Select Committee on Education and Skills Fifth Special Report




Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from

the Minister for School Standards

I am responding to the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2001-02, Appointment of New HMCI, which was published on 2 July.

I am grateful for the Committee's comments about David Bell and the appointment process. As you know the Government has welcomed the recommendation of the Modernisation Committee regarding major appointments. We take seriously the contribution of your Committee to all aspects of education. We have not closed our minds to further change but we are not persuaded by your proposal for involvement in the appointment of HMCI.

The process by which David Bell was selected for appointment as HM Chief Inspector of Schools reflected the twin principles of Ministerial accountability and selection on merit which apply across Government. The Secretary of State is responsible for the recommendation that she made, on behalf of the Government, to Her Majesty in Council and she is accountable to Parliament for her decision. In reaching that decision, she took advice from a selection panel. The selection process, including the work of the panel, was conducted in accordance with the guidelines of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

We continue to believe that the appropriate role for Parliament in the appointment of HMCI is that of scrutiny, holding the Secretary of State accountable for her decision. To involve the Select Committee directly in the process leading to that decision would raise issues about the lines of accountability which are currently very clear.

I would like to correct a statement in paragraph 15 of your report. While we are concerned that disclosing the names of unsuccessful applicants might dissuade some people from applying for the post of HMCI, we have neither expressed nor formed a similar view about the likely effects of Parliamentary involvement in the selection process.

In that context, I note the comments in paragraph 14 of the report about the membership of the selection panel. In selecting the panel, we need to strike a balance between keeping it to a reasonable size and the desirability of having various interest groups represented on it. I can assure you that we will look closely at this, and at the Committee's other comments, when we next come to determine the detailed arrangements for the selection of HMCI.

David Miliband

31 July 2002

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