The decline in inspection outcomes for non-association, non-special independent schools during the academic year 2016/17 ‘has been quite stark’, says Ofsted.
Non-association fee-paying schools are those which are not members of the Independent Schools Council. There were 1,080 open non-association independent schools in England on 31 August 2017 and Ofsted has inspected 977 of them.
The proportion of non-association fee-paying schools judged good or outstanding has dropped by four percentage points since 31 August 2016. 68% of all non-association private schools were good or outstanding at their most recent inspection. Compare this with a figure of 89% for state schools in England.
Around two-fifths of non-association schools are special schools. These special schools, Ofsted says, perform ‘more strongly than other independent schools’. 78% of non-association special schools are now good or better – the proportion has improved by four percentage points since 2014.
But this trend of improvement is not shared by other non-association private schools – the proportion of other non-association private schools judged good or outstanding has fallen from 79% in 2014 to 60%.
Worse, 19% of other non-association fee-paying schools were inadequate at their most recent inspection.
If that weren’t bad enough, over half of non-association fee-paying schools inspected in 2016/17 were less than good.
I wrote yesterday about how attending a private school, even a low-cost one, conferred a ‘cachet’ according to the Economist. Yet this prestige seems misplaced when judged by Ofsted results of non-association private schools.
It would be unfair, however, to tar all non-association fee-paying schools with the same brush. 68% are still good or better. It would be dishonest to shriek the private sector is ‘broken’ in the same way as pundits, politicians and sections of the press have claimed the entire state sector in England is ‘broken’.
That’s not to say everything is wonderful in England’s state education system. It isn’t. The excessive emphasis on exam results squeezes out subjects and skills which don’t count much in league tables. English pupils are among the most-tested in the world. There’s a funding crisis and a teacher recruitment and retention crisis.
But these problems would be best solved by funding schools appropriately, paying teachers adequately, scrapping mandatory tests with no educational value and allowing teachers to use their professionalism instead of being directed by the prejudices of politicians. These steps would do more to improve education in England than proposals to set up chains of bargain basement fee-paying schools or establishing a ‘special fund’ to increase selection at age 11.