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Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Gentleman described a head teacher who wrote to parents to tell them that there had been an Ofsted report. It is possible for parents to write to Ofsted, as I did in my constituency, to get a copy. They were made aware that there had been an Ofsted inspection and could have got the report themselves.

Mr. Jamieson: I do not want to get too engaged by this, but a local education school has an obligation under the law to provide a summary, and to provide the full report in the school, to the parents. Many parents, including my constituent, did not know of the existence of the report or inspection until I pointed out that the inspection had taken place. Eventually, under pressure, the Service Children's Education Authority sent my constituent a copy of the report. When he read it--and, by then, it was nearly a year out of date--he wished that he had taken his children out of the school earlier than he had. We need the same rules for both sorts of school. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that.

Ofsted is no longer able to safeguard academic standards, because no inspections will take place. It performs a short registration inspection every five years but says that three inspections at most will take place next year. On that basis, we have moved from one inspection every seven years to one every 700 years as there are now 2,294 independent schools. We need full inspections of independent schools, especially of those that benefit from substantial sums of taxpayers' money and reports, as with local education authority schools, should be sent to interested parents.

My second concern involves boarding and pastoral arrangements. That is especially important because children in boarding schools are, by definition, detached from their parents. Often, service children's parents are not even in the same country but are a long way away.

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We need police checks on the people employed in the schools and we must ensure that the conditions of the Children Act 1989 are properly discharged.

In the late 1980s, there was much justified concern about several schools. I shall briefly refer to some of those concerns. In May 1989, there was the case of Crookham Court school near Newbury. The then Member of Parliament demanded an inquiry but was told by the then Department of Education and Science that it was "powerless to act". The school was described as "dirty and depressing". It had safety hazards and unsatisfactory teaching standards, but there was much worse to come. The head teacher and a member of staff were convicted of serious sexual offences against boys at the school. Those boys were mainly from service families. The significance of that case is that the school was closed not by action taken by the Ministry of Defence but because of publicity given to the school by Esther Rantzen in her "That's Life" programme. It was closed not because of action taken by inspectors, Government Departments or the MOD but because the media took the matter up.

That was not an isolated instance. There was the case in 1982 of St. George's school at Great Finborough in Suffolk. The BBC's "Checkpoint" programme said:


A former games master at the school


Very much worse was revealed by "Checkpoint" about serious abuse of children. Those facts were revealed not by the DES or the MOD but by the media. That school did not close; it carried on trading and I believe that it is still open under very different management and a different name.

My last example is the 1990 Her Majesty's inspectorate report on the Hilsea school in Basingstoke. The report was disastrous in every respect. It uncovered poor teaching, unsafe buildings and hopelessly out-of-date teaching methods and said that 92 per cent. of the children were from armed forces families. That school did not close in 1990; it carried on despite the report. It closed in 1992 only because of declining pupil numbers, yet it was supported almost solely by the taxpayer right to the very end. Had it been an LEA school, it would have been deemed to be failing and would probably have been closed.

For balance, there are some excellent schools. I have chosen an independent school that was established and run by the MOD--the Duke of York Royal Military school, Dover. The inspectors reported on it in February 1991 and said:


Oh that all the schools were as good as that one.

Partly as a response to concern about the inadequacy of certain schools, section 87 of the Children Act 1989 created a duty for the social services departments of local authorities to inspect the boarding and pastoral

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arrangements of such schools. I have seen some of those reports. They are very thorough and exacting. They check hygiene, dormitories and whether there are unnatural punishments or abuse. However, I well recall considering in the small hours of one morning a clause of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill which gave independent schools the right to choose their own inspectors and, if they wished, to dispense with local authority social services departments, which would probably know schools and their past records well. Most independent schools are continuing with local authority social service department reports, but is this not yet another opportunity for a bad school to opt out of inspection that may be critical?

Many independent schools belong to independent schools organisations and some internal reporting goes on between schools. Sometimes that leads to schools inspecting each other. Last year, CfBT produced a report called "Ofsted and Onward". CfBT is one of the leading private companies in the inspection field and has been much praised for its work. Mike Douse, one of its inspectors, talked of mutual inspection and said:


That is what one school said about the other. He continued:


This school must still be on the admissible schools list, yet he continues:


If the SCEA can find out which school it is, it ought to review whether it should continue on the list, receiving substantial sums of taxpayers' money.

Can we also check on how the money is spent in independent schools and on the level of profit being made by the proprietor? I repeat that some are not charitable foundations. They have a sole proprietor and are run as a business and a limited company. For many of the independent schools on the boarding school allowance, a substantial part, if not most, of their funding comes from the taxpayer through the scheme. We might want to look through the company accounts to find out how money is being spent, but if a company's turnover is less than £2.8 million a year, there is no obligation to publish full accounts. The company can publish abbreviated accounts, which are totally unhelpful if one wants to find out how the money is spent.

In contrast, governors, head teachers, the local education authority and parents can all see the budgets of local education schools that are spending taxpayers' money and see how the money is spent. If a parent wants to see the budget and how money is being allocated, it can be done at any time through the head teacher or the

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governing body. Yet no one has the right or duty to check how taxpayers' money is being spent in independent schools.

Mr. Hawkins: Surely the hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that all the matters that he has discussed in connection with local education authorities, such as the rights of parents and of governors, are the results of our educational reforms of recent years--reforms that the Labour party opposed, tooth and nail, at every turn.

Mr. Jamieson: In that case, I would expect the hon. Gentleman to agree that those reforms ought also to extend to the independent schools that are receiving substantial sums of taxpayers' money. If he speaks later in the debate, I will be interested to hear him confirm that that is his view.

What is the role of the SCEA, which acts on behalf of the Ministry of Defence? It seems to do little more than administer the system and distribute the fund. It has no right of entry to independent schools and the Minister of State for the Armed Forces confirmed that in a written answer on 2 April, when he said:


The SCEA does not have the right of access and parents do not have the right to see what reports are written.

To protect the academic and pastoral concerns of pupils action needs to be taken. The SCEA needs to be far more robust. If schools are to go on the admissible schools list and receive substantial amounts of public funds, the SCEA should draw up a contract for them and they should agree in it that its inspectors have the right to go into the school and look at the pastoral arrangements.

The SCEA must ensure that it sees a school's full audited accounts, so that it can find out how the money is being spent. If a school is not prepared to undergo such inspections, fair enough--it is a private company--but strike it off the list and deny it taxpayers' money. Also, the SCEA should make all information on an independent school available to parents and potential parents.

Schools that have a low academic performance or where there are other concerns should be taken off the admissible schools list. In a recent answer about the Quantock school in Somerset, the Minister said that his inspectors had visited the school and found it suitable to remain on the list. I must draw to his attention the fact that the Independent Schools Association Inc.--the trade organisation--has terminated the membership of that school. I am sure the SCEA and the Minister would want to look into that and find out why. It is extremely unusual for that to happen, and there must be good reasons.

Much more stringent checks must be made on the schools that go on the admissible schools list. Two years ago, the Minister with responsibility for schools told me in a letter:


I want those criteria to be applied to schools on the admissible schools list. If they are right for assisted places schools, they must be right for the children of service families who attend independent schools.

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The Minister should consider the matter carefully and advise the Department for Education and Employment that there is a need for full Ofsted inspections of all independent schools, particularly those in schemes in which they benefit from taxpayers' money and, most important, all those on the admissible schools list. That can be done readily and easily.

The Minister ought to instruct the SCEA to put those local education authority boarding schools on the admissible schools list, particularly when it admits that they are often much better than the independent schools that are on the list already.

I have raised some important matters today, with which the Minister will want to deal with his usual care. The welfare of children and the quality of their education are of paramount importance. Independent schools operate in a wholly deregulated environment. There is virtually no reporting by Ofsted. The SCEA has no statutory obligation to inspect. There are no accounts for public scrutiny, the reports of social services departments are deregulated and schools can choose their own inspectors.

We need to give parents the ability to distinguish between the majority of good independent schools and the minority of poor schools. As history has instructed us, a deregulated environment is one in which the unscrupulous can thrive, mediocrity can flourish and--in the extreme--paedophiles can go undetected.


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