But their scholarship is good, their lessons well planned and their results impressive. About half the boys perform above their capability and examination results are very good by national standards and often better than would be expected from the range of pupils' ability.
The behaviour of the 1,284 pupils is described as "outstandingly good", with courteous relationships between staff and pupils, creating "an ethos which is highly supportive of teaching and learning".
The inspection of Britain's most famous school, founded in 1440, was carried out under the self-inspection regime of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. Led by a retired HMI, the inspectors included heads and senior teachers from other leading public schools.
In the best classes, the inspectors found pace, variety and the active engagement of pupils to be of a high order. In the majority, however, "strong expository teaching" was "widespread" but other methods were less often used.
In modern languages, for instance, the inspectors say teachers limit the opportunity to improve speaking skills by using too much English and are also too dominant, reducing pupils' role to reaction. They suggest this could be because only two of the 20 members of the department have had initial training in teaching modern languages.
The report recommends in-service training in teaching methods and says Eton is well placed to provide the training from the examples of excellent teaching within it.
The inspectors also recommend that the school reconsider the way the curriculum is arranged in the first three years at the 13-18 school, which cuts out geography completely in the first year.
On the whole, however, the report is highly complimentary. It says the house system at the pound;15,000-a-year boarding school is impressive, with housemasters "immensely caring and knowledgeable about their charges". It praises the high quality of the senior management, under the leadership of the head, John Lewis. It praises the "at times bewildering" choice of extra-curricular activities and the high standards achieved in music, drama and art.
And it shows clearly how far the school has moved from the bad old days of flogging, fagging and brutality of senior boys towards junior. "This is a civilised community of pupils who respect one another's independence and live together equitably," the report says. "Pupils generally feel secure in school and have confidence that any incidence of bullying is dealt with swiftly and effectively."