Bad private schools to go, says minister

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The Independent Online
BAD INDEPENDENT schools will be inspected more regularly and are expected to be closed down more quickly under new proposals from the Government .

But good private schools will be rewarded with an extra pounds 1m of government money if they forge partnerships with state schools, Estelle Morris, the School Standards minister, said yesterday.

Ms Morris, a former comprehensive school teacher, told leading independent school headteachers that the Government was reviewing the law on the registration and monitoring of independent schools, unchanged since the 1944 Education Act.

She told the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference in Jersey: "Good schools need have nothing to fear from our consultation proposals. It is in all our interests to allow schools which let down the profession to be tackled about under-achievement and poor provision."

Ministers are concerned about the 1,000 independent schools educating 120,000 pupils who are not members of the six independent school associations.

At present, only those causing serious concern receive full inspections by the Office for Standards in Education.

Ofsted inspectors will have more time to inspect weak independent schools now that new arrangements are in place for those schools which are association members to inspect each other under a framework agreed with Her Majesty's Inspectors.

The review will also look at arrangements for dealing with failing independent schools. At present, the Secretary of State for Education issues a "notice of complaint". A school then has six months to show improvement, compared with 40 days for a failing state school.

Ms Morris reaffirmed the Government's decision to abandon more than a decade of hostility to independent schools. In 1983, Labour's election manifesto called for their abolition.

Last year the Government gave pounds 350,000 to encourage private and state schools to work together to raise standards. The Sutton Trust gave pounds 250,000.

Ian Beer, former head of Harrow and chairman of the Independent Schools Council, urged heads to bid for some of the pounds 1m but added: "Many local partnerships and co-operative ventures have existed for years. Most of these have required no injection of funds and simply reflect the desire of schools to be of service to their communities."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "pounds 1m would be very helpful in speeding up the reduction of class sizes and providing books for primary schools. While links between the private and state sector may be valuable, it should not be at the expense of state schools."