§ Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they expect to meet their targets for the inspection of primary and special schools.
My Lords, the legislation provides for the independent external inspection of all maintained schools over a four-year cycle. In this, the first term of the primary and special school inspection cycle, the number of contracts let has fallen some way below expectations. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector announced on 8th December a package of measures designed to remedy that shortfall. The Government attach importance to achieving the four-year inspection cycle and are keeping the situation under close review.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very informative Answer. It is quite clear that my Question was well targeted. Apparently, inspections for 1995 were going to be about 1,800 below target and the cycle would have been seven and half years rather than four years had not some plans been hastily made. Will the Minister say who will be doing the inspections? Am I correct in my understanding that a good many of the inspectors were trained to inspect just secondary schools and not primary schools? Will that affect the quality of the inspection that is provided?
My Lords, the quality of the inspection remains of prime importance. The Government will do nothing which will put that in jeopardy. By and large the inspections will be provided by those who are already trained as inspectors. Ofsted has set out a number of measures to encourage those who have been trained and who have not yet come forward to undertake inspections, to do so. To a certain extent some temporary help will be provided by Her Majesty's inspectors themselves. But under no circumstances do we envisage half-trained or untrained people undertaking inspections.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is rather bizarre to hear implied criticisms of this nature coming from the Benches opposite, bearing in mind the colossal damage that socialist ideology has done to the British education system since the last war? Does he further agree that, whatever teething problems our new inspection system may have, it is a huge improvement on the previous situation, whereby only 100 primary schools were inspected annually, and that therefore the average primary school was inspected just once in every 190 years?
Yes, my Lords, we believe that it is a great improvement on what went before. In general, we are very pleased with the results that the system is producing. We are disappointed that the number of 1080 inspections to date is falling below target. But we are determined to make sure that we catch up again over the next few years.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, does the Minister appreciate the fact that the Government removed from local education authorities at 1990–91 prices approximately £75 million to fund the new inspection service? Given that quite clearly Ofsted is unable to implement successfully an inspection policy, should not at least a proportion of that money be returned to local government so that it can be properly funded for inspecting schools, which it does remarkably well?
My Lords, that is complete nonsense. The money is in Ofsted to undertake the inspections and the inspections will be undertaken. I quite agree that the local education authorities are now beginning to do an excellent job in helping primary schools. One of the reasons why Ofsted is finding that inspectors are not coming forward to do its inspections is because local authorities at last are devoting more of their resources to helping their own primary schools. We feel that is an excellent development.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether there is to be a cut in the money available for inspections? According to the Budget Statement on DfE expenditure plans, there was a £13 million cut in expenditure for Ofsted, which is a 12½ per cent. cut. Can he explain that?
My Lords, I do not have that particular figure in front of me. I can tell the noble Baroness that the Budget allows for an increase in total Ofsted expenditure from £98 million in 1995–96 to £121 million in 1997–98. That does not represent a cut. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector is quite satisfied that he has the resources necessary to complete the inspection cycle and all the other work that he undertakes.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that I obtained those figures from a reliable source? Will he write to me and explain why those figures appeared in the Budget statement if they are not correct?