HC Deb 01 November 1994 vol 248 cc1341-2
12. Mr. Byers

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what percentage of primary school inspections planned by the Office for Standards in Education for this term will not take place during this term.

Mr. Forth

While this is mainly a matter for Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools, who heads the independent Office for Standards in Education, I am advised that contracts have been let for 76 per cent. of the primary schools inspection originally planned for this term.

Mr. Byers

Is the Minister not concerned that 24 per cent. of those planned inspections will fail to take place this term? Does he agree with the comments made by the former chief inspector of schools that the main problem was the requirement that every contract for inspection has to go out to competitive tender? Does he agree that it is yet another example of his Government putting political dogma before the interests of the nation's children?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman is being a little previous in this matter. This is the first term of primary inspections and we are planning for and approaching them systematically and methodically. Although the figures show that we have fallen somewhat short of the plans prepared by Ofsted, we are well on the way in making a good start.

Bearing in mind the difficulties that have arisen, of which we have made no secret, Ofsted is taking a number of measures to alter the contracting arrangements and certain other matters in an attempt to ensure that the cycle of primary inspections will develop in pace over the next few terms. At this stage, like Ofsted, I am confident that that will be achieved.

Mr. McLoughlin

Does my hon. Friend agree that he should not listen too much to the carping from Opposition Members, who opposed inspections in schools but are now complaining that they are not happening fast enough? Does he understand the concern felt by some grant-maintained schools that they will be inspected by the local authorities from whose control they have escaped? Will he consider that point carefully?

Mr. Forth

I know that there has been widespread concern on the latter point, but I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that as the Ofsted inspections proceed and the level of expertise and impartiality becomes more and more obvious, schools will be reassured that the new independent professional inspection process is of great value both to education and to schools themselves. More and more schools are beginning to learn that that is to their benefit. As for the attitude of Opposition Members, this is yet another area in which they cannot quite make up their minds whether what we are doing is so much better that they want to agree with us, or whether they want to stick with their traditional opposition and become lost as a result.

Mr. Eastham

Is the Minister aware that many local authority chief education officers are complaining that th0ere is inadequate funding for inspections? Is he further aware that that has resulted in the educational requirements of schools being denied in order to meet the costs of inspections? Will the Minister consider providing additional funding?

Mr. Forth

Opposition Members complaining about a lack of money is something that happens all too frequently. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should establish from his Front-Bench colleagues whether they are now prepared to commit more money to education, for this or any other purpose.