HC Deb 26 March 1998 vol 309 cc677-8
13. Mr. Hope

What plans he has to ensure that teachers and parents have full confidence in the inspection of schools. [34906]

Mr. Blunkett

As foreshadowed in the "Excellence in Schools" White Paper last summer, the chief inspector has agreed with me a programme of improvement, including a drive for quality, consistency and value for money. One of those proposals is the instigation of the new adjudicator or ombudsman, who will be available to deal with complaints relating to the inspection process.

Mr. Hope

Most schools recognise that external inspections are an important part of the process for improving schools and raising standards. In a recent visit to a primary school in my Corby constituency, I heard staff expressing concern that, if an inspection is done badly, it can not only lead to bad results of the inspection, but can undermine confidence in the inspection system. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that the external independent adjudicator announced by Ofsted will genuinely provide a means of redress for schools that feel that they have been treated badly, and that it will provide opportunity for greater fairness and openness in the system of school inspections?

Mr. Blunkett

Yes, we are committed to independent inspection and to its part in the driving up of standards, which is so critical to the Government's objectives. I can give the assurances that my hon. Friend seeks. In addition, there will be a new duty on the chief inspector to maintain a list of accredited inspectors so that the teams can be properly monitored and, where there is inadequate inspection, inspectors can be removed from that list.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Is not the single most important thing that the Secretary of State can do to assure parents that schools are being properly inspected to continue giving his full support to Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, who has done more than any one individual to combat the anti-education doctrines that were so disastrously introduced in the 1960s? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me also that Mr. Woodhead has shown a remarkable ability to function effectively in different political environments—almost as great an ability as the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth)?

Mr. Blunkett

All those who seek to join our agenda in driving up standards have my support, just as all those people give their support to us.

Mr. Don Foster

If the Secretary of State has so much confidence in the chief inspector of schools, will he explain why he and his colleagues are not in favour of having an annual debate in the House on the chief inspector's annual report?

Mr. Blunkett

We are in favour of the Select Committee on Education and Employment doing its job. As we said at some unearthly hour earlier this week, that is the process that we intend to follow.

Ms Hodge

I hope that the Select Committee will do its job.

I welcome the announcement of an ombudsman to whom people can go if they have any concerns about the inspection process. When will the appointment be made, who will make it and will Mr. Woodhead be consulted?

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend will expect there to be widespread consultation in the normal fashion. Appointments will be made under the procedures adopted within my Department to ensure that there is fairness, that there is no bias and, particularly, that there is independence.