HC Deb 29 January 1992 vol 202 cc575-8W
Mr. Gwilym Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he has yet completed his review of the role and organisation of Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Hunt

Yes. I propose an important and powerful role for Her Majesty's Inspectorate—HMI—which takes full account of the distinctive features of the education service in Wales. The Education (Schools) Bill now before Parliament establishes an independent office of Her Majesty's chief inspector—HMCI—of schools for Wales to oversee arrangements for a new system of regular school inspections and to provide me with advice on the quality of education provided by schools and the educational standards achieved by them, and whether the financial resources made available to schools are managed efficiently.

The new arrangements set out in the Education (Schools) Bill give effect to the Government's commitment in the citizens charter, and in the charter for parents in Wales that I published at the end of September, to give parents much more comprehensive and regular information about the standard of education in the schools their children attend. In future all schools will be inspected at regular intervals by inspectors who will be required to be registered for that purpose with HMCI. For the first time, parents will have the right—set out in legislation—to meet those undertaking the inspection and make their own views known. Parents will be sent a summary of the published inspection report; school governors will be required to prepare an action plan in the light of the report, send it to parents and report to parents on the implementation of that action plan. The proposals will lead to published reports on a much larger number of schools and on a much more frequent basis than under current arrangements. Together with the proposals for the publication of comparative information on examination results, attendance rates and the destinations of school leavers, these arrangements will give parents a far better picture of the education available in their locality and enable them to become more effective partners in the education of their children.

HMCI will be able to attach conditions to the registration of inspectors and will also have responsibility for monitoring their performance, approving or providing their training and giving guidance on good practice in school inspection. In addition, HMCI will be required to make an annual report to the Secretary of State, which will be laid before Parliament, and will undertake such other functions in connection with schools as may be assigned to him by the Secretary of State.

The powers available to this new statutory, independent office of HMCI will be considerable. I would expect them to be used to the full to ensure that school inspection in Wales will be of high standard and will reflect and safeguard distinctive features of the education system in Wales, notably Welsh-medium education and the teaching of the Welsh language and Welsh history and culture.

I shall shortly be announcing my intentions as regards the date when the new school inspection arrangements should come into operation in Wales, and also the frequency of inspections, taking account of the timetable for the progressive introduction of delegated budgets for schools and of the arrangements envisaged in England. HMI will continue its programme of inspection of schools until such time as the new arrangements come into effect.

The Education (Schools) Bill makes provision for HMI to have a continuing role in the direct inspection of schools in England and Wales. I believe this role to be important, especially in the initial stages of the new arrangements, in setting high standards of inspecting and reporting, monitoring the work of the new inspection agencies and providing a valuable source of evidence for advising on the maintenance of educational standards. HMI will also continue to inspect independent schools and advise me on schools that give cause for complaint in both the public and independent sectors.

The Further and Higher Education Bill provides for the transfer of important responsibilities in relation to further education, including quality assurance, to a Further Education Funding Council and it will be for the council to decide how to obtain the quality assessment services it will require; provision is being made in the Bill to enable it to obtain those services from HMCI if it wishes to do so. In view of the small numbers of staff involved in Wales and the consequent need for the maximum flexibility of operation, such an arrangement would offer clear advantages. The Bill provides for HMCI to undertake inspections of local authority maintained and assisted institutions providing further education courses, including adult education courses, and to provide me with advice. The Bill also provides that quality assessment in higher education should become the responsibility of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. Consequently, HMI will cease to inspect most areas of provision in this sector. However, they will continue to inspect initial teacher training and provide advice to the Secretary of State based on their reports.

I am strengthening the independence of HMI by creating a separate department headed by HMCI. HMI will no longer be members of the Welsh Office but will remain civil servants, retaining their existing terms and conditions of service. In the past the close working relationship between HMI and the Welsh Office Education Department has ensured that I have received the best possible advice based on up-to-date assessments of what schools and colleges are doing. HMI will continue to provide such advice for the benefit of all working in education in Wales.

Overall the new arrangements will necessitate a considerable change in the balance of the duties undertaken by HMI. I expect that in due course there will be some overall reduction in the numbers of HMI engaged in work related to schools but it is not possible to be precise at this stage; 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.

I would like to pay tribute to the work of HMI. They are universally respected as independent arbitrators of educational standards who have a key role to play in the reforms we are introducing in the education field. The new measures I have proposed will strengthen their independence and I know they will respond to the challenge of their new role.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will list the sectors of activity, in addition to the inspection of schools, of Her Majesty's inspectors of education in Wales; and what is the proportion of their time and resources devoted to each sector.

Sir Wyn Roberts

About 65 per cent. of the time of Her Majesty's inspectorate (Wales) is spent on inspecting and reporting; the remaining 35 per cent. is devoted to advising the Welsh Office/Ministers on current and emerging issues, providing advice to the educational system generally through assessorships, publications and courses/conferences and keeping up to date with educational developments.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what proportion of(a) primary schools and (b) secondary schools in Wales were inspected by Her Majesty's inspectors of education during 1990–91; and how long it would take for all primary and secondary schools to be inspected at the same rate of inspection.

Sir Wyn Roberts

During 1990–91 Her Majesty's inspectorate visited more than 40 per cent. of primary schools and all secondary schools in Wales to inspect some aspect of their provision. These inspections include formal inspections of individual schools, national and county surveys of aspects of education—for example, mathematics, Welsh, English, science and technology—and visits by general inspectors to obtain information and assessments which contribute to the national picture. Each of the 230 secondary schools is thus visited annually and each of the 1,717 primary schools at least once every three years. Of the inspections undertaken in 1990–91, 33 were full inspections of primary schools and six were full inspections of secondary schools.

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