HC Deb 30 January 1992 vol 202 cc1153-67

'( ).—It shall be the duty of any registered inspector conducting an inspection under section 9, when requested to do so by the Chief Inspector, to report—

  1. (a) as to whether proper practices have been observed in the compilation of information required to be provided under section 16 by the proprietor or governing body of the school; and
  2. (b) on any other matter connected to such information required under section 16.'.—[Mr. Murphy.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

8.30 pm
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause refers to the additional duties of privatised or registered inspectors, especially in relation to the information required to be provided under clause 16 on the so-called league tables.

The new clause will ensure that schools are compared and proper practices adhered to, and it goes to the heart of the Bill. In the past two days, there has been much reference to the benefits and good aspects of the Bill. The new clause touches on the very essence of the competitiveness of the proposed system and the market forces that will govern education in England and Wales. It is a safeguard against the excesses of the folly of the Bill. The people of Wales involved in education, whether teachers, parents, inspectors or anyone else in the education world, are deeply opposed to the Bill and would be very much in favour of the mitigating effect of the new clause.

The Bill is opposed by the Welsh branch of the Association of County Councils, the Assembly of Welsh Counties, the Welsh County Education Officers Society, the Welsh National Union of Teachers, and the Welsh division of the National Association of Head Teachers. Indeed, all those who know anything about education in the Principality believe that the Bill is fundamentally flawed and that the new clause will be a means of mitigating some of its worst effects.

The Government have, however, chosen to impose their dogma on Wales, when not a scrap of evidence suggests that we need either league tables to compare secondary or primary schools, or private companies of inspectors to do a job that has been done successfully by Her Majesty's inspectors of Welsh schools since 1907.

League tables and the proposed privatised inspectors are based on the marketplace rather than sound educational principles. The Government have sculptured the education service in the Principality into a monument to market forces. A school's viability will now depend not on its educational worth but on the number of pupils that it attracts, and open enrolment and local management of schools provide the preconditions. In turn, viability will depend on the school's so-called "success" based on the ludicrous and silly notion of league tables comparing schools. Pupils will be seen as a financial resource and teachers will "teach to the test". All 59 of our Welsh inspectors will be drawn into that ludicrous and daft jungle.

Schools will go for the cheapest and least stringent inspectors and the divide between our poorer and more wealthy areas will be widened even further. The relationship between pupil and teacher and between inspector and school will be reduced to the cash nexus.

Those market forces and a privatised inspectorate would not produce proper information for a useful comparison between schools. That is why if, by any chance the Bill becomes law, the registered inspectors would have to look at the nature of the information.

Today, the Secretary of State for Wales, in an answer to a written parliamentary question by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), announced some details about how the inspectorate in Wales will be organised. What he said is inadequate and unsatisfactory. The creation of private companies of inspectors will fly in the face of more than 80 successful years in the history of Welsh education. The Welsh Office has ignored that, and we are deeply concerned that there is no commitment to a distinct Welsh inspectorate like the one that has existed for nearly 100 years. We compare that with the situation in Scotland, where the Government have already committed HMI Scotland to continuing. In Wales, the distinctive flavour of a Welsh inspectorate will be overturned because of a written parliamentary answer.

The Secretary of State has still given no date when the system will be introduced and the Welsh Office is deliberately suppressing the Valerie Adams internal review into the Welsh inspectorate. We have asked the Secretary of State many times to reveal what is in the report. The Minister of State, Welsh Office said only last week that he would not give the House or the people of Wales the results of that internal survey.

HMI in Wales, which is deeply threatened by the Bill, has been responsible for much that is good in Welsh education. Recently, when the House considered the GCSE and the national curriculum, the Welsh inspectorate gave our curriculum a distinctly Welsh flavour. For example, it initiated a GCSE in Welsh history in the English language, which is taught throughout Wales. Welsh inspectors advise on research projects specific to Wales and successfully liaise with schools, colleges and universities.

There is a consensus on education in Wales. We have no teacher baiting, there are very few opted-out schools and there is little enthusiasm for the views of the Centre for Policy Studies. A dogmatic system of education has been foisted on us by the English Department of Education and Science and it is not wanted in Wales. From 1993, the Welsh Office will have responsibility for all Welsh education. With a curriculum council for Wales and a strong and vigorous HMI in Wales, much could be achieved. But much will be destroyed by the Bill.

If the Government insist on league tables, new clause 7 is vital. Otherwise, schools will go for the cheapest and less able inspectors. We must also take into account the present cost of inspections in the Principality. Given that it takes six months to plan, inspect and report on a school, and that some 15 to 20 inspectors may take part in the inspection of an average secondary school for about two weeks, we estimate that the inspection of an average secondary school in Wales costs about £80,000 and a primary school costs about £40,000. Where on earth will schools in Wales, which must suffer under the burden of local management, find that much money for proper inspections? It simply will not work.

The Welsh people deserve better. We do not want our schools to be inspected at the cheapest price, and we do not want to see an end to our Welsh inspectorate. We want an education standards commission to be set up in Wales, which will stand for independence, professionalism and the highest possible quality. The Welsh people will overwhelmingly reject the proposals at the forthcoming general election.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I did not have the opportunity of serving on the Committee on the Bill, and I want to intervene only briefly to comment on clause 7. When my hon. Friend the Minister of State replies, he will comment on whether this clause would allow the inspectors to act in something like an advisory role? I am very much in favour of all that the Government are doing in the Bill, and I am most disappointed to have heard the comments of the Opposition spokesman, who does not want to see examination league results.

It has been a great shock to the people of Bolton to find out that their primary schools came out so low in tests on seven-year-olds; we came out in the bottom third of the country, when we are used to coming out in the top third. Is it possible for inspectors who have a good deal of knowledge to give a little advice where such advice might be needed?

I have in mind one or two schools which could benefit from a bit of additional promotion. A very good primary school in my constituency is Egerton county primary school. The headmaster, Mr. Brian Hall, had an opportunity to meet my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I have been asked by Mr. Hall to present to the Minister a memento of his visit to Bolton, which I have here. I should like to give this excellent promotional material for the school to my hon. Friend, who is now taking his seat on the Front Bench, at the end of this short debate.

Is it possible for a school such as Egerton county prrimary school to be given some advice on how it can promote itself? It is an excellent school but, although it has over 100 pupils and gives a good education, it is affected by falling school rolls. Would it be possible for such a school to be advised by people such as inspectors on whether, for instance, the small school special allowance could be managed in a way more favourable to the school? Although it is in a metropolitan area, it might perhaps be more easily looked after as if it were a rural school because of its location on the northern edge of the borough where there is no high density population immediately adjacent to it. If the school suffers a severe reduction in numbers it can be seriously affected by the way in which the reforms work.

Will my hon. Friend comment, therefore, on whether inspectors could help fulfil, under the new clauses, any sort of advisory role or whether elsewhere in the Bill there is provision for inspectors to help schools in that way? We would welcome anything in this Bill which would help such schools to promote and improve themselves.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

If I had known that the hon. Gentleman was going to bring in a tea towel and hold it in front of himself as if he had something to hide, I could have brought in a matching tea towel. They are obviously generally on sale. A company, I think in Birmingham, must have been distributing them round schools. I was given one by one of my godchildren for Christmas. So far it has hung on the kitchen door, but if we really have to go in for this, I suppose I too could bring one in and wave it around.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I must discourage this sort of presentation in the Chamber.

8.45 pm
Mr. Hughes

I was indicating that I had not thought of bringing in a tea towel, but obviously the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) thought it a good idea.

I want to speak in support of new clause 7. I support the specific wording of the new clause and am sympathetic to the points made by the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). He will know, I think, that I owe the majority of my school education to the Principality, in Glamorgan and in Breconshire. Educational standards, which in Wales are generally far higher than in England, together with the Welsh education tradition, must be retained at all costs. The Welsh inspectorate has certainly done a good job.

What I want specifically to do is push at a door which I believe is already partly open. I wonder whether I could have the Minister's attention to this specific point. New clause 7 seeks to add to clauses 9 and 16 the possibility of reporting on specific items in relation to schools. Clause 9 of the Bill as drafted makes it clear that the inspections cover city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts; that is clear from clause 9 of the Bill as drafted.

Clause 16 of the Bill as drafted says that the Secretary of State may exercise his power to make regulations under this section, and shall do so with a view to making available information which is likely to assist parents in choosing schools for their children and, in clause 16(3), increase public awareness of the quality of education provided by the schools concerned and of the educational standards achieved in these schools.

The Minister may be aware that at present there is no requirement that city technology colleges should operate an appeal system against refusal of admission. I raised this matter at Education Question Time the other day with the Secretary of State, and I had a helpful reply. He said, I will certainly consider the…point, because it is our aim to put CTCs on a level with others in regard to funding and other aspects." [Official Report, 28 January 1992; Vol. 202, c.803]

The clear implication is that because they are publicly funded, at least in part, all the same criteria should apply to CTCs and their users as to other state-funded schools. I ask the Minister as a matter of urgency to consider this. I appreciate that it cannot exactly be done by means of the funding as set out in the new clause, but it comes within the sort of issue that is being probed by the new clause and by my question. Will the Minister consider amending the Bill before it finishes its passage through Parliament to require an appeals system against refusal of admission to city technology colleges?

It will be useful to know—it does not require publication of names—how the appeal system works and how many appeals succeed comparatively across the country. Such information may follow, but it is not clear that it will follow from the Bill as drafted. There is an appeal system in all other schools, and comparative data as to what percentage succeed and fail would be useful. It could not, however, be done in relation to city technology colleges because there is no requirement for such a procedure.

I have talked to the principal and staff at Bacon's college in Docklands, and I can tell the Minister that one of the complaints about the present legal structure, procedure and regulations is that there is no provision for any re-hearing of applications for admission which are turned down if, as happens, a city technology college is a popular school and is likely to have a full roll and full admissions. It is vital to have some clearly independent way of reviewing the decisions about selection made across the range.

We have had debates and differences about CTCs, and I do not tonight want to go into those issues again. I do not want now to argue again the merits of city technology colleges. I simply want to press the Minister tonight to say that he will be serious in joining his Secretary of State in seeing whether, before the Bill completes its passage, this omission in the original legislation can be corrected and pupils and their parents in this one category of school, looked after by inspectors and included in this legislation, can have the same rights as pupils and parents in other schools. I do not think that the principle is objected to, so I hope that we can agree on establishing a new practice. It must be done now if it is to be of any benefit to those who are currently applying with a view to admission from September 1992.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

I want briefly to mention some points that concern people in Wales who are not themselves education specialists like me but who have inspectors as constituents and who obviously have a large number of parents as constituents too.

I am particularly concerned by the slapdash nature of the statement produced by way of a substitute, namely, in a written answer to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) instead of being made in a proper statement to the House. It is not good that there is no Welsh Office Minister here tonight, but possibly the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will be able to answer my questions.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Is it not offensive that what has been said about Wales was actually released in a written answer that, had the House proceeded as was intended in the original timetable, would not have been seen by Welsh Members until after the debate had ended? The Welsh Office is trying to stifle debate in the same way as it is trying to stifle publication of the report.

Mr. Morgan

My right hon. Friend rightly mentions the precedural inadequacies and the way that legislation has been slipped through as if Welsh education was some sort of afterthought by Tory Ministers. After the election, the Tories will be an afterthought for the people of Wales, which will perhaps be poetic justice.

The Valerie Adams report, prepared by a distinguished former Ministry of Defence civil servant for the Welsh Office, was heavily critical of the ideas for privatising HMI. Everybody in education knows that. We are not allowed to see that report because we are only MPs, whereas Welsh Office Ministers think that they are superior to everyone else and cannot allow those who represent the people of Wales to see that report. That is an appalling slight and puts paid to any idea of democratic debate. The Minister of State shakes his head. Perhaps he thinks that no reports should be published. What a wonderful advertisement for open government and the citizens charter.

The written reply to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) covers two full columns of Hansard, but is mostly long-winded educational gobbledygook. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State, who represents Darlington, a well known area somewhere on the northern edge of north Wales, will be able to explain it. The only place where the answer attempts to tell the people of Wales how the new privatised or semi-privatised inspectorate of schools will work is where it says: much will depend upon the rate at which local authority advisory and inspection services are able to adapt to the requirements of the new system, and upon the availability of independent registered inspectors able to work in Wales. I intend to keep the situation under review.

There is the smack of firm government. What is meant by independent registered inspectors able to work in Wales."? Obviously the Secretary of State for Wales has worked out that there is a difference between Wales and England because of Welsh language, history and culture. He mentions that in the first part of his written answer where he says that HMIs have to be different from those in England because of the distinctive features of the education system in Wales, notably Welsh-medium education and the teaching of the Welsh language and Welsh history and culture."—[Official Report. 29 January 1992; Vol. 202, c. 576–77.] That is so obvious that even the Secretary of State can work it out, but he is ignorant of another major difference between HMI in England and that in Wales. [Interruption.] Conservative Members are a bit slow on the uptake and ask me to speak more slowly. However there is pressure of time.

The Secretary of State's reply does not mention that the inspectorate in Wales covers primary and secondary education while in England the inspectorate cover primary or secondary. There is no reference to that essential difference, which has existed for 80 years, and it is because the Welsh inspectorate is much smaller and has to be more flexible. How will that be handled under the new system? The Secretary of State has not thought it necessary to refer to that other major difference.

Scotland is to be allowed to continue with its inspectorate which will not be messed about by the right-wing ideologues who advise the Conservative party in these matters, whereas it was thought that Wales was suitable for experiment. Most people in Wales believe that, as in Scotland, the education system is essential for a society which still lags 15 per cent. behind average incomes in the United Kingdom. It is an essential part of the way that families in Wales believe that they can produce a future for their children that is better than the future they had. The same belief exists in Scotland, and that belief has led Scottish Office Ministers to think that they must not tamper with the inspectorate in Scotland. Scotland has been totally left out of the legislation but Wales has been dragged in.

It could be said that Scotland's education system is even more different from the rest of the United Kingdom than that of Wales because it has a longer and more distinct history. However, by and large Scotland does not have a great linguistic difference between it and England. Therefore, there was every reason for totally exempting Wales from this ideological right-wing Tory nonsense.

I shall now deal with the nature of the inspections. The Secretary of State for Wales is not in the Chamber, although he is in the House. In his written reply he said that the working of the new system would depend upon the availability of independent registered inspectors who were able to work in Wales. I assume that he thinks it would be wrong to bring in people from Amersham, Birmingham, Cornwall or other places to inspect schools in Wales because, quite apart from not understanding the language, they would not understand the distinct aspects of education in Wales. If that is what he meant, he should have said so, and said that the inspection service in Wales will have to be Welsh-based. The Secretary of State is really saying, "Well, we do not know where we will get these inspectors in Wales, and I want to keep my options open."

If no new inspectors suitable for the privatised system emerge in Wales, what will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do? He says, with the smack of firm government, that he intends to keep the system under review. Is that the basis for legislating? This is the United Kingdom Parliament whose Members are expected to report to their constituents on the laws that they have passed even when they do not agree with them. In this case, we do not know what has been passed or how the new system will work in Wales, because the Secretary of State does not know. It all depends on how many new inspectors emerge.

If new league tables emerge in Wales, they will inevitably be used as they have been used in America, where they have become part of the marketing system for schools. Schools will set easy tests so that they can say that most of their kids have passed them, and the next generation of parents will want to send their children to those schools. That is what happens in America, particularly in the inner cities where there are too many schools because of the white flight to the suburbs. If league tables are used as part of marketing to get more kids on the rolls and schools say that by hook or by crook kids will pass the exams, they will need sweetheart inspectors to approve of what they are doing.

We shall produce an education system with an inherent temptation to corruption and the propensity to conclude sweetheart deals with inspectors. That will be followed by the marketing of bent examination results, which already happens in the private education system, to make it attractive to parents who want to get their children through examinations by hook or by crook.

Mr. McFall

The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), who came in with a tea towel for an apron, reminded me of a report that I had read. I want to refer to a couple of damning comments arising from a comparison with American education. In an article in The Independent, inspectors are reported as having said: School principals said, on a number of occasions, that they would rather have good publicity than extra funding. It is the marketing, the glitz, that matters. In this regard, the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East showed us what he means. Education will take second place.

Mr. Thurnham

I should not like the hon. Gentleman to be left with the impression that the school to which I referred has anything but the very highest standards. My message was that that point had to be conveyed to the parents of pupils and potential pupils. The school has very high standards.

9 pm

Mr. McFall

I do not impugn the integrity of that school or the qualifications of its staff. What I am concerned about is the trend that the Bill will encourage. We do not want gimmicks such as are employed in America. The issue is one of statistics. The parents charter requires schools to publish statistics—for example, annual statistics on truancy—but statistics can be produced in an inaccurate and misleading way. That is why we are concerned. The provision that we are putting forward seeks to audit the accuracy of the schools' records and to permit comment, even when the records are accurate, on whether a school may be manipulating the figures. For instance, existing requirements to publish information are thought to be widely abused by means of practices such as the exclusion of pupils from examinations unless they are confidently expected to pass.

New clause 7 refers to proper practices. The term "proper practices" is borrowed from section 15 of the Local Government Finance Act 1982, which prescribes the functions of the Audit Commission. It is standard wording, which applies to other areas of local government and to the duties of the Audit Commission. We ask the Government to take this point into consideration.

The Bill provides no mechanism for checking the accuracy of school-produced data. As has been said, schools can produce misleading data—data transmitted to the Department of Education and Science but, in the interim, corrected by local education officers. For the purpose of correcting such information, we submitted in Committee information in respect of which the Minister said that section 68 of the Education Act 1944 could he used to sort out errors. I suggest that that is plain silly. Section 68 provides the ultimate sanction—reference of governors to the Secretary of State. We are not looking for something like section 68 of the 1944 Act. In this case, that Would be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. All we want is accurately audited reports, just as one expects in respect of financial matters.

The point about specifically audited reports and information is very important. The Government intend that information published by each school should be straightforward, factual and easily obtainable. This is referred to as raw data. However, at no time in the current debate has "raw data" been defined. If the Secretary of State persists with this, it will end up as a raw deal for schools and pupils.

Having looked through the literature on education, I should like to quote from Education magazine of September 1991. In an article, Gerald Smith, who is head of St. Peter's independent school, Northampton, asks: How, on a raw score league table, would you measure the achievement of one of the Chinese boys at our school, admitted from Hong Kong 18 months ago at the age of 14, unable to speak a word of English, who passed GCE art at grade A, mathematics and drama at grade C and who is now aiming, his confidence growing on success, to take five more next year? Gerald Smith goes on: On a league table this would appear as only three at grade C and above, yet this is as great an achievement as that of another boy who gained 10 GCSEs at grades A and B and four A-levels in chemistry, physics, biology and history, gaining him admittance to medical school. Both boys worked to their full capacity. But the league tables do not show that both worked to their full capacity.

I have evidence from my region of Strathclyde, whose authority has undertaken a close examination of league tables. That authority says that the most potent factor affecting school performance is the intake of the school. This has been referred to by educationists as the "value added factor". It is very important that that factor be recognised.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) referred to Matthew Arnold. Perhaps we should reflect on what Matthew Arnold said. When he was inspecting schools, he would have concluded that one of the most harmful aspects of these proposals is that they could give rise to the emergence of a league table of schools based on assessment results, and that this could result in teachers developing a "teach the test" mentality. One American teacher I spoke to said that the test result followed the teacher like an albatross. More than 100 years ago Matthew Arnold, in his capacity as a schools inspector, described this phenomenon as

a game of contrivance in which it is found possible by ingenious preparation to get children through the examination in reading, writing and ciphering without their knowing how to read, write and cipher.

While not questioning the integrity of the teaching profession, I must say that pressure will undoubtedly be put on teachers to adopt a narrower focus. League tables may improve test results, but they will be a backward step as regards the education of children. That is why new clause 7 is so important.

Mr. Fallon

It is a truism to say that we have had a wide-ranging debate, but we have ranged through the Principality of Wales, the kingdom of Scotland, the republic of Bermondsey perhaps, and certainly the local authority of Bolton.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), who concentrated on new clause 7, which provides yet more evidence of the Opposition's schizophrenia to which I referred. On the one hand, they urge that the chief inspector should be independent of the Secretary of State, as was urged in the former debate. On the other, in the new clause, they want to turn the chief inspector into an agent of the Department of Education and Science.

The regulations to be made under clause 16 will be the responsibility of the Secretary of State, and it will be for his Department to ensure that they are satisfactorily complied with, as it does now for similar regulations under the Education Act 1980 and the Education Reform Act 1988. The means whereby the information received and published is to be checked and monitored is primarily a matter for statisticians and administrators to consider. We have no intention of using Her Majesty's inspectorate or the school inspection teams as a statistical enforcement agency in that respect, and I am surprised that it should be suggested.

If hon. Members are concerned lest the monitoring will not be strict enough, I can reassure them that we are determined that it will be. We have already considerable experience is arranging for the collection and publication of examination results in a format best designed to ensure that those of all schools are presented in a fair and comparable way. We shall be similarly scrupulous in dealing with school leavers' destination figures, truancy rates and, in due course, national curriculum assessement results.

One of the main purposes of the consultation exercise, which we are currently conducting on the arrangements for 1992, is to establish the fairest way of presenting the information school by school. We shall be consulting again—taking account of the experience this year—before bringing in regulations under this legislation in 1993.

Mr. Morgan

Does the Minister realise how the publication of league tables will work practically? Let me give him an example. In my constituency, there is a school with a serious truancy problem. It has decided to produce attendance sheets for every period because that will enable it to prevent people from wandering about the school and out of school. The truancy rates will give the school a high truancy figure, because the records will show not just who is there at 9 o'clock in the morning and 1 o'clock in the afternoon, but at other times.

The hon. Gentleman's ministerial colleagues have complimented the school on its initiative, but in a league table sense it would be cooking its own goose and putting itself at the bottom of the league by detecting additional truancy not detected by other schools which did not bother to keep similar records. If everything is covered by league table, that will kill any incentive to get to grips with serious truancy problems.

Mr. Fallon

The hon. Gentleman seems to assume that finding other ways of identifying truancy makes it more difficult rather than less difficult to eradicate. I do not accept that. Of course there is a phenomenon known as post-registration truancy, whereby those registered at the start of the day may not be there at the end of the day. A school which adopts the policy described by the hon. Gentleman would be well placed to produce better figures. The school's policy would show that it was tackling truancy seriously. I hope that pupils in that school would respond favourably.

Mr. McFall

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) is trying to get a definition of truancy. What does truancy mean? Let us assume that, in a day with eight periods, a kid is absent for the middle of the day but was there in the morning and is back in the afternoon: is that truancy? It might be truancy in one school but not in another. The compilation of the figures will be important. If there is no definition of truancy and no standardisation, that will lead to inaccurate comparisons between schools. That is the important point. We want the Minister to turn his attention to standardisation.

Mr. Fallon

I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that I have indeed turned my attention to that. Just last year we reviewed the truancy regulations. They needed considerable updating. The main regulations dated from the 1950s. We have defined truancy much more strictly to show us who is absent on an unauthorised basis. To put it broadly, we have defined truancy as unauthorised absence. We have standardised the way in which unauthorised absence is to be recorded. If the hon. Gentleman has not seen the regulations or the guidance that went with them, I will be happy to send him a copy.

If Opposition Members wish to ensure that registered inspectors take full account of the performance information for each school which will be specified under clause 16, they need have no fears. HMI now has regard to such information in conducting school inspections, and I expect that HMCI's guidance will make reference to the need for inspection teams to do so.

It hardly needs to be said that if inspectors find evidence that a school is not meeting its statutory duty under clause 16, they can be expected to draw attention to that evidence in their report. HMCI will be able to notify the Secretary of State. But that will apply to all possible breaches of the law that might be uncovered, and I see no point in limiting such a duty to clause 16.

I now turn to the remarks of the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). I begin by apologising to the House for the absence of my ministerial colleagues from the Welsh Office. As the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) will recall, they were present yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Welsh Office, sat patiently here waiting for the scheduled debate. If it had not been for the disgraceful antics of the Opposition, which led to the postponement of that debate, my right hon. Friend would have been here to respond to the points that have been raised.

I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Torfaen raised the points that he did on new clause 7. He had some rapid footwork to do. First, he had the nerve to go on about our failure to recognise the distinctive features of the education system in Wales.

Mr. Straw

That is absolutely right.

Mr. Fallon

The hon. Member for Blackburn rather unwisely says that that is absolutely right. Perhaps I could refer him to his document "Raising the Standard". It did not include any reference to the proposal for an education standards commission in Wales which the Labour party has now rushed out. Perhaps he could explain to the House how Wales was forgotten for a few months until these new clauses were drafted.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Tim Eggar)

The Opposition take Wales for granted.

Mr. Fallon

As my hon. Friend rightly says, the Opposition take Wales for granted. The Government have recognised the distinctive features of the education system in Wales by creating a separate office of Her Majesty's chief inspector for Wales. Our announcement of the conclusion of our review of HMI yesterday again confirmed that the Conservative party has the true interests of Wales at heart.

As for the proposed educational standards commission, need not repeat what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said with regard to England about the imposition of an additional bureaucratic tier between HMI and the Secretary of State. HMI has enjoyed a great deal of independence, and we propose to give it more, not less, under the provisions of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Torfaen began by referring to criticism of the Government's proposals in Wales. I took a careful note of his words. He said that all those who knew anything about education in the Principality were opposed to the Government's proposals. He conveniently forgot the welcome given to the proposals by, among others, the Welsh Secondary Schools Association. I quote from the Western Mail for 8 January. The shake-up of the school inspection system proposed by the Government was welcomed yesterday by the Welsh Secondary Schools Association. The plans…could herald a new, more productive era in schools, the WSSA said. The WSSA is quoted as saying. Parents are not gullible people. They know the strengths and weaknesses of a school and the inspection reports could be used to give a school direction.

9.15 pm

The Opposition really insult the integrity of school governors and the intelligence of parents by their suggestion of soft options. Our proposals are clearly set out in the Bill, and they will increase the frequency of inspections and reports to give parents and governors the information they need. They will do that in Wales, just as they do it in England.

The hon. Member made a point about the numbers in the Welsh inspectorate. The number of HMIs has varied in the past, and I have no doubt that it will vary in the future. There are 58 in post at present. Hon. Members will know that the structure in Wales is different from and on a much smaller scale than that in England. That point was made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan).

It is important that HMCI for Wales should have the staff that he needs to fulfil the function and responsibilities given to him under the Bill. It would be quite wrong to restrain HMCI for Wales's flexibility in this respect by stipulating numbers in primary legislation, as Opposition Members attempt to do in amendment No. 58, which, if we are fortunate, we may reach a little later.

My right hon. Friend's announcement yesterday of the outcome of our review of HMI in Wales, in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), said that, in due course, we expect to see an overall reduction in the numbers of HMI engaged in work relating to schools. I do not intend to be drawn at this stage on precise numbers or on precise timing. I must emphasise that, even if any reduction in HMI numbers takes place, that should not be taken as any threat to HMCI's power or influence, which depends not on the number of people that he employs but rather on the new, independent framework that is being set up under the Bill.

I repeat that the independence of HMCI and his inspectorate has been strengthened under the Bill. The office of HMCI for Wales will be a new and separate Department of State, with clear statutory powers and duties. It is in our interest to ensure that HMIs are fully staffed to oversee the new system of regular inspections and to offer advice and assistance to my right hon. Friend. There is a new task for HMIs in the establishment and administration of the new scheme for registration and training of inspectors, whether from local authorities or from the private sector. The new inspectors will then undertake the regular inspection of schools proposed in the Bill.

Until such time as the new arrangements take effect, HMIs will continue their programme of inspection of schools. The registration and training of new inspectors will need to take account of aspects of the education scene in Wales which are different—notably, Welsh medium education and the teaching of the Welsh language, history and culture. We therefore need to give careful consideration to the question of numbers, and we intend to keep the situation under review in the light of these factors and the introduction of the new inspection arrangements. I am sure that HMCI will be as anxious as we are to ensure that HMIs in Wales will be sufficient in number to discharge their duties and responsibilities effectively and efficiently.

Mr. Morgan

Can the hon. Gentleman define for the benefit of the House and the people of Wales what the phrase able to work in Wales means with respect to the definition given in the parliamentary reply to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) yesterday? Does it mean that inspectors from outside Wales will not be regarded as qualified? They are not my words; they are the words of the Secretary of State for Wales. What meaning are we expected to draw from that phrase?

Mr. Fallon

It will be for HMCI for Wales to determine the arrangements for those whom he will be registering as inspectors for Wales. He must decide whether they are fit and proper persons, properly trained and therefore able to work in Wales. That is a matter for him to determine. I would not want to debar an inspector from England who chose to move to Wales to inspect Welsh schools, provided that he satisfies the criteria in the guidelines laid down by the separate HMCI for Wales—that is the important safeguard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) offered to present a tea towel to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who authorised me to thank him for that offer. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East mentioned advice. From the sum of money spent on inspection and advice by local education authorities, we are taking only half—roughly that sum spent on inspection. We are leaving a large sum of money through which—should they choose to do so and should their schools desire it—they may continue to offer the sort of advisory and support services that they have offered until now.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) suggested that he might like a tea towel too.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I have one.

Mr. Fallon

He has one—I think that we can judge that by his shirt. He then suggested that we should study clause 16, to strengthen appeal arrangements for city technology colleges. It is a little rich of hon. Members on the Liberal Democrat Bench—as they at first opposed the entire concept of CTCs—to come to the House now—

Mr. Hughes


Mr. Fallon

Yes. If we look back at the proceedings on the Education Reform Act 1988

Mr. Hughes

I oppposed it.

Mr. Fallon

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that he opposed the concept of CTCs. He now pops up as an advocate for the disappointed customers of CTCs and seeks to widen their access to them. I hope that that is a recognition—even if it is implicit— that CTCs have worked, have proved successful and are popular in his constituency. I do not think that he could have made that more explicit by the case that he is seeking to make.

Mr. Hughes

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Fallon

I am answering the question.

The hon. Gentleman asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to consider changing the arrangements only last Tuesday. I hope that he will accept that it is perhaps not as easy for us to change our policies in 48 hours as it is for some other parties. On Tuesday, my right hon. and learned Friend undertook to consider that matter, and I am happy to consider it further.

Mr. Hughes

Without entering into the wider argument, may I say that I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that the Bill may be a means of achieving the end. If that end is to be achieved, it needs to be sooner rather than later because of the timetable of the academic year.

Mr. Fallon

Fair enough.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West who seems to have left us temporarily, raised a number of matters. First, he referred to the Adams report and asked why it was not being published. All those hon. Members who have asked for its publication have correctly described it as an internal review, and it will stay internal.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and the hon. Member for Cardif, West asked why the parliamentary question had been tabled relatively late in the life of the Bill. Proposals to introduce new inspection arrangements for schools were trailed in the citizens charter published last July, and in "Education: A Charter for Parents in Wales", published last September. Details of our proposals were set out in the Education (Schools) Bill, which was published on 7 November. I do not think that Opposition Members are seriously suggesting that they and the wider public in Wales have been unaware of the proposals, which have been extensively debated and publicised in the past few months.

Our proposals for new school inspection arrangements, the creation of the office of Her Majesty's chief inspector for Wales, and the role of HMI in those arrangements have been clear for a long time. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement was concerned as much with other aspects of the role and structure of HMI—for example, in respect of further education, initial teacher training, and advice and assistance to the Welsh Office education department.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West asked why we were not making similar changes to the inspectorate in Scotland. I have to inform him, as the hon. Member for Dumbarton could easily have done, that the parents charter for Scotland provides for a number of inspectorate changes in Scotland including the establishment of a audit unit. That is set out helpfully in the parents charter for Scotland document, which I shall ensure is distributed to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West and other hon. Members representing Wales who have not seen it.

I hope that that covers the main points raised in the debate and that I have shown that the new clause is not necessary for the reasons that I have given. I have endeavoured to answer all the questions.

Question put and negatived.

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