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Quantock School History: Parliamentary Records

Commons Written Answers, 17 April 1996

[Responding and referring to the answer concerning the Quantock School provided by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces on 2 April, Mr. Jamieson presented the following statement concerning the role of the SCEA to the House.]

Subject: Service Children (Boarding Allowance)

Mr. Jamieson: 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:

"SCEA staff visit independent schools by invitation to assess pastoral care arrangements for service children; they have no statutory right of access. Visit reports are therefore written on the understanding that they remain for internal use only." - [Official Report, 2 April 1996; Vol. 275, c. 103.]

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:

"As far as participation in the Government's Assisted Places Scheme is concerned, all 295 schools have had to satisfy a very stringent criteria for admission and must be able to demonstrate the highest academic achievements."

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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