Group 4 admits it has no school record

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Indy Politics
Group 4, which was paid pounds 14 million to award contracts for inspections of nursery schools, admitted last night that it had no experience of nursery education.

The company told the Commons Select Committee on Education that a former steel stockholder, an ex-brigadier and the principal of a sixth-form college carried out the interviews for the contractors to inspect nurseries under the nursery vouchers scheme.

Angry opposition MPs pointed out that the inspectors, who have vetted more than 350 private nursery schools for the voucher scheme, have failed just two. Under the schools inspection scheme, which deals with the more thoroughly-regulated state schools, four times as many are deemed to be failures.

Last night, Margaret Hodge, head of Labour's under-fives inquiry team, described the situation as "scandalous."

"Somebody, somewhere must be putting pressure on. Quality appears to be being sacrificed on the altar of the election," she said.

The government's nursery voucher scheme is currently being piloted in around 500 nurseries in four local authorities, and is due to go nation- wide on 1 April, possibly just days before the election.In the committee, Rob Soutar from Group 4 said: "The group were selected not as educationalists but to select contractors under the criteria laid down by Ofsted."

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, told them: "It is slightly odd that you are proudly professing no knowledge of the business these contractors are in."

But a spokeswoman for Ofsted said the fact that only 0.6 per cent of the schools and play groups had failed was good news. "I am sure the parents will be delighted that their schools are providing an acceptable standard for their youngsters" There is not much more I can say," she said.

Labour's education spokesman David Blunkett said yesterday he would cancel the scheme. Vouchers sent out in April would be honoured but no more issued.