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Mr. Hall: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Richards: In a moment. Let me finish this point.

New regulations were laid before Parliament on22 February, to come into force on 1 September 1996. Hon. Members will be aware, from the lengthy discussions that have taken place on this subject in Committee, that we intend to deregulate minimum teaching and recreation areas in maintained schools, but they will know equally well that we are retaining the standards that bear on health and safety to safeguard the welfare of children.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Richards: I give way to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster).

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): The Minister just told the House that he will accept applications only from certain categories of organisation and institution to participate in the scheme. Will he tell the House which part of the Bill gives effect to the proposal that he has just announced?

4.45 pm

Mr. Richards: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the arrangements that we are making under clause 1 will ensure that that is indeed the case.

Secondly, all participating institutions will have to work towards the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority desirable learning outcomes, and those on which we await advice from the ACAC organisation in Wales. The quality and standards of education that they provide will be subject to rigorous inspection. To provide good-quality education and work towards the outcomes, providers will need to ensure that their premises are suitable. We intend to inspect all private and voluntary providers within the first year.As explained in Committee, the inspections cannot begin

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until the Bill has been enacted and it has come into force. Given the large number of providers involved, it would be impracticable to inspect them all at once. To insist on inspection before registration, as the amendment attempts to do, would delay the expansion of nursery education and would stifle parental demand.

Mr. Spearing: I take the Minister back a few sentences to the inspection of premises. He referred to the fact that school inspections would be carried out under school premises regulations, but we know that schools have no space. Yesterday evening, the Secretary of State told me that, of course, they would be also be inspected under the Children Act. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Act contains minimum space requirements and, if so, what they are for the establishments that will be inspected under the Bill?

Mr. Richards: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's opening comments. On the criteria by which inspections are made under the Children Act, I do not know off the top of my head whether space is a criterion, but I shall certainly let the hon. Gentleman know in due course.

Ms Hodge: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hall: Will the Minister give way?

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West): Will my hon. Friend allow me?

Mr. Richards: I give way to my hon. Friend.

Dr. Hampson: Frankly, is not this a farce? Why do not we simply say to those people opposite that space, size, quality of classroom--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not think that that is a parliamentary phrase. All Members are honourable Members, not people.

Dr. Hampson: I am delighted--if my hon. Friend on the Front Bench will allow me to continue the point and respond to the Chair--because I thought that, you,Mr. Deputy Speaker, were criticising the word "farce". It is a farce because Opposition Members seem to ignore the central point--education. The quality of the way in which we educate young people has nothing to do with a physical place. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but one can go to the most clapped out medieval buildings that are some of the best schools in the country--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

Dr. Hampson: Mark Twain said that it was the quality of the mind at the other end of the log. It is well known. Research in the past decade shows that there is no positive relationship at all between premises and the quality of education.

Mr. Richards: My hon. Friend makes a valid point when he speaks of Labour Members, who are far more concerned with providing occupation for their friends in local education authorities than with providing good-quality nursery education for the children of this country.

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Mr. Hall: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Richards: The hon. Gentleman should contain himself. The hon. Member for Newham, South(Mr. Spearing) asked about inspections under the Children Act 1989. Guidance under that Act states that it is desirable that 2.3 sq m should be available per child.I stress that that is guidance under the Act.

Mr. Hall rose--

Mr. Richards: I should like to make a little progress. Opposition Members are getting a little excited. They should calm themselves.

The self-assessment schedule will be an important and additional safeguard of quality. It will let providers know what is expected of them before they join the scheme. Providers are unlikely to apply to join the scheme unless they are confident that they can meet the requirements that are expected of them. It would be a poor advertisement for an institution to enter the scheme only to be ejected from it a few months later. As a final safeguard of quality, providers will also have to publish information for parents which includes the details of their premises. I ask the House to reject new clause 1.

Amendment No. 14 seeks to provide for periodical inspection by registered nursery education inspectors of maintained primary schools that have nursery classes and of maintained nursery schools that are already subject to periodical inspection under section 9 of the Education (Schools) Act 1992 by inspectors registered under that Act. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton(Mr. Kilfoyle) forecast, such a duplication of effort would be unhelpful. The introduction of two separate cycles of inspection by separate inspectors would cause unnecessary disruption in schools and it could hardly be considered an efficient use of taxpayers' money.

In undertaking periodical inspections of schools under the 1992 Act, inspectors registered under that Act are required to report on the quality and standards of education that are provided in the same way as registered nursery education inspectors are required to report. In doing that, they will have regard to specific guidance provided by Ofsted and by the Office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in Wales on the inspection of early years education. From 1 April 1996 inspectors who are registered under the 1992 Act will apply the general guidance for inspection of primary schools, which also covers early years issues. Therefore, the quality of nursery education that is provided by schools that are subject to inspection under the 1992 Act is already being monitored by Ofsted and by OHMCI in Wales. I can see no reason to introduce an additional, separate inspection cycle for such schools.

I shall now deal with some matters that were raised by Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Walton suffers from a misunderstanding about the inspection of nursery provision in the maintained sector. Inspections in that sector and of private and voluntary sector schools will be undertaken in accordance with the guidance that has been issued by Ofsted and OHMCI. The guidance will apply to nursery provision across all sectors, which means that there is no question of private sector or voluntary sector inspections being any less thorough than those that are carried out in the maintained sector.

The hon. Members for Walton and for Barking(Ms Hodge) and some other hon. Members asked about the qualifications of inspectors. The chief inspector will

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have to be satisfied that inspectors are capable of performing the task, and he will require them to undergo training that is appropriate for each one. The hon. Member for Barking suggested that Capita Managed Services would validate the quality of education to be provided on the basis of the self-assessment questionnaire. Plainly, she did not read the letter that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), sent to her on that very matter. For ease of reference, perhaps the hon. Lady will allow me to read part of my hon. Friend's letter. In paragraphs 2 and 3 the letter states:

    "Capita have no need for educational specialists. Their responsibility is only for administering the issue and redemption of vouchers, not for any of the educational aspects of the scheme.

    In particular, Capita is not involved with making judgments about educational quality. The Department has set out in its contract with Capita a tight framework within which Capita administers its part of the scheme."

I have addressed the matters of issue and qualifications. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) asked who had been contacted about the possibility of training. Ofsted contacted not only the Pre-School Learning Alliance and Montessori: it contacted other organisations including the Independent Schools Joint Council, the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools and the National Private Day Nurseries Association. It will be for Ofsted to decide the training and qualifications that will be needed.

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