Clause 92

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 28th February 2008.

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Duty to inspect certain registered institutions at prescribed intervals

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment No. 129, in clause 92, page 53, line 26, at end insert—

‘(2A) For the purpose of subsection (2) the Independent Schools Inspectorate shall inspect independent educational institutions that are—

(a) members of Independent Schools Council associations, and

(b) all other registered independent educational institutions other than schools belonging to the Focus Learning Trust.’.

The amendment would enable the Government to achieve a more unified approach than their proposal to transfer regulation monitoring of independent schools to Ofsted. Its purpose is to keep the registration and monitoring with the Department and instead to unify the inspection by having all non-Independent Schools Council schools other than those which will be inspected by the Focus Learning Trust or the other new  inspectorates that the Minister is to authorise inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. That would achieve a unified effect more swiftly than his proposals.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

It will not surprise the Committee that I want to resist this amendment. The debates on part 4 have used the language of choice and flexibility. The argument goes that independent schools should have the flexibility within the basic regulatory regime to operate as their name suggests—that is, independently. Indeed, one witness described a parent’s choice to educate their child outside the control of the state as a human right. I do not fundamentally disagree with the sentiment about choice and flexibility, and that is why I am intrigued by the purpose and effect of the amendment.

Ofsted is the principal inspection body in England. The breadth of institutions that it covers, including a significant number of independent schools, gives it a unique perspective on the English education system. Moreover, public confidence in Ofsted is high. The Government recognise that choice and diversity are important in the independent sector, precisely because it is independent. Parents of children in the independent sector often desire a more tailored and detailed analysis of their school than Ofsted can provide through inspections that focus solely on regulatory standards. That is why the Education Act 2002 enabled the Secretary of State to approve bodies other than Ofsted to inspect educational provision in independent schools.

The Independent Schools Inspectorate has inspected independent schools belonging to the Independent Schools Council for several years. Since 2002, two further inspectorates have been approved. The amendment would exclude one of those. The Schools Inspection Service inspects schools affiliated to the Focus Learning Trust and the Bridge Schools Inspectorate has just been approved to inspect schools belonging to the Christian Schools Trust and the Association of Muslim Schools.

On the other hand, there are a considerable number of schools that choose not to be affiliated to any particular group or organisation and who are not inspected by an independent inspectorate. Such schools are inspected by Ofsted and the Government believe that the option to have Ofsted as the inspection body should be open to all independent schools. The amendment would close off that possibility, replacing Ofsted and the Bridge Schools Inspectorate with one organisation: the Independent Schools Inspectorate. That would remove the choice that independent educational institutions desire. In the light of my compelling reasoning, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 2:30 pm, 28th February 2008

The Minister’s compelling reasoning is that he does not want to create a unified body, which undermines the thrust of the policy behind part 4. However, we have aired this debate at great length and I do not propose to do so again. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 92 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 93 ordered to stand part of the Bill.