Ministers move on bad private schools

Biddy Passmore

A CLAMPDOWN on bad independent schools is the other side of the Government's determination to work with the private sector to raise standards.

This was made clear by Estelle Morris, school standards minister, in her speech to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference in Jersey last week.

She said the Government was reviewing both the registration and the monitoring of independent schools, unchanged since the 1944 Education Act. And she said the Office for Standards in Education would have more time to inspect weak independent schools now that the Government has approved arrangements for leading independent schools to run their own inspection regime, within an agreed framework.

"Good schools ... need have nothing to fear from our consultation proposals, " she told the HMC's annual conference. "It is in all our interests to allow schools which let down the profession to be tackled about underachieve-ment and poor provision."

Ministers want to get a grip on standards in the 1,000 schools that are not members of any of the five school associations that belong to the Independent Schools Councils.

They are looking at ways of strengthening inspection arrangements for these non-ISC members, Ms Morris said. They also want to take into account the recommendations on boarding education made by Sir William Utting.

The review will also look at procedures for dealing with failing independent schools. At present, the Education Secretary issues a "notice of complaint" and the school then has six months to show improvement, compared with 40 days for a failing state school. Ministers will be consulting on the proposals this autumn.

Good independent schools, meanwhile, will shortly be able to apply for funds under a Pounds 1 million, two-year scheme to promote links with the state sector. Announcing the money, Ms Morris said the Government wanted to encourage longer-term projects and to give money not just to schools but also to national and regional organisations who wished to act as "partnership pathfinders".

The Government has accepted all recommendations in Building Bridges, a report from its advisory group on partnerships between state and independent schools.

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Biddy Passmore

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