Low standards at pounds 2,600-a-term school for children of the forces

An independent boarding school widely used by the children of forces personnel whose fees are paid by the state has serious weaknesses and is breaking the law on health and safety, government inspectors said yesterday.

A report on pounds 2,600-a-term Quantock School, near Bridgwater, in Somerset, uncovered bad management, sub-standard teaching, poor assessment of pupils and low exam results.

It also found that the 82-pupil school failed to meet the legal minimum requirements on health and safety and pupil welfare. Staff were inadequately trained in child protection procedures and some pupils did not know there was an "independent listener" not employed by the school to whom they could turn with concerns.

Much of the school was very cold and some areas were unsafe, including workshops and a chemistry preparation room with broken glass on the floor and unlabelled chemicals.

The report, by the government schools inspection watchdog Ofsted, will renew concerns over public money being spent on the education of children of service personnel in a largely uninspected independent sector. In 1994-95, the Government spent pounds 107m on school fee allowances for service personnel serving abroad. The Ministry of Defence provides a boarding school allowance of up to pounds 2,248 per term for secondary- age pupils, though parents must contribute at least 10 per cent of the fees.

The MoD provides parents with a list of schools supplied by the Department for Education and Employment, but does not check or approve them. The education department is not obliged to inspect independent schools and has wound down its programme from 19 inspections in 1993-94 to three this year. It has written to the school expressing concern at the report and asking for its plans for remedial action.

The inspection report identified some strengths, including generally positive attitudes to work among pupils and a "superficially broad" curriculum. But it called for a wide range of urgent improvements, including more supervision of pupils, measures to make workshops and other areas safe, more teacher training and better planning and target-setting.

No one was available for comment at Quantock School yesterday.

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