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The world must not go independent crazy, says Ofsted chief

Ofsted's chief schools inspector has suggested that countries should not get carried away with making state schools independent.

Christine Gilbert spoke positively about academies at The Education Project conference in Bahrain, saying that the fact 11 of the 43 inspected in the last year were "outstanding" and ten "good" showed there was "something really significant happening here". However, she stressed that the qualities of the best academies - including a focus on teaching and strong leadership - could be found in other good schools.

"It isn't the independence of the provider that is making a difference," she said.

Ms Gilbert shared the platform with representatives from three independent education groups working in the US - KIPP, Aspire and Green Dot - and Ralph Tabberer, previously director general of schools at the Department for Education, now chief schools officer for the profit-making company GEMS, headquartered in the United Arab Emirates.

The debate asked whether the private-sector approach to education could deliver better outcomes than the public sector.

Mr Tabberer, also previously chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, said: "The most important thing of all the freedoms of not working in the public sector is the ability to concentrate on the customers - the parents and the students."

He stressed that the private sector had to reassure people that it would not abandon poorer communities if it was to have a greater role.

However, Ms Gilbert warned that treating parents as customers could give advantages to the middle classes, noting that the intake of some academies had already changed as they had attracted more affluent parents.

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