Keith Marrow, Headmaster at The Elms Junior School, fears that independent schools will be ‘pressured into becoming more like maintained schools’. Mr Marrow believes the very essence of independent education would be under severe threat if the Government changes the current inspection framework of the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and brings it into line with that used by Ofsted.
ISI currently carries out the inspections for more than 1,200 member schools, including The Elms and its senior school Trent College. An independent, not-for-profit body, it considers all elements of school life, including curricular, pastoral and pupils’ personal development.
However, after the Education Secretary, Michael Gove said Ofsted should have direct responsibility for all schools in England, including independent schools, Mr Marrow, himself an ISI inspector and former Ofsted inspector, said: “I have some major concerns about handing over the inspection of independent schools to a government body.
“My fear is that, in order to get a good ‘Ofsted’ report, independent schools would be pressured into becoming more like maintained schools… re-introducing SATS, narrowing the curriculum to focus on maths and English almost exclusively at primary level, dumb down the teaching of non-core subjects and be forced to adopt the national curriculum rather than invent their own.
“Ofsted is overwhelmingly concerned with data, rather than observing lessons, and measures all schools by the same yardstick. Independent schools, by their very nature, are diverse in the way they organise learning and adapt the curriculum to suit the needs of pupils in the school.
“Why, when the independent system is going so well, has weathered the economic downturn and is a world class British success, is the Education Secretary seeking to mend something which isn’t broken?
“And why, when maintained schools and unions are calling for Ofsted to become more like ISI, is the Government proposing that ISI becomes more like Ofsted? Surely we should seek to raise the bar and not adopt the lowest common denominator?”
Mr Morrow cited further concerns of political interference, particularly schools being visited by inspectors who do not fully understand the independent school culture, or “worst still, be ideologically opposed to it”. He also believes such a move could lead to a talent drain from the national schools’ inspectorate, leading to falling standards.
He added: “The inspectors who work for ISI are experienced serving or former Heads, many are drawn from Ofsted or have been former inspectors. All have had and receive constant training in new regulations.
“The major focus of ISI inspections isn’t to study league tables and SATS, which many independent schools do not participate in, but to gain first hand evidence from talking to staff, pupils and observing a cross section of lessons.
“By inspecting independent schools in the same way as maintained schools, we will lose a great deal of knowledge and experience from serving Heads on inspection teams, and end up with short, bland reports that do little to inform parents about the strengths and weaknesses of a school, and even less in helping that school improve.”