Small private schools are not failing Ofsted inspections because they refuse to teach British values, as the media has suggested, but because their leaders are often unqualified and don’t know how to improve teaching.
Ofsted is responsible for inspecting 1,080 non-association private schools, schools that don’t belong to a membership organisation like the Independent Schools Council, a role it took on two years ago after these schools’ poor performances became publicised.
But inspectors at a Westminster Education Forum event in London on Tuesday said that high-profile newspaper stories have too often focused on issues like gender equality.
Instead, data from inspections from the last academic year show only four per cent of non-associated private schools failed to meet pupils’ ‘spiritual, moral, social and cultural development’ which includes the requirement to teach fundamental British values.
These are the ones that really worry us. They are improving only slowly or not at all
Instead, inspectors generally single out leadership as the “real worry”.
Philippa Darley, specialist advisor at Ofsted for non-association private schools, said leaders are “not getting the basics” of good teaching right, mainly due to their “fundamental weaknesses in expertise”.
Many heads have no educational training or are not qualified teachers, she said.
The requirement for non-associated private schools to meet certain standards in teaching and learning was only introduced with a “more rigorous” inspection framework in 2015.
Since then, the proportion of private schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ has fallen from 75 per cent to 68 per cent.
This means the number of pupils educated in grade three or four provision has “more than doubled”, she said.
She was backed by Dr Peter Swift, the Department for Education’s head of independent education, who added that because parents were sometimes not supportive of changes, the schools took “a lot longer” to meet standards,
“These are the ones that really worry us,” he said. “They are improving only slowly or not at all.”
Dr Farid Panjwani, the director of the Centre for Research and Evaluation in Muslim Education at the UCL Institute of Education, welcomed the findings, since it overturned the view held by “certain parts of the press” that many small faith schools do not prioritise British values.
However, he said the lack of qualified heads was “deeply concerning”, and called for a requirement on those setting up private schools to demonstrate their experience before being allowed to do so.