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Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that as sports clubs, particularly amateur sports clubs, provide an important social function and also an increasingly important part of the physical education in this country, there is a strong case for removing them from the rating system altogether?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I should make it clear that I am talking about non-commercial sports clubs in this connection. A significant number of sports clubs--including many gyms--make a profit and therefore are not covered by this exemption. As well as approaching the valuation office for a reduction in rateable value, there is the possibility of applying to the local authority for discretionary rate relief. I understand that a number of sports clubs are among the non-profit-making organisations which apply to local authorities for that benefit.
Lord Elton: My Lords, my noble friend said that there was a deadline before which applications for revaluation had to be made. Will the Minister kindly tell us what that deadline is so that this can be in the record and widely distributed?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, it relates to the previous valuation. The new valuation will be made in the year 2000. Appeals against rateable values are re-evaluated every five years. This modification relates to the
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, will the Minister inform the House whether there is any guidance to rating authorities on the use of their discretion in cases of small sports clubs, which so often--particularly in the more rural parts of the country--provide more of a social service than a sporting facility?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, every valuation office has the guidance and the Valuation Office Agency has worked closely with the Central Council for Physical Recreation to ensure that sports clubs in general know that the facility exists. Although we do not have a comprehensive list of those clubs which have benefited from the measure, I understand that a significant number of them are village clubs in rural areas.
Viscount Brentford: My Lords, with regard to the question of my noble friend Lord Elton, is it not true that appeals for amendment for the period between 1990 and 1995 have to be lodged by 5th August this year?
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the registration of inspectors who conduct school inspections contracted out by Ofsted is a matter for Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England. He has opened a route for experienced lay inspectors with appropriate skills to progress from team member to team leader. To date, 16 lay inspectors have successfully completed the rigorous process of selection and training and are now registered inspectors.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. However, does she not agree with me that professional judgment is at the heart of any credible system of inspection? To use lay people without any professional experience of teaching, or any professional qualifications, to make judgments
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on this matter. I think that lay people can make a good contribution to inspections. I have to remind the noble Baroness that it was the previous government who introduced lay people to inspections. The 16 lay people who have become registered inspectors have been through a rigorous selection process. Rather more than a quarter of those who went through the process failed to make the grade. Those who have led inspections have been carefully monitored by professionals in HMI and have emerged with flying colours. The view is that the inspections they have undertaken as team leaders have been well conducted.
Baroness Young: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Government's new policy of naming and shaming schools based on inspectors' reports adds much greater force to the point raised by my noble friend Lady Perry? The effect will be to damage future careers, particularly those of young teachers. Does the Minister accept that the principle of teams being led by lay inspectors casts doubt on the value of the inspection system as a whole? I accept entirely that lay members being a part of a team is different.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, we should keep this in perspective. Out of a total of 2,100, there are only 16 lay registered inspectors; they are a tiny minority. As I said, they are people who have all demonstrated a great deal of relevant knowledge and experience. As to the noble Baroness's comment about naming and shaming, that is not a term the Government ever use. Our policy is to put children first. They have only one chance of a good school education and it is very important that we work to raise the performance of schools that do not come up to scratch after inspections.
Lord Tope: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the survey commissioned by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers which was published last week? It shows that 48 per cent of teachers feel that they do not gain anything professionally from dialogue with Ofsted inspectors. Can she explain to the House how the appointment of lay members to lead the inspection teams will increase the confidence that teachers have in those teams?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the evidence from the ATL survey does not in any way line up with other evidence we have. Our evidence is that nine out of 10 schools are satisfied with their inspections. Of course there is a minority of schools that are not. The Government do not wish to be complacent; we are working all the time to try to improve the inspection
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I shall have to write to my noble friend about who conducts the training. I think it is conducted by HMI and carried out by people who are already inspectors and who therefore have the kind of experience necessary. I shall also let her know the precise length of time. I think that it varies quite considerably, depending on the particular needs of those who have put themselves forward. I should say to my noble friend and to the House that the Government and Ofsted are not taking on any more lay inspectors as team leaders. We now have a sufficient number of registered inspectors for the foreseeable future.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the answer the Minister gave to the last question flies in the face of her earlier answer that the training is rigorous. If the noble Baroness does not know how long the training takes, who carries it out and to what quality, how can she say that the training is rigorous and of good quality? Secondly, perhaps the noble Baroness will cast her mind back to when the Bill was passing through the House. Does she agree that the intention was for lay members to provide an independent voice on inspection teams and that it was never envisaged that they should lead teams or replace, or substitute for, the professionals? Does she further agree that 16 people trained in this way brings them into the ranks of professionals but without their qualifications?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, again, the noble Baroness is not putting the matter into perspective. The contribution of professionals to inspections will continue. Where a lay team leader leads an inspection, there will be more professionals. This is to ensure that the number of professionals carrying out an inspection is adequate.