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I say at the outset that I welcome the opportunity that this part of the Bill gives schools to extend their provision towards higher and further education. However, if the provision to be made is genuinely at the higher and possibly tertiary level, the patterns of inspection should be appropriate to that. Thus, I believe that there is a need to seek an agreement between HMCI and the Quality Assurance Agency, which is responsible for the quality assurance of education at tertiary level.
I am not asking for a separate inspection. That would be against the spirit of the Bill and would overburden schools with an additional inspection. However, there ought to be consultation and, ideally, agreement between the two bodies. I believe that the current incumbents are quite capable of reaching that agreement.
There would be two advantages. The first is that it would help the quality of the courses offered in this provision to be seen to be credibly at a higher and tertiary level. Secondly, it would help colleges in the higher and tertiary area to give due credit for such courses, where that was appropriate. Those would be the specific benefits of a clear inspection system involving the agreement of the QAA.
Initially, there will be limited take-up of the option. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. Do the Government expect many schools to take it up? However, its perceived value will grow. Schools with ambition, of which there are an increasing number, will begin to seize the opportunity, especially, I expect, city academies, whose inspection is our business, but also some private schools that have a good record of following HMCI protocols in inspection. It would be an encouragement to them to ensure that the inspection of such courses, which may well flourish in private schools and city academies, is appropriate.
Lastly, the option to extend the range of school education into this area will be increasingly attractive, as university fees begin to bite. It could become a de facto extension of the number of places offering some form of tertiary education, albeit within the school sector.
Although it will not happen immediately or quickly, people will see it as an opportunity. Private schools, city academies and others will follow that route, hence the need now to make adequate provision for the proper type of inspection. I beg to move.