Non-association private schools less likely to be good or better than state schools

Janet Downs's picture

Non-association private schools, those fee-paying schools not associated to groups affiliated to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), are less likely to be good or better than state schools.

Figures released today show 72% of non-association independent schools were good or better at their most recent inspection.  This is against 89% of all state schools.

Non-association private schools were more likely to be inadequate.  11% were given the bottom grade at their most recent inspection against just 2% of all state schools.

 Since August 2015 the proportion of state schools judged good or outstanding at their most recent inspection has increased while Inspection outcomes for non-association independent schools have declined.

The Government’s currently consulting on how independent schools can contribute to the state system.  Based on the inspection data above, the answer could be ‘Not much’.  That would be unfair, of course, because 72% of them are as good as state schools.  But for the 28% non-association private schools which are not good or better, the question might be the other way round: what can these schools learn from the state sector?

When the Government talks about independent schools, it’s not likely to be referring to non-association private schools, of course.  It’s alluding to the ‘best’ independent schools.  Unfortunately in England, any private school is perceived as being better than state schools.  But inspection of non-association independent schools show this isn’t the case.

What, then, are the ‘best’ independent schools?  They are likely to be ISC association schools which are assumed to be 'best'.   There are 600 ‘senior’ ISC schools* in England.  Many are highly selective.  This accounts for higher exam results at the 'best' independent schools when compared with the state sector which educates pupils of all abilities. 

Quite how these 600, supposedly 'best',  schools could support all 3,401**state secondary schools in England is unclear. 

That’s not to say state and independent schools, whether ISC or non-association, shouldn’t collaborate for mutual benefit.  But it should be grounded in mutual respect and benefit.  It should not be based on one group (independent) sharing their ‘DNA’ with less superior schools (state).  And cooperation should not be enshrined in law.

Unfortunately, that’s the premise underlying the Government’s survey on, among other things, how independent schools should support state ones.  It’s the false assumption that state schools, unless they are selective ones, are inferior to private ones.

But the latest data for non-associated fee-paying schools show this is not the case.

* ISC schools roughly equivalent to state secondary schools

**Department for Education national tables for Schools, pupils and their characteristics: January 2016, downloadable here.  

CORRECTION Paragraph five of the original article contained a typo.  I originally said 18% of non-association fee-paying schools were less than good.  This should have been 28%.  I've now corrected it.  





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ian thompson's picture
Sun, 04/12/2016 - 19:17

When the government talks about independent schools it is referring to independent schools. State schools are of course selective by sixth form and if the fall in pupil numbers post-GCSE is an indication they are more selective than independent schools. Despite this, average A level attainment for state schools including grammar schools is only CCC compared with BBB for all independent schools.
There are 518,432 pupils in ISC schools, accounting for 84% of independent school pupils and far from being academically selected 13.2% of these have special educational needs just like 14.4% in the state sector, but ISC schools are not separately identified in the government's examination result summaries.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 05/12/2016 - 11:03

Any sixth form, private or state, which offers A levels will select.   The 600 ISC 'senior' schools in England are far more likely to be selective than state secondary schools (only 163 grammars against 3,238 non selective secondary schools).  You are, then, not comparing like with like when comparing mostly selective ISC schools with mostly non-selective state secondary schools.  There will be a 'fall' in the proportion of children educated in non-selective schools  going on to selective sixth forms because non-selective schools (unless they manage to manipulate their intake) will educate childen of all ability.

Special educational needs does not necessarily imply below-average academic ability.  The most common SEND in all ISC schools (which include those outside England) is listed as 'dyslexia': 45.9% of all SEND pupils (see ISC census 2016 ).  A child labelled 'dyslexic' in a selective school would still be above-average academic ability.   That said, we don't know whether the ISC definition of SEND is the same as that for state schools.   DfE info re special needs pupils in England says 'Due to the changes in coverage and classification, it is not possible to produce a direct comparison with data prior to 2015.'  It might also not be possible to do a direct comparison between ISC schools and state schools.  

 CORRECTION 11.21   I originally wrote 'That said, the proportion of pupils at ISC schools with a Statement of Education and Health Care Plan is higher than the figure for English state schools (5% against 2.8%).'.    This was wrong.  I had misread the info in the ISC census.  It actually said '5% of all ISC SEND pupils' had a statement or EHC plans and NOT that 5% of all  ISC pupils had statements/EHC plans.  According to DfE data, 25.5% of all pupils in England with Statements/EHC plans are in state primaries; 25.3% in state secondaries, 42.9% in state special schools, 5.7% in independent schools and 1.6% in non-maintained special schools.

ian thompson's picture
Mon, 05/12/2016 - 13:54

I wasn't comparing ISC schools with state schools, that would be silly because the ISC doesn't collect results for all of its member schools and government data certainly takes no account of ISC membership status. I was referring to A level results for all independent schools and all state schools.

The independent sector as a whole is clearly not academically selective, pre-prep and preparatory schools take pupils with the means to pay and there is an independent school somewhere for every aptitude. Senior schools on the whole are no different, between them they demonstrate different levels of academic selectivity but no pupil is put in the position of being unable to find a suitable independent school having reached the age of 11 or 13. At sixteen a second round of academic selection takes place in the independent sector but pupil numbers continue to increase in each year group, again there is a place in an independent school for every pupil even though for a minority a change of school within the sector is necessary. Contrast that with the state sector where only 60% are selected for sixth form; by sixth form state schools have been substantially more selective than independent schools but that is not reflected in their results.

This widely held notion, that independent schools are selective and state schools are not, is quite simply wrong.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 05/12/2016 - 16:14

Not sure where the figure that only 60% of state pupils are selected for sixth form comes from.  I would have thought the number was less than that becaused (a) the state sector educates pupils of all ability and (b) only about 50% of state pupils achieve 5 GCSEs A*-C or equivalent including Maths and English which would allow them access to courses offering A levels.  There are other routes at 16+ which take pupils with or without 5 GCSEs A*-C.  If state school pupils are more likely to choose these other routes, it does not follow that the state sector is 'failing' at 16+ or somehow more selective.


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 05/12/2016 - 16:15

Re selection in state schools.  No state primary is selective.   No secondary state school is allowed to select all their pupils on academic ability except grammar schools.  Judged against ISC schools, the proportion of fully-selective state secondaries is far lower.   Non-association private schools are far less likely to be selective than ISC schools - I have never said otherwise.  It is fair, then, to compare non-association private schools with state schools (while comparing ISC state schools as a group with state schools is not comparing like with like).  And, as the article at the top makes clear: non-association private schools as a group are less likely to be judged as good or better.


ian thompson's picture
Tue, 06/12/2016 - 15:15

All state secondary schools that have sixth forms select their pupils on academic ability and in rejecting below average pupils they are significantly more exclusive than ISC schools which educate 84% of private pupils. So I think we are in agreement - comparing ISC schools as a group with state schools is not comparing like with like, but then you go one step further.

There are 1070 non-association private schools (compared to 1280 ISC schools) which educate the remaining 16% of pupils which if my sums are correct means that the average number of pupils per non-association school is only 92 and given that ISC schools are more selective it follows that you have selected the academic tail end of private pupils, in tiny schools that must be on the cusp of viability, as your comparison group for all state schools.

Nigel Ford's picture
Wed, 14/12/2016 - 19:46

Not sure that all state schools that have 6th forms do select by ability as many have Btec exams which are inferior to A' levels and would have no benchmark to entry.

Are you saying that even low performing ISC public schools allow pupils onto their A level courses if they have failed the GCSE exam? Surely not, so they are selective.

And the best performing public schools have a very high bar for entry to their 6th form.

If you want to compare like with like, look at the city of Durham, where the ISC public school of the eponymous name of the city compares quite a bit less favourably than the comp, Durham Johnston, on 2015 A level results, despite having similar entry criteria for their 6th forms. In fact the public school has a slightly higher bar. And you have to pay at least 15K a year for the privilege whereas the comp is free!!

Get out of that, Red boy.

Ellen Mukwewa's picture
Wed, 10/04/2019 - 17:26

Hello Janet. My comments are about the article -Non-association private schools less likely to be good or better than state schools.
I recently wrote an article about the same topic on LinkedIn, I would love to discuss this with you but I thought I'd share my thoughts first. Please find my article here:

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 11/04/2019 - 08:39

Thanks to the link to your article.  The latest data, as your article points out, shows non-association independent schools are less likely to be judged outstanding than state-funded schools.  Safeguarding seems to be the dominant trigger for being found wanting by Ofsted.  However, it should be noted that association independent schools (ie those inspected by ISI) are also failing FCI/EQI and Regulatory Compliance insections.  A list of warning letters sent to independent schools (not-association and association) by the DfE is here.



Ellen Mukwewa's picture
Thu, 11/04/2019 - 08:58

Hi Janet. Thanks for your response. I don't disagree with your comment about the inspection outcomes and I am aware of the warning letters sent to independent schools because I work with schools who have received these letters to help them bounce back. Where we see things differently is the reason for the difference in the outcomes. The difference in inspection outcomes between state funded and independent schools - and here I am only talking about those inspected by Ofsted because I have not looked at the others - is not because the independent schools are inherently bad, it is because they are not inspected using the same rules - despite the existence of a common inspection framework. Independent Schools also have to comply with the Independent School Standards and this requirement has been integrated into the Ofsted grading criteria for non- association independent schools. Read the first line of the grading criteria for "outstanding", "good" and "requires improvement" in the Overall Effectiveness judgment on pages 34 & 34 of the inspection handbook for non-association independent schools. If a school fails to comply with any of the 34 additional regulations that state-funded schools don't have to worry about - they will most certainly get a grade 3 or below during inspection. It is all about the standards and safeguarding which you mentioned above is included in these standards. I am essentially saying we cannot compare the inspection outcomes of state funded schools and non-association independent schools because they are not inspected using the same rules.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 11/04/2019 - 09:24

I've been aware of the difference between ISI inspection gradings and Ofsted gradings.  ISI Grade 3 is 'sound' whereas Ofsted Grade 3 is requires improvement (what a difference this description makes).

I admit I haven't compared the different frameworks in detail.   That's because, as far as I'm aware, independent school standards also apply in part to academies and free schools (which are technically 'independent' schools funded by the state).  See here



Ellen Mukwewa's picture
Thu, 11/04/2019 - 09:04

Sorry Janet. I forgot to add the link to the document I refer to in my comment above. Here it is:

Ellen Mukwewa's picture
Thu, 11/04/2019 - 09:46

You are right, the description makes a world of difference. Also, I was not aware that academies and free schools have to comply with parts of the standards - thanks for the link.
It's been great to talk to you Janet, I haven't come across a lot of people who are interested in this topic.

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