TEACHING is unsatisfactory in more than a third of registered independent special schools, despite fees of up to pound;175,000 a year, inspectors warned this week.
No reliable link was found between quality of education and fees, said the Office for Standards in Education, which based its findings on 56 inspections.
Inspectors said that the registered schools, used by local authorities only with the consent of the Government, were "generally successful" in improving pupils' attitudes to education. This is a considerable achievement given the extreme level of disturbance and disaffection among pupils, most of whom have emotional and behavioural problems.
However, more than a third of the schools had unsatisfactory teaching and leadership, and pupils' progress suffered as a result.
Inspectors noted that teachers were not always up-to-date with developments, and that many lacked awareness of the national curriculum and government strategies.
Ten per cent of the schools made unsatisfactory provision for pupils'
health and welfare and inspectors raised urgent health and safety issues on a third of their visits.
Ofsted also found no clear correlation between the quality of education and how much schools charged annually, which varied from pound;3,900 to pound;174,720.
On schools for pupils with dyslexia and dyspraxia, it said: "The schools judged to have the highest standards were those charging average level fees, and not those charging at the top of the range."
Registered schools account for most of the 210 independent special schools, the remaining 80 are "approved", which means local authorities can send pupils to them without government permission.
Schools become "approved" by applying to the Education Secretary if they meet a lengthy list of management and curriculum criteria, and undergo a successful inspection.
Rowie Shaw, chief executive of the National Association of Independent Schools and Non Maintained Special Schools, said that Ofsted's judgments about registered schools seemed accurate. She said that approved and non-maintained special schools tended to have significantly better teaching and leadership standards.
"Registered schools are often isolated from their peer group, the local authority, even isolated geographically, so it is hard for them to share good practice," she said.
"Independent schools for pupils with special educational needs: review of inspections 1999-2002" is available at www.ofsted.gov.uk