Inspections of private schools 'hide failings'

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The Independent Online

Inspections of private schools are an exercise in mutual back-slapping and conceal bad schools from parents, according to a report published today.

The report from Mike Douse, an international educational consultant and former independent school head, says private schools should be inspected in the same way as state schools.

At present, he says, private schools where classes are out of control and bullying rampant can get a clean bill of health from inspectors. Schools organise their own inspections independently of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) which supervises state school inspections.

Mr Douse's report, commissioned by CfBT Education Services, the largest private contractor for Ofsted inspections, says that an independent school which would have been labelled "failing" in the state system received no major criticism from inspectors. When he asked four experts to evaluate 20 inspection reports for clarity, consistency and usefulness, two of three independent inspection reports included came bottom and the third came sixteenth.

Mr Douse's report says that, while very many independent schools are very good, "there are many very dubious non-government schools concerning which the community requires better information and prospective parents deserve fair warning". Private school inspection teams consist of a retired member of Her Majesty's Inspectorate and independent school teachers. Occasionally Ofsted also inspects private schools.

Mr Douse says the inspections are too cosy: "Two senior public school teachers, interviewed separately, each confided to me that, in the inspections in which they had participated, they never came close to setting down anything seriously negative."

The "failing" school, which charges high fees to children of service families and successful businessmen, received a "vaguely favourable" report.

But, says Mr Douse: "Very many of its pupils fail to gain entry to the public schools even of their second or third choice; several teachers are incapable of keeping order, let alone organising and encouraging learning; bullying and other forms of unacceptable behaviour are rampant; and value for money a cheerless joke."

Arthur Hearnden, secretary of the Independent Schools oint Council, which supervises inspections, said: "There is no question of any cosiness about our reports because every inspection team is headed by a former member of HMI who is independent. This HMI leads the team, sets the criteria, makes the judgements and writes the report."