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House of Lords

Wednesday, 15th March 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon.

Primary and Nursery Schools: Inspections

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many primary schools were inspected in 1994 and how many are expected to be inspected in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, 777 primary and nursery schools were inspected by Ofsted in the calendar year 1994 under the new inspection arrangements which were introduced in the Autumn term. By the end of the academic year 1994-95 the total will have risen to at least 2,600. Over the next three academic years Ofsted aims to cover the remaining 17,000 primary schools, thus completing the four-year inspection cycle.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, while that Answer is extremely interesting, does it mean that the target of the four-year cycle to which the noble Lord referred, and about which this Government frequently boast, is unlikely to be achieved? Is that the case mainly because the registered inspectors are not tendering to undertake inspections? If so, is not the shortfall a direct consequence of the ludicrous decision to privatise school inspections?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we are confident that we shall complete the four-year cycle. I answered a similar Question from the noble Baroness, Lady David, a month or two ago. Since then we have become gently more confident that we shall be able to meet the target of the four-year cycle. I believe I explained last time that one of the principal reasons for the shortfall is that local authority inspectors are being used to a greater extent by local authorities and have less time available for primary school inspections than we anticipated. In a way that is a good thing. In relation to privatisation, the new inspection system is an enormous success and an unimaginable improvement on what went on previously.

Baroness David: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the tremendous strain being put on inspectors and the hours that they are working? Apparently, over a 10-week period, one inspector was working 70 hours a week. If that is the way that they are expected to get

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through the inspections, it does not seem to be a good idea. Is the Minister aware that one inspector fell asleep while giving his report to the school governors?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am sure that Ofsted will keep a careful eye on the quality of work being done by inspectors. As long as the quality is up to scratch, how it is achieved must be a matter for the inspectors.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, can my noble friend say what percentage of schools, after inspection, transpired to be below the standard expected?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, around 2 per cent. of schools are judged to be failing or near failing. That percentage is the same in primary as in secondary schools.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, is it proposed that preparatory schools in the private sector will be inspected? Many of them are not up to standard. They do not have boards of governors like the better private schools.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the affairs of independent schools are, fortunately, outside my remit.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the AMA's most recent inspection survey showed that 88 per cent. of responding authorities were dissatisfied with the current inspection arrangements for primary schools? Inspections were viewed as not being cost effective. Various authorities already had their own efficient LEA inspection arrangements, which they greatly preferred, and Ofsted teams were criticised as being,

    "demoralising, offering careless feedback, monopolising information, operating an inappropriate framework, and deferring inspections".

Would the Minister care to comment on that verdict?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities clearly harbours the desire to bring all schools back under its wing and to end local management of schools as we know it. Its opposition to the inspection system—which is working a great deal better than anything that went before and is showing up enormous weaknesses in what local authorities were doing previously—is naturally part of the same package.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, does the noble Lord have any quotable written evidence that that is part of the AMA's intention, or is he merely repeating rumour?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am summarising AMA documents.

Earl Russell: My Lords, are the hours of work described by the noble Baroness, Lady David, part of what the Government mean by "efficiency"?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, efficiency is not determined by the hours of work, not least in this House.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, in case there should be any misunderstanding, perhaps I can make it clear to the Minister that we on these Benches are as concerned about full and regular inspections as

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are the Government. Can the Minister confirm whether the budget for the inspection service will be cut by 10 per cent. this year and 5 per cent. next year? If not, can the noble Lord give us the figures?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, there is no cut in the budget in terms of activity. Ofsted was over-optimistic as regards the number of primary schools that it would be able to inspect this year and next and that resulted in there being a lower financial requirement in those years. We are funding Ofsted to do the work that it is able to do and we are not cutting the money available to it.

Baroness David: My Lords, does the Minister approve of heads and deputy heads of primary schools being advertised for at rates of £49,000 a year when we understand that it is quite difficult now to fill the jobs of heads and deputy heads? Surely it is unwise to try to take them from the schools because of a shortage of inspectors.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am not sure that I entirely understand what the noble Baroness is aiming at. Is she saying that heads of primary schools are paid too much or that the new—

Baroness David: My Lords, perhaps I may explain. Apparently, advertisements are being directed at heads and deputy heads of primary schools. Does the noble Lord think that it is a good idea to try to take these heads and deputy heads from primary schools where they are very much needed?

Lord Lucas: Yes, my Lords, it is an extremely good idea. The posts that are being offered are for one year. They will offer the heads and deputy heads who are successful—there have been 3,500 expressions of interest and more than 1,300 applications for these posts—an enormous breadth of experience of what is going on in other primary schools, which they would have no other way of obtaining and from which they will benefit enormously.

Public Appointments: Age Factor

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many paid public appointments or reappointments of persons aged over 70, and of persons aged over 75, have been made since the publication of the Cadbury Report; and how many of those were women.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the details requested by my noble friend are not held centrally. But, from the information available from individual departments, we know that at least 134 people aged over 70, and eight aged over 75, have been appointed or reappointed to paid positions on public bodies since January 1993. Of those, 21 were women, two aged over 75 and 19 aged between 70 and 75.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am pleased to note that the

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Government are not adopting an ageist policy. Is she aware of the British industry Third Age Initiative to improve re-employment opportunities for workers from the age of 50? Does she know that older people below pensionable age who are made redundant often find themselves rejected simply on the basis of the age shown on their application form? With the recent statement that more public appointments will be advertised, can my noble friend confirm that people made redundant will be considered with all others applying for such posts?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am aware of the initiative about which my noble friend asks. I believe, however, that her question is slightly wide of that on the Order Paper, as it deals with appointments in the commercial field rather than public appointments. However, I can tell my noble friend that the Department of Employment is in close contact with two related organisations—the Re-Action Trust and Third Age Challenge. With regard to the last part of her question, I think it is true to say that people are free to nominate themselves, or others can nominate them. The individuals are carefully appraised against key criteria. There is no reason why someone who has been made redundant at the age she mentioned could not be considered for a public appointment.

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