§ 8. Mr. Spearing
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he next expects to receive a report from Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
The senior chief inspector's annual report is being prepared now and will be submitted to me on completion.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does the Secretary of State agree that, whatever the merits of Her Majesty's inspectors being involved in the advocacy of method, their function of providing independent and publicised reports on the quality of education has never been in question? If he wishes to make an adjustment, would not it be more sensible to detach their role from advocacy of method and confine it solely to inspection? Is not his solution of private consultants to be engaged by competitive schools asking for trouble, because it creates an automatic conflict of interest and renders their reports suspect by definition?
§ Mr. Clarke
With respect, the hon. Gentleman appears to be slightly confused about what we are doing. First, I accept that the inspectors' production of an annual report and other reports on our schools is extremely valuable, as they base their advice on the inspections that they carry out. The Education (Schools) Bill will continue that. Indeed, we strengthen the independence of Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools in producing those reports by detaching him, to a much greater degree than in the past, from my Department. Secondly, the new role for HMI will be to monitor the quality of all those inspectors who will 891 carry out the new inspections in individual schools throughout the country and to give, for the first time, reports to every parent about those schools.
§ Mr. Clarke
The hon. Gentleman dismisses that. Does he think that we should employ 5,000 HMIs to carry out inspections, or does he prefer the Labour party's solution—that only local councils should be allowed to inspect schools? We are giving Her Majesty's inspectorate a key role in monitoring the quality of those permitted to carry out that public service.
§ Mr. Amos
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the whole purpose of the reforms is to increase the number of inspections in schools, not reduce them, and that the monitoring and regulation of the new system will be such that it would not be in the professional interest of any inspector to try to fiddle a report?
§ Mr. Clarke
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Last year Her Majesty's inspectors produced and published about 150 reports on individual schools and, usually, no parent saw the reports. Our arrangements will lead to about 6,000 inspections each year, and each parent will receive, without requesting it, a straightforward description of the inspection. We state that the teams of inspectors should be monitored and approved by Her Majesty's inspectorate. The new, independent Her Majesty's inspectorate will have the duty of giving a little lion stamp to those inspectors and ensuring that they are up to the mark.
§ Mr. Straw
Flow can the Secretary of State conceivably claim that Her Majesty's inspectorate is to be strengthened when its numbers are to be cut by two thirds and it is to be subject to clear and specific direction from the Secretary of State? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the privatisation of the inspectorate inherent in the Education (Schools) Bill goes far further than that presaged in the schools charter and includes, under the guise of additional inspectors, the substitution of private money-making firms to do the work currently carried out, not just by local inspectors but by the chief inspector of schools?
§ Mr. Clarke
I have carried out several privatisations in my time in commercial and industrial departments, and my understanding of the word privatisation is that one takes something currently managed in the public sector and transfers it to the private sector—the last such transfer in which I was engaged involved British Steel. In this case, Her Majesty's inspectorate is not being transferred and its role will remain the same except that as a public organisation it will be made more independent of the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman's complaints are based solely on the fact that the total number of staff in the inspectorate are to be reduced. The Labour party judges such matters only on the number of employees and trade union members on the books, which is not the test that we shall apply. We shall give Her Majesty's inspectorate powers and duties and the number of staff that the chief inspector and I think are required to fulfil those roles.
§ Mr. John Browne
Will Her Majesty's chief inspector report on the case of Kings school, Winchester, which was denied grant-maintained status as a direct result of the local authority using public funds to wage a campaign against it?
§ Mr. Clarke
I do not think that Her Majesty's inspectorate can look at that case. A parental ballot was carried out on grant-maintained status and the parents decided to vote against the application for that status. I agree with my hon. Friend that Hampshire county council waged an extremely vigorous campaign against the proposal. I do not agree that Hampshire presented the case fairly, and I keep trying to obtain undertakings from Hampshire county council that, even if it cannot support Government policy, it might at least present a more detached account of the case to parents when grant-maintained options are on the table.