Private schools to publish regular inspection reports: Independents consider drawing up league tables

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The Independent Online
INDEPENDENT schools are to publish regular inspection reports and may even decide to draw up league tables to compare their performance with one another, it emerged yesterday.

Government officials met independent schools' head teachers and inspectors yesterday to work out ways in which the private sector could follow the example now being set in state schools.

All maintained schools must now publish the results of inspections to which they will be subjected once every four years by a new body, Ofsted, but independent schools' reports have always been kept secret.

Their publication was prohibited by the Accreditation, Reviews and Consultancy Service, ARCS, which decides whether they are suitable for membership of bodies such as the Girls' Schools Association, and which makes checks on their progress.

The Head Masters' Conference, to which the boys' public schools belong, has a separate inspection system from other private schools, but has decided to publish its reports. About 800 private schools have no regular checks.

The ARCS chairman, Averil Burgess, said at yesterday's conference that the launch of Ofsted two years ago had made private schools think hard about how to measure their performance and whether to publish their reports.

The publication of the reports, produced for about 1,200 schools every 10 years, will be voluntary, but Mrs Burgess said she believed all schools would be under pressure to publish.

'We have made a step to voluntary publication, but we haven't gone as far as Ofsted. We are working with what our customers will accept, but I think most people will want to publish and there will be great pressure for publication. What is now voluntary will become the norm,' she said.

Mike Tomlinson, deputy director of Ofsted, said it was helping the ARCS to look for ways in which its schools' performances could be compared with one another.

For example, parents might see comparative information on class sizes and pupil- teacher ratios, as well as on exam results.

'It might be possible to look at groups of schools with common characteristics and then see within each group what are the ranges of these indicators and where a particular school fits within that,' he said.

Mrs Burgess emphasised that the independent schools would not consider publishing league tables such as those compiled by the Government, which she said were misleading because they did not compare like with like.

'It is different from league tables. Those are as unjust to independent schools as they are to maintained. You may say a school is doing well because it has amazingly good exam results, but it may be taking amazingly good children and doing a very average job with them,' she said.

Some 80 independent school head teachers and 20 government schools' inspectors attended the conference at the City of London School for Girls, which was addressed by Eric Forth, Parliamentary Under-secretary of State for Education. He said government charters were making consumers think, and that schools, like others, should respond to this pressure. 'The people of this country, whether as patients, as parents or as rail users, are learning to expect something better, to learn to know what they are entitled to and to know how they can seek redress if they feel they are being let down,' he said.