suffering severely. Is it not time that the Government actually came out on this and took new powers to deal with these permanent encampments? If they are not dealt with at this stage, I fear that they will spread.
Lord Henley: My Lords, the two issues are slightly different because the ownership of the land involved in Parliament Square and at St Paul's is different: at Parliament Square the land belongs to the local authority whereas at St Paul's it belongs to the church and the City of London. We have taken measures to deal with the Parliament Square problem, which were covered in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, and I hope that we will be able to deal with that problem shortly. As regards dealing with demonstrations of this sort on private land, I note what my noble friend says about the need to look at changes in the law. Certainly, if problems like this persist, and if we have problems like this that are likely to disrupt the Olympics or whatever, it is certainly something the Government will have to look at in due course.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, should not the protestors be told clearly that they have made their point and that the longer they stay the more they will possibly alienate public opinion, losing potential supporters in the process? They would be far better to leave in a dignified manner, having made their point clearly.
Lord Henley: I agree totally with the noble Lord. The right reverend Prelate has made that point; the Government have made that point; others will make that point. I think it is time for them to pack up their tents and go, but we have no power to get them to go while they are on private land.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I note what my noble friend has to say, but this is on private land and therefore it is a matter for the owners of that land to deal with it. We do not have the powers to deal with it at the moment, but as I said in response to the original
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Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord in an earlier answer referred to Parliament Square, on which he said that action would be taken shortly. We all know what "shortly" means: it can mean either "some time in the future, perhaps, when we get round to it", or "we are on the verge of taking action now, and it will happen fairly soon". Is it the first or the second?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, when a Minister, has used the word "shortly" before now. We all do use it from time to time. The noble Lord will also be aware that we have given ourselves powers in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Those powers need to be brought into effect. I cannot confirm precisely when, and that is why I used the word "shortly", which the noble Lord will be familiar with.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I declare an interest as I have an office in Paternoster Square. Is my noble friend aware that the police thermal imaging cameras in the helicopters flying over this camp have revealed that during the night there are very few people in these tents and that they go off home or go off to live in hotels? Is this not making the stage laugh at the audience? Do we not need to recognise this for what it is, which is a disruption and not a legitimate protest, and to take the powers necessary rather than getting involved in arguments about who owns the property? This is a clear disruption of the life of the city and the life of the cathedral, and the Government must act.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend and I am very grateful to him for pointing out that the protesters seem to be very much what might be described as part-time protesters. The sad thing is that this is on private land. Therefore, it is not a matter for the Government to intervene. It is a matter for the owners of that land, which, in this case, is the dean and chapter, to take the appropriate action. As I have said, obviously we have to look at the future and I was very grateful for the comments made by my noble friend in his supplementary question in terms of whether we need to change the law to deal with further problems later.
Lord Henley: My Lords, of course there is a right to worship but it is a matter for the church authorities to decide whether they can open that church or not. I do not answer at this Dispatch Box for the church. It was the dean and chapter who decided on grounds of health and safety-whether that was right or not is a matter for them to argue-that they could not continue to open the church. That is not a matter for the Government.
Lord Henley: My noble friend makes an interesting point. Whether an empty tent is litter is a matter that I am not going to argue now. I go back to the principle that this is something on private property and, therefore, is not something on which the Government currently have powers to intervene.
Lord Grantchester: My Lords, before we pass the noble Lord's Bill to the other place, I am reminded that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, on Report in June stated that he might have some more to say at Third Reading. Seeing the new Minister in his place, perhaps I may ask him if he would like to say a few words more.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, I think the House knows that it is not customary for the House to debate the resolution that the Bill do now pass. Given my noble friend Lord Henley's commitment to say something at Third Reading, I will briefly update the House.
I hope that I can reassure all noble Lords that I understand their concerns about dog control. However, the Government cannot support this Bill. My noble
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Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. This is not the first time that I have brought this Bill before Parliament. Obviously, I brought it while the Opposition were the Government and I did not get a great deal of satisfaction at that point. I thank the Minister for his reply. Perhaps I may also thank the very large number of people who are incredibly committed to making sure that we have a safer environment, including those people working with the dog-owning community, police officers and, especially, organisations such as the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home which have to deal with this growing problem. I very much hope that, in going to the House of Commons, this Bill will get a fair wind. I beg to move.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, after our discussions about admissions on Monday, I move to a number of government amendments which achieve two important things. The first introduces an important new clause that makes it possible for anyone to object to a school's admission arrangements by referring an objection to the office of the schools adjudicator. His duty to consider all concerns that are raised to him in this way remains. This new clause builds on Clause 62, which extends the adjudicator's remit to include all academies and free schools so that admissions to all state-funded schools will be covered by the same organisation. Our other amendments relate to the issue we discussed on Monday about national oversight of and accountability for the admissions system. Our Clause 34 would have removed a duty on local authorities to send their annual report on admissions in their area to the adjudicator. This is because in the statutory code we are placing that duty on local authorities to report locally to local people.
However, during Committee I listened with care to noble Lords' concerns about the adjudicator not getting these reports to help flesh out his and the Secretary of
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Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for responding to my letter about these amendments and for the Keeling schedule which helps us to understand the impact of these further amendments. I welcome the moves that he has made and those new measures that he has just described. However, I would welcome clarification on two points before we get to Third Reading. In his letter to me in relation to my query about possibly seeing the draft regulations relating to these measures, the Minister says he believes that the admissions code should be the prime document and that regulations merely reflect the code rather than being a separate source of guidance. But the measures, even as amended in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, provide for regulations which may make provision,
I understand that to mean that, in addition to the admissions code, which will not go into such matters, any regulations coming forward can stipulate conditions that parents or, as the Minister said, any person or body-including the local authority- must meet before making an objection to a school's admissions procedure. As we have not seen the draft regulations, we have no idea of the conditions that the Government may be thinking of imposing. They could create additional hurdles for people to overcome before they can avail themselves of the opportunities to object to admission authorities' policy and practices that the government amendments have created for them. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that my understanding is correct and, if so, what conditions the Government may be thinking of including in regulations. It is important that we have an idea of those before this matter is decided.
Notwithstanding the amendments that the Minister has described, and in the light of our previous discussion about whether the Secretary of State should have a duty to promote fair access, can he also clarify that if, after an adjudicator receives an objection he decides
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If a school-let us say that it is an academy, because we are talking about schools which are their own admissions authorities-decides that the adjudicator is simply wrong and has misinterpreted its policies and practices, who then will enforce the change necessary for the academy to comply with the admissions code? In the array of measures that the Minister has put in the Bill and talked about today, it is still the case as far as we can see that that is the end of the road, no matter what the adjudicator says. If a school digs its heels in, there is no way in which the views of the adjudicator can be enforced. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify whether, on both of those issues, my understanding is right and respond to the questions that I have asked him.
Lord Touhig: Subsection (2)(a) of the new clause proposed by Amendment 69 broadens the range of persons who can object to a school's admission arrangements. That seems to leave the door open to people who have no direct interest in a school's admissions policy to be able to object. What will the Government do to prevent these vexatious objections?
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support the point that the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, has made. I know that great concern has been expressed outside your Lordships' House that the provision could give rise to vexatious complaints being made by groups who have no interest whatever in the school concerned. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that that will not be the case.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, it remains our intention to bring the new codes into force from February 2012. While there is no legal requirement for us to publish a further draft of the code, we intend to do so as quickly as possible, with a planned date of 31 October. Alongside those draft codes, we expect to publish draft regulations and to consult on them for four weeks ahead of laying the codes formally before Parliament on 1 December. I would be very happy to share a set of the draft regulations with the noble Baroness so that she can see them in good time.
To clarify the point about binding the judgment of the adjudicator and what happens if the admissions authority does not do what the adjudicator says, the judgment of the adjudicator is final and legally binding. It cannot be ignored. The school or local authority must implement that decision without undue delay or find itself in breach of the statutory duty to have admissions arrangements compliant with the code. If they fail to do that, they risk judicial review or direction by the Secretary of State.
So the adjudicator's ruling is binding. The difference is that instead of the current situation whereby the adjudicator specifies how the admissions authority must change its arrangements to comply with his ruling, his ruling will still be binding and it will be the duty of the admissions authority to comply with his ruling and change their admissions arrangements to make sure that they are compliant.
I take the point raised by the two noble Lords about vexatious complaints. We are proposing to put in place a couple of safeguards. First, the adjudicator would not have to reconsider his decision if someone were putting in repeated allegations and accusations on which he had already decided. Secondly, we are making it clear that there cannot be anonymous allegations of that sort to try to ensure that the system works properly.
(a) in paragraph (a), for "an appropriate person" substitute "a body or person";
(b) after "that" insert "body or".
(a) in paragraph (a)(i) omit "or (3)";
(b) in paragraph (a)(ii) for "(3)" substitute "(2)";
(c) in paragraph (c) omit "or (3)";
(d) in paragraph (d) omit "or (3)".
"(b) any other person or body.""
"(1) Where a new school is to be established there should be local determination as to the appropriate category of new school, based on a local assessment of need and local consultation, including with parents and the local authority.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, Clause 36 introduces a new presumption that every new school in the future will be an academy. The clause further restricts the power of local authorities to determine what is the most appropriate type of school when a new school is needed. Under the clause, before publishing proposals for a competition for the establishment of a new school, the local authority must obtain the consent of the Secretary of State.
The clause also enables the Secretary of State or the local authority with the consent of the Secretary of State to halt such a competition at an early first stage before the closing date for proposals to be submitted. The clause means that academy proposals in that process will no longer need to be submitted to local authorities for approval but will instead be referred directly to the Secretary of State for him to decide if he wishes to enter into academy arrangements with the proposer. The clause places a duty on local authorities to seek proposals for the establishment of an academy if a new school is needed, not any other type of school. It specifically denies the local authority the ability to publish any of its own proposals for a new foundation or community school in a Section 7 competition.
The Government's proposals essentially do three things. First, if a new school is needed in an area, they skew the whole process massively so that academies have an immediate head start over other types of school through this presumption, which will be enshrined in law. Secondly, they mean that a local community school is possible only as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted. Thirdly, they limit the role of the local authority and parents to have a say in the type of school, according to local need and the best fit with the local school system. At the very least, this appears to fly in the face of the localism agenda that the Government appear to be promoting elsewhere,
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As we have noted before, the Government's vision is that eventually every school should be an academy. This clause will apply to primary schools, secondary schools, special schools, every kind of school-all schools as academies with power to determine their own admissions, and no formal links with local authorities or other schools. It is Death by default of local community schools leading potentially to thousands of atomised schools all linked, in theory, to the Secretary of State though in practice the Secretary of State and his officials could not possibly manage effectively so many relationships. Therefore schools will, to all intents and purposes, be free floating. The significance of Clause 36 cannot be overstated.
Amendments 70A and 73A seek simply to create a level playing field. Amendment 70A would mean that where a new school needs to be established, there should be local determination as to the category of school based on an assessment of local need and consultation, including with parents; that the category or type of new school would not be presumed prior to that consultation and assessment; and that the Secretary of State shall not provide any funding incentive which supports one category of school over another. Amendment 73A would consequently remove Schedule 12 to the Bill.
When this was discussed in Grand Committee, the Minister told us that the provisions do not mean that every new school would be an academy, but as the Bill stands any proposal for a new school would go forward only if a satisfactory academy solution could not be found. In that situation, the local authority would then be required by the Secretary of State to run a competition that includes the possibility of different kinds of schools. It is only if the second stage of the process fails that the local authority could bring forward proposals for a community school. The dice are loaded heavily in favour of academies and against local community schools, which can go forward only as a last resort. Our amendments would remove that presumption, restore neutrality between the appropriateness of different kinds of schools for different situations, and allow the decision to be made locally on the basis of what is best for the children and families in that area.
The presumption also seems to restrict parental choice, both in the decision about the type of school needed and in moving, in time, to one type of school only-the academy. The Government profess to be in favour of parental choice. Nick Gibb in the other place said that the intention behind Schedule 12 is,
It is difficult to see how these proposals succeed in that objective. By contrast, our amendments would put parents at the centre of decision-making and thereby ensure a wider range of types of school-more diversity in the system-by not presuming there is a one-size-fits-all
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I hope that these amendments will be given the support of the House, particularly from those noble Lords across all Benches who, while open to the potential of academies to improve standards-as indeed I am and my colleagues are-do not believe that academies are necessarily the best and the only solution in every situation, and who want to see local involvement in decisions about new schools. I beg to move.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, somewhat incongruously, my proposed new clause, which follows the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, refers to the closure of schools, whereas her speech and the clause that she is addressing refer to the opening of new schools. The proposed new clause removes the presumption in the existing guidance on the closing of schools that there should be no reduction in the proportion of denominational places in the area when consideration is being given to a school closure.
The Department for Education says that the current guidance, which is not on its website because it reflects the current legal position, may not reflect current government policy because it is to be replaced shortly by revised interim guidance. But the department does not intend to revise the section of the present guidance which provides in paragraph 4.32 that:
"The Decision Maker should not normally approve the closure of a school with a religious character where the proposal would result in a reduction in the proportion of denominational places in the area".
"It does not say that no such school should close, especially if the faith body supports the proposals, and particularly if the school concerned is severely under-subscribed, standards have been consistently low, or where an amalgamation of existing provision is proposed".
In other words, where normal conditions do not apply, the guidance allows the closure of a school with a religious character, a proposition with which we do not seek to argue. What we are talking about in this proposed new clause is the closure of a school where there are no exceptional conditions. The Department for Education goes on to say that,
What this appears to be saying, if I have deciphered it correctly-I must appeal to the Minister to confirm my interpretation-is that within a given area the guidance does not have the effect of monotonically increasing the proportion of religious places in the schools. The closure of a secular school by itself is permissible, but the closure of a religious school is allowed only under the specified unusual conditions.
Let us see how the guidance works out in a particular area, the Freshwater and Totland area of the Isle of Wight. The council decided to reduce the provision of primary school places in the area because the number of pupils in reception had fallen significantly below the available reception places in the area over a whole decade. The closure of one of the three schools in the area was the solution, and in the council's discussion of which it was to be, the headline argument in the case of the two religious schools was the guidance already quoted. The council said in each case that the guidance was clear, as indeed it was in this case, that the decision-maker would not approve the closure of either the Catholic or the Church of England school because to do so would reduce the proportion of denominational places in the area. The fact that closing the only community school in a 12-mile radius in the west of the Isle of Wight meant that the proportion of non-denominational places in the area was reduced to zero was neither here nor there in terms of the guidance.
It must be acknowledged that in the absence of paragraph 4.32 already quoted there were other reasons why the non-religious school might have drawn the short straw in this area, but if the three schools had been equally popular and of equal standards that paragraph would have been instrumental in reaching the decision. It certainly amounts to special protection for schools with a religious character where there is a need to close one school out of several in an area, other things being equal. This amendment seeks to create a level playing field for all schools when closures are being considered.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I have tabled Amendment 70C in this group, which would remove subsections (3) and (4) of new Section 6A as inserted by Schedule 11. Subsection (3) introduces a requirement for a local authority to seek the Secretary of State's approval before proceeding with an alternative model of school to an academy. Subsection (4) allows the Secretary of State to terminate the process.
It is very important that we do not reduce the ability of local parents, education providers and councils to respond quickly and effectively to new demand, and that local choice and diversity of provision are maintained. We all know that there is likely to be a big increase in demand for primary schools over the next three to four years. That will create a sudden boom in demand for pupil places and it is very important that we do not cause any delay in allowing councils to provide those places. My noble friend Lady Ritchie mentioned this in Grand Committee and she has given me permission to mention her name today although she is not able to be in her place.
Councils' primary concern when encouraging new provision in their areas should, of course, be the needs of parents. If local parents do not want new schools to be established as academies, councils should be able to retain the option to reflect parental demand without having to approach the Secretary of State for permission. My concern, and that of my noble friend Lady Ritchie, is that the requirement within this schedule risks the creation of a potentially burdensome process, which could restrict the ability of local communities to respond quickly to demand. I was very interested to receive a
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"Schedule 11 removes this consent requirement from certain kinds of proposals. These comprise proposals for new primary schools where they are replacing infant and junior schools, proposals for new voluntary aided schools, proposals for new faith schools resulting from the reorganisation of faith provision in an area, and proposals for a new school resulting from a faith school changing or losing its religious character."
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 71, 72 and 73. First, I thank the Minister for his conscientious response to the last stage of this Bill. He has sent out a number of letters explaining the policy, which I found very useful. Indeed, the letter he sent to me referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, gave some reassurances on the amendments I am going to speak to.
My main concern is that some measures proposed by the Bill may further fragment education on the basis of religion or belief. I have serious concerns about how the Bill makes voluntary-aided faith schools the easiest type of school to set up. I am also concerned about voluntary-controlled schools converting to academies, then being able to choose to increase their religious discrimination in admissions.
Currently, when a proposer wishes, for whatever reason, to establish a new foundation, voluntary-controlled or aided, or foundation special school outside of a competition, they need the consent of the Secretary of State. Following consent, the local authority runs a consultation on the proposals. The Bill, if passed in its current form, will change this, as I understand it, so that consent from the Secretary of State would no longer be needed for voluntary-aided schools, but it would still be needed for foundation, voluntary-controlled and foundation special schools.
I see some problems here. Almost all voluntary-aided schools-99 per cent of them-are faith schools. Admissions are determined by the school, which can discriminate against all pupils on religious grounds. In voluntary-controlled schools, local authorities set admissions and only about a quarter of local authorities have chosen to allow some or all of their voluntary-controlled schools to discriminate religiously, either in whole or in part.
Mr Gove has made it clear that he wishes to make it easier to set up voluntary-aided schools, which can discriminate. Such a school can use a religious test in appointing, remunerating or promoting all teachers, and even some non-teaching staff. In voluntary-controlled and foundation schools, this is only one-fifth of the teachers. The religious organisation sets the religious education curriculum in accordance with the tenets of the faith of such a school. In voluntary-controlled and foundation schools, the locally agreed syllabus is usually taught, which is not confessional to a particular faith. The religious organisation appoints more than half the governors there. In voluntary-controlled and many foundation schools, it is a quarter. While I thank the
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I hope that the Minister, when he comes to reply to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, will think carefully before agreeing with the premises which have been laid before your Lordships' House this afternoon. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I always feel some trepidation in opposing anything that he says, because he has been a noble friend in many respects for a long time. He knows that at 17 years of age I said-and I would never resile on it-that if ever I found myself elected to the other place, I hoped that I would be a Member of Parliament like him. I have always admired the positions that the noble Lord takes on many issues, and continue to do so.
Yet the noble Lord knows that a debate has also been under way in his party for a long time about faith schools per se. Indeed, it was the then Education spokesman in another place, Mr Don Foster MP, who said-I believe these were his exact words-that in an ideal world there would be no schools of a religious character. I know that the noble Lord agrees with that proposition, but it is one I fundamentally disagree with. I suppose I should declare an interest as someone who has been educated in faith schools and whose own children have gone through faith schools. I am also the governor of a faith school and I passionately believe that those who wish to opt for that kind of education for themselves or for their children should be free to do so.
There is not the problem, as the noble Lord suggested, of such schools being undersubscribed; they are of course oversubscribed. That is the problem in many parts of the country. I would say this to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on the possibility of creating new faith schools. In parts of London there are large faith communities-for instance, of Polish people or people from the African and Asian communities-and in the Borough of Richmond, for instance, a petition has been laid before the council urging the creation of a new faith school. To restrict the opportunity to do that would be to deprive us of something special.
This is an issue that was addressed in 1944, when perhaps the greatest of all social legislation in the last century went through Parliament. I think it would probably have united most of us. The then Catholic Archbishop of Westminster was in the Strangers' Gallery for the Third Reading proceedings on that Bill, when RA Butler brought before the House the provisions that allowed for the state to contribute towards the creation of Catholic schools. The Catholic community of that time, as Members of your Lordships' House will be well aware, was mainly an immigrant community -many were from the west of Ireland, as my late mother was. Those were schools for impoverished communities. Indeed, Archbishop Griffin sent RA Butler a copy of Butler's Lives of the Saints, so pleased was he with the resolution of the House in regard to that legislation.
Around 2,500 schools have been created in the years that have passed, mainly though the efforts of those local communities, and they have enriched our
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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his kind remarks about his aspiration when he came into the other place, but does he realise that my amendment was not concerned with the creation of new faith schools, but was entirely a matter of the closure of existing schools? I am not attempting to prejudice the decisions that are made by the adjudicator, but simply to create a level playing field when it is a choice between closing a faith school or a non-faith school. Such a decision should not be determined by a requirement that the number of places of a denominational character should be preserved.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I was responding to the two speeches that went before and, of course, the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, try to limit the creation of new voluntary-aided schools. I accept what the noble Lord says about his own amendment and I simply say that there are no widespread complaints about the present arrangements. These things are usually best worked out on the ground. In the city of Liverpool, which I know well, one thing I have been very impressed by, and others in your Lordships' House will be able to confirm this, is that in areas where once there was a sectarian and very hostile relationship between different Christian denominations, they have, through local collaboration, come forward with proposals and set up joint schools across the denominations. These things are best left to local determination, a point made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes. This is something that is best left well alone because there is no widespread complaint about the present arrangements.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I want to follow the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the advantage of leaving such arrangements to the local authority and the faith bodies in the localities. I could quote a recent example in north Yorkshire of the closure of a faith school and the way in which the children from there went to local community schools. It was the right thing to do in that example. The whole arrangement of voluntary-controlled schools is within the maintained system, whereby the faith authorities and the local authorities can work together for the benefit of the children of the area. So I, too, hope, along with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we can leave well alone in this area.
We need to stress that VA and VC schools are part of the maintained system. They are opportunities-and Schedule 11 seems to continue to encourage this-for there to be alternatives to moving towards an academy system. These schools remain part of the maintained system and are, therefore, places where the local authority and the faith authorities, usually the churches, can work together. I hope that both the parts which refer to the VA system and those which refer to VC schools can be maintained.
I am particularly concerned about Amendment 73, the third amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on voluntary-controlled schools. It seems to me that this is a very effective way, especially in remote rural areas, for authorities to work together to preserve a balance within the system which maintains, but does not increase, the percentage of church school places within a particular area. There are many examples of the ways in which collaboration can take place.
That is not to say that I am in any way in favour of the closure of small rural schools. Where it is possible, small rural schools, whether faith or community schools, can provide immense social and community cohesion within the comparatively small area that they serve, or for a small number of pupils over a sometimes fairly large geographical area. Small rural schools have much to contribute. We need to be able to continue the work between local authorities and faith bodies-particularly, in this instance, the Church of England-to preserve the balance within the system that we have at the moment.
One additional point that I should make about VC schools is that they enable voluntary sites to continue to be put to good use in school provision. If we abandon those sites, one of the problems is that they will either have to be bought from the trustees or, if they are closed altogether, they may revert to the original donor from some years-or, on occasions, a century or so-ago. That would represent a considerable capital loss to the school system. Voluntary-controlled schools are an important part of the way in which we work together for the benefit of the children of our communities and the cohesion of the villages and areas that they serve. I hope that we shall be able to maintain that effective provision through the voluntary control system.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. As I have often said in this House, I am a secularist, but this does not mean that I am opposed to people who have religious beliefs or that I want to prevent their demonstrating those beliefs. However, the amendment that has been spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, seeks to maintain a balance. Surely it is reasonable that that should happen. I should not like to see a reduction in the number of places for denominational pupils. On the other hand, the guidance proposed in the amendment would,
Lord Touhig: My Lords, I will not detain the House for long. I was going to say a few words about the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, but the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has covered the points that I would have made. In an exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, the other day I said that those of us of faith and those who are secularists-such as him-have to coexist. We have to try to find ways through the problem about the Isle of Wight, which he has properly highlighted. However, that is perhaps better decided by local people than by putting something in the Bill.
I shall say a few words in response to the three amendments of my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen. The Bill provides that where a new school is required, the local authority must consider the establishment of an academy or a free school before consideration is given to any other type of school. From the point of view of the Catholic education authorities, that would be a disadvantage. In any entirely new academy or free school, priority can be given to children of faith in relation to only 50 per cent of the places in cases of oversubscription, and that would clearly be a disadvantage. The Bill therefore sought to compensate for and counter that disadvantage by making provision to allow voluntary-aided schools to be established more easily.
The amendment moved by my noble friend would effectively limit the opportunity to establish new voluntary-aided schools. That would be a handicap, especially where there is a demand for them-and there is certainly demand in parts of London where there has been a rapid growth in the Catholic population in recent years. The other disadvantage of my noble friend's amendment is that, as I understand it, if it were part of the Bill, academies and free schools would be the only schools that could be established, and I do not think that that is the policy of our party.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I rise to speak primarily to Amendment 70A, which was moved by my noble friend Lady Hughes of Stretford. I must admit that it is a curious irony that a Government who often proclaim their belief in localism and plurality should seek to impose a prescriptive solution on new schools. I was recently looking at the range of schools that, for instance, the Church of England provides in London. There is a wide variety of about 150 schools; some are academies and some are community schools. Although academies are very much the flavour of the day, they are not-and surely should not be-the only solution. It would be dangerous to assume that there is only one solution.
I should perhaps declare an interest as a governor of my local community primary school, and as someone who participates in the Lords outreach programmes and visits a wide range of schools. One can see successful academies and one can see successful community schools. My noble friend is absolutely right to say that Amendment 70A is not anti-academy by any means. It sends the message that the issue should be left to local determination. I should be very interested to hear the Minister's response.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, at the heart of the Government's proposals and this debate is the question of how we obtain greater school autonomy, strike the
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We know that results from the academies programme begun by the previous Government provide evidence for this. Research from the National Audit Office last year reported that academies have increased the rate of improvement in GCSE results compared with trends in their predecessor schools. The latest provisional GCSE results data show that sponsored academies are still improving at a faster rate than other maintained schools. In the latest year, they are improving at more than double the rate of other maintained schools.
This evidence began to emerge some time ago and it is fair to say that we are not the first Government to seek to respond to it. We discussed in this House the previous Government's education White Paper in 2005. That White Paper, and the Education and Inspections Act 2006 that followed it, set up the current system for establishing new schools. Again, I think it is fair to say that the system introduced under that legislation was designed to promote more autonomous schools and to reduce the number of new community schools. Therefore, that approach was established by the previous Government, although I accept that we are taking it further with our proposals.
We have moved to expand the academies programme and develop the free schools programme, and, although there are obviously differences between us over some of the detail, I think that there is an encouragingly broad degree of consensus. I know that in a recent interview with the Liverpool Daily Post the shadow Secretary of State, Mr Twigg, indicated that he was not in principle opposed to the kinds of developments that are going forward.
We also know that this consensus extends to many local authorities. Many of them are strong supporters of the Government's vision for a more autonomous school system and they are working closely with the Government to make a reality of that in their communities. They are already playing more of a strategic commissioning role, assessing the needs of their local communities, and identifying and working with free-school sponsors and academy providers, who can respond to those needs. However, it is true that this Government, like the previous one, have found that some local authorities are resistant to the academy model in principle, in spite of what we believe to be strong evidence in their favour. Under the process for establishing
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We acknowledge that an academy solution may not be available in every case. That is why Schedule 11 will continue to allow a local authority to hold a competition to invite bids for other types of school. However, they will be able to do so only once the Secretary of State has given his consent. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley are concerned that that approach runs counter to the principle of localism. I understand that argument and accept that there is a tension between localism interpreted in that way and our desire to ensure that all local areas can enjoy the proven benefits of greater school autonomy.
We think that in the vast majority of cases where local authorities need a new school, they will be able to identify suitable academy proposals. In the few cases where they are not able to do so, we think it is important that the Secretary of State has the chance to assist them. In practice, we think that that will be part of a process of discussion between central and local government, and that the requirement for consent will be a formality. However, as I have said, where some local authorities oppose the academy model in principle, we think that there will be a small number of cases where the Secretary of State will need to be able to fall back on a clear statutory lever in the interests of parents and pupils.
I know that noble Lords have expressed some concern that our proposals may make it harder for local authorities to respond swiftly to demand for new school places. I understand that and we have listened to comments that have been made to us by local authorities about the complexity of the existing process. We want to make the new process swifter and less burdensome. Currently, it can take at least 12 months to identify the best proposal for a new school. We want to work with local authorities to streamline this process so that, where a local authority runs a school competition, we can select the successful proposal in less than nine months.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, expressed concerns about the other main change made by Schedule 11. As I explained in the letter that I wrote to her last week, to which she referred, the changes that we are making there are meant to be pragmatic to try to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy. They remove the requirement to seek the Secretary of State's consent in certain situations where consent has invariably been given in the past. I know that my noble friend Lady Walmsley highlighted what she felt to be an inconsistency between this change and the introduction of a requirement for the Secretary of State's consent before a local authority could open a competition. The difference is that the former is largely about existing schools and the latter is about new schools. The requirement in this situation
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Concerns were raised by my noble friend Lord Avebury. The guidance to which he refers requires that, where a faith school is proposed for closure, consideration is given to the effect on the balance of denominational provision in an area. It goes on to say that approval for closure should not normally be given where it would result in a reduction in the proportion of denominational places, subject to certain exceptions. I recognise that that may sound unbalanced because it does not make the corresponding point about the effect of the closure of schools without a religious character, but I think it reflects the fact that the numbers of denominational places in an area tend to be smaller and so more sensitive to school closure. I recognise the point that he made about the Isle of Wight, which was the point picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig. My officials are developing new guidance to support the Bill. I would be pleased if my noble friend Lord Avebury would contribute to that process by discussing with them the practical implications of some of the points he raised.
A trend towards greater school autonomy has been a common thread running through the education reform led by both Governments in recent years. Clause 36 and Schedule 11 seek to continue that trend as well as to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, to withdraw her amendment.
The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and my noble friend Lady Massey and the contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelate relate to the number of places in denominational schools for children who are predominantly-although, as was said, not exclusively-from families of faith. I understand and respect the fact that that is a very important issue for people of faith, as, indeed, it is for those of none. I do not want to go down the route of debating that issue except to acknowledge that I have heard both sides of that debate. The main thrust of the amendment is potentially relevant to all new schools in the future, and therefore to a much wider group of children. I therefore want to focus on the presumption.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that I have discerned that the principles of local determination on these matters and of retaining a wide diversity of schools in a locality-a balance, as my noble friend
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As for the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, although I very much welcome her support for local involvement in decision-making on local schools, I do not feel that her amendments go far enough. She is not seeking to delete paragraph 6(1) from Schedule 11, which enshrines the presumption that where a new school is needed the local authority,
That is the core of Clause 36, to which we object. Given the resolution on academies at her party's most recent conference, it is somewhat surprising that the Front Bench here is apparently prepared to support a presumption in favour of academies. I do not support her amendment because it still does not challenge that presumption.
In response to the Minister I would say, as I am sure he would expect, that there is no divide at all between us on the desire to raise standards in schools, to increase opportunities for children-particularly those whose start in life has been more disadvantaged-and to achieve diversity of school provision. I take issue somewhat with his claim that the Government are merely extending the Labour Government's policies on academies. The language used by the current Government may be similar but the scale of their intentions make this policy, and its outcome for the system of education in this country as a whole, qualitatively very different indeed.
I agree as well that, in the beginning of our embarking on the road of academies in disadvantaged areas, some local authorities were resistant to the idea. But things have moved on. The Labour Government in particular demonstrated that, by selective targeting of academies in the most disadvantaged areas, standards in those places and for those children could rise substantially. It is a very different matter for the current Government to propose to enshrine in law a presumption that every new school in the future should be an academy, with community schools only as a last resort.
It is also a very different proposition to say there should be a presumption that every school is able to become an academy regardless of whether it is equipped to handle the greater autonomy that such status brings. Although we on this side support academies in principle, the principles of local determination and a diversity of provision from which parents can choose are more important. We are not convinced by the Government's argument. It is, by anybody's standards, a step too far to enshrine this presumption in law. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, in Committee, while I think that there was a general acceptance of the idea of focusing inspection more intelligently, a number of concerns were raised about some of the specific provisions in Clause 39. I said that I would reflect on these and report back. In my letter of 14 October to the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, I set out our policy intention and the changes that Ofsted will make to strengthen the arrangements in response to particular concerns that were raised.
The principle of proportionality is already a feature of the current inspection system with more frequent inspections for satisfactory and inadequate schools, and intervals of up to five years for good and outstanding schools. The intention behind Clause 39 is to take this to the next logical step by replacing the requirement for all schools to receive a routine inspection with an approach based on rigorous risk assessment that triggers inspection of outstanding primary and secondary schools where necessary. Clause 41 seeks to apply a similar approach for the inspection of outstanding FE providers.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, raised a particular concern that regulations made under the new powers introduced at Clause 39 could extend the categories of schools not requiring routine inspection to cover, for example, all academies or all faith schools without appropriate scrutiny. While we have been very clear about our intentions to use the new power to exempt only outstanding schools, I accept the general point made by the noble Lord, which is why I have tabled Amendments 74 and 75. They provide that any subsequent changes to the first set of regulations made under the new power-a draft of which was shared with the House as indicative regulations in March, exempting outstanding mainstream primary and secondary schools-will require parliamentary approval through the affirmative procedure. Amendments 81 and 82 offer the same commitment in relation to FE providers. I hope that these amendments remove any doubt about the Government's intentions and any concern about a hidden agenda, and provide sensible and effective safeguards.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, was also worried about the performance of some outstanding schools dropping and I understand that concern too. Our response to that point has not been to move away from the principle of greater proportionality but to look again at the question of risk assessment and the triggers that would cause an inspection to take place. Risk assessment already takes account of a range of information, including pupil attainment and progress, attendance, evidence of poor performance gathered through survey visits, warning notices issued by local authorities, views from parents, including through Ofsted's recently launched parent view online questionnaire, and any complaints.
An inspection may occur where, for example, achievement was judged to be less than outstanding and has not improved; where particular groups of pupils are not making good progress; where attendance is significantly below average and not improving; or where Ofsted undertakes a survey visit and identifies concerns. A decision to inspect will also take account of the views of parents, local authorities, funding agencies and others in the local area.
Inspection of outstanding schools based on risk assessment has in effect been trialled in the past academic year using flexibility on the timing of inspections that exist within the current arrangements. Ofsted has been visiting only those schools that had been identified as showing signs of potential decline through Ofsted's risk assessment process. The national data for outstanding schools show that around a third drop their inspection grade on re-inspection, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. But with the 72 schools that Ofsted targeted through risk assessment, two thirds have declined, including 11 that have dropped to "satisfactory" and three that were "inadequate". This shows that Ofsted's approach does effectively identify schools that have slipped back and all those schools have now gone back into the pool for routine inspection. Those 72 schools represent around 2 per cent of all outstanding schools but to provide additional assurance that Ofsted's risk assessment will be sufficiently widely drawn, we have agreed with Her Majesty's Chief Inspector that the risk assessment threshold should be such that it identifies at least 5 per cent of outstanding schools and outstanding further education providers for re-inspection every year. I hope that this provides noble Lords with some reassurance.
In addition, we have also reflected on concerns expressed in Committee about the possible detrimental effect of a change of head teacher. Both we and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector accept that this is a risk factor. We all know how central a head's role is in the ethos and achievement of a school. So we have agreed that while annual risk assessments will normally start three years after the previous inspection, this will be brought forward where there is a change of head teacher. Building on this, Ofsted will trial a new approach whereby HMI will engage directly with the new head teacher to discuss the school's performance and improvement priorities, which is a move that a number of noble Lords will welcome. HMI will also consider the progress of outstanding schools at its regular meetings with local authority directors of children's services. I have also agreed that for outstanding FE providers with leadership changes this matter will be discussed at regular meetings between Ofsted and the funding agencies.
Ofsted has powers to investigate complaints from parents and will continue to use these as a mechanism for determining whether and when to inspect a school. This will play an even more important part in intelligence-gathering in future. Last week Ofsted launched a new system to gather parents' views more generally and outside inspection. Parent View enables parents to register views about their child's school at any time using an online questionnaire. Results will be published
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Clauses 39 and 41 build greater proportionality into the inspection arrangements in line with our determination that in future inspection should be targeted where it is needed most and where it will have the greatest impact on provision and standards, but Ofsted will take a cautious approach in relation to risk assessment. The new commitment to inspect more than double the proportion of schools that were identified through risk assessment last year reinforces this. In the interests of the many successful schools and further education providers that are doing well, I ask noble Lords to accept the government amendments, which provide additional assurance about the scope of these measures. I beg to move.
Baroness Morgan of Huyton: My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of Ofsted and in that context shall talk briefly about how Ofsted is addressing the concerns that have been raised about the proposals to reform school inspection arrangements for maintained schools and academies. In doing so, I shall reflect on the attitudes that we have to risk and the reassurance that inspection can offer.
I have been pleased, but obviously not surprised, by the interest in these proposals that noble Lords have taken and the import given to regular and robust inspections of schools. I understand the concerns that were raised in Committee and are still being raised, but I hope that I can put some of our work in context.
I recognise that the approach being proposed is not without risks, and it is important that we develop a mature, shared understanding through a dialogue with the public and the professions about the right frequency and intensity of inspection and regulation. We know that there is irritation about what is perceived to be too frequent inspection of high-performing institutions; we know on the other hand that parents would like schools to be inspected all the time, and we have to get that balance right.
After the detailed discussions that took place following Committee, I think that the proposed new inspection arrangements strike this balance by being more proportionate and focusing inspection on those who need it most. They would mean the end of routine inspection for schools that have been judged outstanding but more risk assessment of all outstanding schools and inspection for those where the greatest risks are identified. They would also allow more frequent inspection of schools judged satisfactory, focusing resources where they can contribute to real improvement.
It is important that we keep the risks associated with these proposals in context. Ofsted's evidence shows that a large majority of outstanding schools has continued to be good or outstanding over time. In the last year that it routinely inspected schools, 2009-10, more than 90 per cent of outstanding schools were judged to be outstanding or good when re-inspected.
We have also found that our risk assessment proposals and processes are already working well and seem to be identifying those schools that are slipping back. In 2010-11, Ofsted visited only those outstanding primary and secondary schools that were identified through its current risk assessment procedures. This amounted to 72 inspections, around 2 per cent of all outstanding schools. In two-thirds of those the schools had declined, with 11 being found to be satisfactory and three inadequate, but the rest were good. As noble Lords have heard, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has agreed to adjust the risk assessment threshold so that in future at least 5 per cent of schools are indentified for inspection through the process. This will mean that about a quarter of outstanding schools will be inspected over the five-year period.
Risk assessments normally commence within three years of the previous inspection. When this was discussed in Committee, there was understandable concern that school performance can suddenly decline, particularly, as we know, when there is a change in leadership, but there are other factors, too.
Of course, any delay in identifying such schools where performance is slipping has a dramatic effect on its pupils. In response, we have agreed to bring forward the risk assessment of schools where there has been a change of head teacher before the three-year point has been reached. We have also agreed to trial a new approach where Her Majesty's inspectors make direct contact with new head teachers as part of the risk assessment to explore the school's performance at that stage and the head teacher's plans for it. As noble Lords have heard already, Ofsted has also introduced a new feedback mechanism, Parent View, which will identify spikes that we would then further investigate. For example, if a sudden spike showed a decline in behaviour or if a concern about leadership was suddenly expressed by parents at that school, that would form part of the jigsaw that informs our risk assessment and our appropriate action.
I appreciate that concern has been expressed in this House about increased risks in relation to safeguarding should there be no routine inspection of schools. There can be no greater issue of concern both here and to parents, carers and schools than the safety of children. However, we should place this risk in context. Improvements in safeguarding in schools have been rapid and widespread in recent years, and nearly all schools now give an appropriately high priority to getting their safeguarding procedures right.
"Safeguarding ... is an issue addressed not only with increasing sureness by those responsible for keeping children and learners safe, but one felt keenly by those most vulnerable to harm and neglect".
Parents, carers and children can be reassured that almost all schools now take a careful and responsible approach to their safeguarding arrangements. In outstanding schools, Ofsted has generally found that good practice in safeguarding forms part of the fabric of the school, involving every member of the school community in some way, with a sharp eye on the needs of all pupils, especially the most vulnerable. Indeed, it is worth emphasising how rare it is for any school to be found inadequate solely on the basis of weaknesses in its safeguarding arrangements. In 2009-10, of over 6,000 schools inspected only 26 were judged to be inadequate for issues related solely to safeguarding.
We are not starting from a position of concern, but it is worth keeping in mind that inspection and the threat of it has played an important part in getting us to this position. Ofsted's focus on safeguarding over the past few years has certainly helped to focus minds on the need to take all appropriate steps to guarantee and promote children's safety. That is why Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has agreed to inspect a random sample of outstanding primary and secondary schools as part of a review to ensure that their safeguarding arrangements remain strong, and to share the good practice found by inspectors. Ofsted will use this to determine what further action may be necessary in future.
It should also be kept in mind that safeguarding information is shared with Ofsted by local authorities, whistleblowers in schools and parents where they have concerns. Ofsted will continue to take such information into account as part of its risk assessment procedures.
I know the level of seriousness with which this issue is viewed in the House and I want to be clear that there is no greater issue of concern to Ofsted. I believe that the procedures now outlined should give assurance on this issue to the House, but we will keep them under review. Regulators and inspectorates such as Ofsted are rightly expected to manage risk in a proportionate way. They are expected to protect the public, especially the most vulnerable, from risks that individuals cannot easily manage for themselves. We know that the public expect Ofsted to help protect them, their children and, importantly, other children from poor-quality education and care and from harm. However, it can do that effectively with the resources that it has available only if it is able to focus inspection on the right issues and on the schools most in need of improvement. That context is particularly important to this debate.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I was delighted to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, was saying about the importance of inspecting safeguarding. When he winds up, will my noble friend confirm what was put to me in a letter from the Secretary of State on 14 October? I raised the issue of safeguarding inspection, and he said that he was intending,
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I welcome the affirmative resolution procedure introduced by Amendment 74, which will mean that Parliament will have to consider any further proposals by the Government to change and particularly to extend the exemption from inspections for any other categories of school. That is a bottom-line issue and I am pleased to see that the Government have brought forward those amendments. However, and we will go on to debate this in the next group, the principle of exempting any public service from the possibility of inspection in the future is a principle that we cannot support. Risk assessment and proportionality is one thing-for a long time it has been the approach adopted by Ofsted and supported, as it has developed, by successive Ministers including myself and my predecessors in the previous Government -but exemption, potentially for ever, even for a school judged to be outstanding is quite another.
Do the Government intend to exempt, for example, excellent hospitals from further inspections? What about excellent nursing homes or care homes for the elderly? I suspect not, because the Health Secretary announced today increases in the inspection of hospitals, including no-notice inspections, of which I entirely approve and think there should be more of in relation to schools as well.
I note in the Minister's response to the Committee and in his letter to me, which my noble friend Lady Morgan has outlined, the actions that he has agreed Ofsted will take in relation to outstanding schools if this measure is approved. They will try to minimise the dangers-there are dangers, not just to safeguarding but to educational standards-that could arise from the government decision wholly to exempt such schools from inspection.
I ask the Minister-I think this is crucial-why the exemption measure is necessary. It is perfectly possible to retain the possibility of inspection for outstanding schools but change the risk-based proportionate approach if they wish, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, has outlined. It is not necessary to exempt those schools to move to a lighter-touch or even a more risk-based approach to inspection. It is a fallacy to imply, as the Minister did, that it is necessary to exempt outstanding schools from inspection in order to introduce the different approach that he proposes.
The issue here is not about exemption or not; it is not necessary to exempt in order to have a different approach. This is about the message, and it is a very unfortunate message. It is the wrong message to send to schools, children and parents that an outstanding school will be exempt from further inspection, full stop. This will mean that some schools will not ever, or not for many years-unless they are picked up in this lighter-touch proportionate approach-see an inspector. I ask the House: are noble Lords happy with that? If I were a parent, I would not be happy with it, and I do not think parents will be happy with it. It is the wrong message. We should keep all schools in the inspection framework. Yes, we should have a lighter touch for those that are doing well but we should not exempt them completely. This is completely the wrong way to go.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, let me respond briefly to the specific point about safeguarding raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, alluded to. I can confirm that the thematic survey of safeguarding will take place and will be used to inform the judgments that we make going forward about that important issue.
I turn to the core point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, about the thinking behind the Government's approach. I recognise the points of view that she put across: wanting a more proportionate approach based on having far more data about how schools are doing generally and publishing those so that parents can see the whole time how the school is doing, but having the position that if schools are performing well-delivering what parents want, delivering strong results-we need not make them be inspected in the same way as all other schools.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: Just while the Minister is on that point, would he concede my main point, which is that it is not necessary to exempt outstanding schools from inspection in law in order to have the different, proportionate approach that he talks about?
Lord Hill of Oareford: The reason why we are making this change and doing it now is because we are putting on a statutory basis the approach that we want. That is why we are doing it. In practice, the vast majority of secondary schools will be inspected through a thematic survey visit over a five-year period. The risk assessment arrangements will trigger inspections. The starting point is that we think it builds on the principle of proportionality that already exists in inspections. With these increased safeguards in place, and I am grateful to noble Lords who have encouraged us to strengthen those and look at this again, we think that it will deliver a proportionate and effective system.
(a) in subsection (2)(a), after "subsection" insert "(2A) or";
(b) after subsection (2) insert-
(2B) A statutory instrument which contains (whether alone or with other provisions) regulations to which subsection (2A) applies may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.""
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I am moving Amendment 76, which was tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, at his request. The amendment would delete Clause 39, which we have just been debating in respect of the government amendments. As we have heard, the clause amends the current requirement under Section 5 of the Education Act 2005 for the chief inspector to inspect and report on every school. The clause provides for certain schools to be exempt from such inspections in future, as we have heard, subject to necessary regulations being approved by Parliament. I recognise that exempt schools may still be subject to inspections as part of the chief inspector's surveys of general subjects and thematic reviews, but I remain concerned, as does my noble friend Lord Hunt, that this still leaves a potential gap in the inspection regime.
According to the Government, the aim is to introduce greater proportionality to the inspection system for schools and, in particular, to reduce the inspections for outstanding schools. The concerns about this are for two principal reasons. First, the open-ended nature of the clause would allow the Secretary of State to exempt other categories of schools, such as academies or free schools. We all know that Ministers have either been in a state of denial or embarrassed when academies have not done well in their Ofsted inspections. No doubt we will see the same phenomenon with free schools. Will the Minister confirm that the Government have no intention of seeking to exempt academies and free schools en bloc from regular inspections in future?
My second objection is to the principle of exempting outstanding schools per se. This flies in the face of the Government's approach to regulation in other sectors and the evidence is that not all outstanding schools will remain so. Indeed, of the 1,155 schools that have been judged outstanding by Ofsted, on subsequent inspection over 30 per cent had a reduced grading, including 58 that went from the top grade of outstanding to the third grade of satisfactory. Given that, I find it difficult to understand why outstanding schools should be exempted. Perhaps it is because the Government do not want to fund Ofsted to do these extra inspections properly and this is simply a way in which to reduce the cost. If that is the case, I would be delighted if the Minister was frank enough with your Lordships to say so.
The Government apparently believe that risks can be reduced, because Ofsted will develop a risk assessment approach, including a basket of indicators that flag up concerns. We have heard described very well by my noble friend Lady Morgan the risk-based approach being undertaken by Ofsted but, because the data that will inform that approach are likely to be gathered a number of years after a school inspection, there is a real risk of a school deteriorating and students suffering for some time before any intervention on that basis is triggered. For example, I would be concerned about the impact of a free school being established in an area where an outstanding school has a catchment area, attracting children who would otherwise enrol into that school, however outstanding it may be, and causing a sudden deterioration just because of a loss of funds.
There are all sorts of scenarios that are not just around a change of leadership. I remind the Minister of the debate that we had on Monday around admissions, when I put it to him that the fundamentals to which the Government have to have regard in a free market-based system of school improvement such as that which they are adopting are fair funding, fair admissions and inspection as a form of accountability. He replied:
I am grateful to the Government for reflecting on the debate in Committee. As we have heard from the Minister, the Government are now proposing that any move to exempt a category of school will be subject to the affirmative procedure. That is welcome, but, of course, this House only very rarely rejects such legislation. This really is our only chance to decide whether or not we are happy with some schools being exempted from inspection, potentially for ever.
I have also noted the intention to trial the new approach in schools where a new head teacher has been appointed, and the Minister has made it clear that Ofsted will adjust the risk-assessment process so that at least 5 per cent of outstanding schools will be inspected each year. As far as it goes, this is welcome too, but it does not go far enough.
I would contrast, as has my noble friend Lady Hughes of Stretford, what the Minister is currently proposing in education with what is happening in other sectors. Let me refer him to the NHS, as she has done. This summer, the health regulator CQC announced it was replacing its light-touch style with an annual inspection of each NHS and independent sector provider. As the CQC says:
That philosophy should surely apply as much to education and the teaching of our children-to the life chances of children-as it does, perhaps, to our death chances in the NHS. What is so different about children that we do not want to regulate and inspect their education? Indeed, let us look at this in a commercial context. Would a big retailer such as Marks & Spencer not quality-assure its best stores as much as its underperforming stores? I put it to your Lordships that Marks & Spencer would quality-assure every retail outlet that it has.
I find it extraordinary that Mr Gove, the Secretary of State, is seeking to exempt outstanding schools when he was recently so critical of the methodology used by Ofsted to rate outstanding schools. Only five weeks ago, at the National College for School Leadership, he voiced this concern. Yet now his Minister in your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, is seeking to exempt the very same schools from regular inspections. The public and parents surely have a right to know whether standards are being maintained or not. If the inspection system is to retain its credibility, regular inspections are essential for all schools.
Finally, I would simply say to the Minister, who I am afraid was floundering around about why he needs to proceed with this exemption-he has had to compromise and come up with all the whys and wherefores in making this all right-would it not just be easier to drop this and give way to common sense and have all schools inspected? I beg to move.
Baroness Morris of Yardley: My Lords, I support this amendment. I shall start with what I think is going to be my only line of agreement with the Government on this. To take the attitude that intervention in schools should reflect the risk of schools doing badly, and to say that we should intervene less when schools are successful, is absolutely right. As my noble friend has just said, that is a principle that was followed by the previous Labour Government, so I am with the Minister on that. We should not be constantly going in to excellent schools and getting in the way of them doing an excellent job; that is an absolute principle.
The second absolute principle is that inspection should be universal for all our schools. Does the Minister really think that one visit every five years is going to be a big burden on outstanding schools? One visit by Ofsted inspectors every five years; that is what happens at the moment, that is what the data say.
The reason for drafting this clause perplexes me. I am trying to think what motivates it because, to be honest, I never thought that the Tories would go soft on inspection, and that is what they have done with this clause. They fought hard to put Ofsted in the legislation, they fought hard to put it into schools, they have argued the case with head teachers and teachers, almost all of whom were opposed to inspection when it first started, and the Labour Government did the same. The political parties have been on the same side on this; we have thought that inspection was a necessary part of raising standards. So I am absolutely perplexed why the Tories, of all parties, should go back on this now. This is a principle, and you would have to come forward with some absolutely outstanding reasons why this principle should be broken. That principle is that in a devolved system, more than ever, every school should be inspected. Every parent has the right to know that the school which their child attends should be inspected. Every child should have a right to be reassured that the school which they attend should be inspected. That is an inalienable right and should be a fundamental structure of our school system.
The second question is: is doing that once every five years a terrible burden on schools? I do not think it is. To some extent, that is where the argument finishes. If you believe that those rights should not be given to parents and teachers, vote against this amendment. If you really believe that one inspection every five years is a terrible burden-do not forget that some children will have gone almost right the way through a secondary school in that time while there has never been an inspection, as they will have started in year 7 and might leave in year 11-then vote against this amendment.
I am going to be really helpful to the Minister here. I am going to warn him not to get into a position that I know I got into when I was a Minister. It is a great ministerial habit when you come up with an idea. Listening to the debate, I have to say that when the
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I remember when we ourselves got into exactly that position. You do not want to backtrack, because this is politics, so you start trying to plaster up the cracks. But what you end up with is so disastrous that in two years' time you are asking, "Why weren't we just brave enough to say that we got that wrong"?. I say to the Minister that he is at that point now. He should take a deep breath and protect himself from having to come to your Lordships' House in two years' time to answer many questions and queries about an inspection system that clearly will not work.
I have two more points to make. I really worry that the Minister may have constructed a terrible bureaucratic tangle in order to get out of the political difficulty that he is in. He will now have an army of Ofsted inspectors doing more risk assessments. They will have to weigh and measure the schools and collect the data. Now they will have to go and talk to every new head when he or she is appointed to a school-perhaps the Minister could tell us how many interviews that is going to be in a year-just to check their plans for that school. The Government would not have to do that if they backed this amendment. From the schools' point of view, we are meant to be freeing them from this terrible burden of one inspection every five years, but what is the Minister putting in its place? He is making them provide more data. He has the local authority checking on them, so that it can refer back to Ofsted. He has the new heads having to talk to Ofsted and he has a third of them having to be inspected every five years. They will not know where they stand. I can assure the Minister that it would be easier for them and less of a burden if he would just say, "Once every five years, and that's it".
My last point is this, and to some extent it is the most important point for me. From the point of view of the Ofsted inspectors, it is crucial that they measure the standards of every single school in this country by the performance of the best. That is absolutely central to effective Ofsted inspection. If you say to your average Ofsted inspector-not the ones doing the one-off thematic reviews-who spends their time going into schools, "Thou shalt not be seeing any outstanding schools", how do they know what outstanding looks like? When they go to the satisfactory school, it might be the best that they have seen for six months and they might think that that is outstanding. To help the Ofsted inspectors, it is crucial that, as part of their job, they see outstanding schools as part of their regular inspections.
To be helpful to the Minister, I think I know why he, or his colleagues-I am sure that it was his colleagues and not him-came up with this terrible idea: it is this
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Lord Quirk: While the Minister is taking the deep breath that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, has urged upon him, may I give him an extra couple of minutes of breathing time by saying what a difficult job he is going to have in offsetting the arguments presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight? Surely it is the outstanding schools that need to be inspected in order to have reports coming out showing what can be done in state sector, mainstream schools. Once every five years is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, nothing compared to the extra bureaucracy which we are threatened with in some kind of compensation for this. I hope that the Minister will bow to the wisdom that has been cast before him this afternoon.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I add my voice to those who have already spoken. I am greatly saddened by this Government's attitude to inspection, which seems to me to be coloured by too many years in opposition listening to schools complaining about inspection. Indeed, inspection under the previous Government was not generally taking a constructive turn, but then, we had not constructed it in a constructive way ourselves previously. I had hoped that this Government would go back to first principles and ask what inspection is for. If you start by saying that it is to make sure that our children are receiving the best possible education, then you need a system which is much faster to react than the current one. It can take Ofsted three years to pick up that a school is going wrong, because their data are always backward-looking and they always want two years of that before they believe that there is any trend in place. So in the schools that I have seen and known to have gone wrong, it has been the third year or the beginning of the fourth when Ofsted have come to call and by then, a lot of children's educations have been harmed. I would have been looking to produce something which was much faster to react, rather than something which is going to be slower to react.
To pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, and the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, it is essential that inspectors, the people who are seeing a lot of schools, see the very best. The point about the best schools is that they are utterly surprising and jaw-dropping when you see them: you could not believe that what they are doing could be done. When you have seen it, you start to understand how other schools could do it too, but if you have not seen it, you
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We do not have that; we have something that goes backwards. We have a decision to remove outstanding schools from the purview of Ofsted. However, things change. I came across a school by chance the other day-Glenthorne in Sutton. It is sprouting all sorts of new initiatives. You can study three A-levels and golf, as well as tennis and football, to a professional standard. It is great to see these initiatives but no one will take a look at them. No one will know whether they are going right or being balanced correctly. It will be three years before anything shows in the figures. However, a good, experienced head, going around six months into the project, would know whether it was going right. To think that you can do this by remote control-that we are looking after the future of our children by stepping back in this way-is a profound misconception. I am afraid I despair of changing the Government's mind at the moment, but give it a year or two, let an outstanding school or two crash, and then we will think about it again.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I cannot improve on the contributions that we have heard from my noble friends and the noble Lords, Lord Quirk and Lord Lucas. I just want to add a few more points to the debate.
The first is one of principle. I believe strongly that not just the Government but we in this House and the other place are guardians of the public when they use public services. We have to take very seriously the arrangements we make to ensure the safety as well as the standards of those services. Secondly, as we have seen, the possibility of an inspection in any public service is not a guarantee of high standards. However, the certainty of no inspection surely means a huge risk of declining standards and, in this case, a risk to children. Thirdly, our experience in other sectors, particularly in health and social care recently, shows that pulling back too far on inspection has led to serious risk to patients and older people. Fourthly, there is the point that I made in my previous contribution, which, with respect, I do not think the Minister answered fully. Exempting outstanding schools completely is not necessary in order for them to have a qualitatively different inspection regime. We should keep them in the framework of inspection.
My noble friend Lady Morris asked the Minister to take a deep breath and think again about his position and responsibilities. I ask noble Lords also to think
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I have listened to the whole debate, particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley. She completely impressed us all and has certainly convinced me. Until now I wavered a little on this point. It does not make sense for Ofsted not to be involved in the ideal against which other schools and schools in the future should be measured. I hope that the Minister, after the few extra minutes he has been given to breathe by virtue of the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, will be able to rethink a little and, above all, get the other place to read what the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, for her career advice, which I take in good part. I am sure that it was meant in good part. If she sees the humps developing on my back as I respond, she will understand that, camel-like, I must bear the course-I misquote Shakespeare.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, set out the main points, and I will not speak at length because the substantive response in terms of what the Government are trying to do relates to the principle of proportionality upon which this issue is based. In response to the concerns raised in Committee, we went back, thought again and strengthened the safeguards that have been put in place. However, I recognise that they are not to the satisfaction of all noble Lords.
The noble Lord began with two points. His first concern was to ensure that there was no intention to exempt free schools or academies en bloc. There are two answers to that. The first, which he acknowledged, is that we have made changes so that that could not happen other than through an affirmative order. However, that is not the intention of the Government. I have no desire to exempt all free schools and academies from inspection. That comes back to the point made by the noble Lord on Monday, which he half remembered. He talked about there being three principles-fair funding, fair access and fair inspection. I reiterate my agreement with that because the approach to inspection should be the same for any type of school. However, we would argue that an outstanding academy or mainstream school obviously should be treated in the same way. I would not want there to be exemptions for any types of school.
The noble Lord said that in the past-perhaps speaking from his own experience-Ministers may have looked too favourably on academies because they did not want those schools to be seen to fail because they were seeking to take forward a policy direction. That is not my wish at all. One of the things that we are doing is seeking to increase the pressure on underperforming academies to make sure that we apply that approach to them just as we would to any other school.
The noble Lord asked in passing whether our proposal is driven by money. The matter was raised previously so I shall respond to it. It is a perfectly fair question and the answer is that it is driven by the desire to have a more proportionate approach to inspection and regulation. Money is not the driver.
A point raised a number of times concerned how one picks up best practice. I accept that that is a good and fair question and it was put by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. Clearly, a flow of new outstanding schools will be coming through routine inspection every year, but the thematic reviews and surveys will also pick up best practice. However-this relates to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Lucas-it is also the case that we are keen to encourage more and more the professional sharing of good practice, and it is spreading. I do not think one needs to argue that an inspection which currently takes place once every five years is the only way to deliver the professional sharing of good practice.
I take the point raised by my noble friend Lord Lucas about the process being faster acting. The current regime leaves five years between inspections, but the combination of the triggers which will kick in earlier will mean that, if there are problems, they will be picked up faster under our new system than under the current one.
In response to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, I do not think that a school would have the certainty of there being no inspection. The much tougher triggers will mean that there will never be that certainty because there are all sorts of way in which an inspection can be brought forward.
I understand the position taken by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes of Stretford and Lady Morris of Yardley, who argued their case forcefully and clearly. The difference between us is not about the importance of inspection, the fact that we think parents should have information or that we want to go soft on inspection; at heart, it is that we think it is time to develop the existing approach to proportionate inspection and take it one stage further.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, we have had an excellent debate. I am delighted that, having had a busy day, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath is now in his place to hear the end of it, given that he instigated it. In many ways, I do not need to add to the debate. As the Minister has just said, there is a difference of opinion. The case was brilliantly put by my noble friend Lady Morris and supported by others on all sides of the House. I think that the argument has been won and I hope that the vote will now be won. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
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