The Government is close to recognising the schemes set up by independent schools as their answer to the inspections carried out by the Office for Standards in Inspection.
Chris Woodhead, chief inspector and head of OFSTED, said he would be recommending recognition to David Blunkett, the Education Secretary. Negotiations about two requirements - that the lead inspector be independent of the schools being inspected and that reports be published - were close to being resolved, he said.
Recognition of the inspection systems set up by the independent school associations would mean that OFSTED could rely on them to carry out a regular cycle of inspections every six years. OFSTED itself would then only have to inspect those independent schools that did not belong to any of the major associations. At present, it has a duty to inspect all schools, including independents, but does not have the resources to do so.
There are two inspection systems currently operating in the independent sector. One was set up by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and mainly covers the major boys' public schools.
The other is called Accreditation, Review and Consultancy Service and is used by the other main associations such as the Girls' Schools' Association and the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools. The associations hope to merge the two systems within a year.