Control of Private Schools in England

MT 60 Years Ago —

2nd Year – No 70 – Friday 9th December 1955 —

As the Mauritius Times of November 18 related, there exists provision in the Education Act of 1944 for strict Government supervision over all private schools in England and Wales. Unfortunately the detailed provisions in the sections of the Act quoted in the issue referred to come in Part III of the Act, and this Part has not yet been put into operation although the Act was passed in 1944 and certain other Parts have been operated on. However, thanks to pressure from the Labour benches in the last few years, Part III is to be put into effect in 1957, and the relevant department of the Ministry of Education is preparing for the extra work that the administration of this Part will, at first, inevitably involve.

Certain causes célèbres involving private schools in the last few years have spotlighted public opinion on unsatisfactory schools. In some cases the press has helped by exposing bogus head or assistant teachers, who lacked qualifications to teach, yet were passing themselves off as highly qualified men. Only recently, the Sunday Pictorial exposed as an impostor the headmaster of two private schools in Forest Hill, London; in the summer, the same paper exposed the activities of another bogus headmaster. Then there are those teachers whose presence in schools exposes the pupils — especially if they are boys – to grave moral danger: there have been several such cases in the last three years. All this has made imperative the operation of Part III of the 1944 Education Act — in the children’s interests, not simply for the sake of having government supervision of all schools.

Meanwhile there is, however, a means whereby a measure of Government control can be exercised over private schools here. First, however, let me say that anyone in England and Wales can open a school; and in consequence, no one knows exactly how many private schools there are. The Ministry of Education estimates that there are some 5,200; and their statistics show that these schools must be attended by about 250,000 children. If the owner of a private school wishes, he can apply to the Ministry of Education for recognition. This means that a Ministry of Education inspector will visit the school and make a report on it. If the report (with certain other factors which I will refer to in a moment) is satisfactory, the school is classed as “recognised as efficient” and is said to have been granted recognition. Periodically the Ministry of Education publishes a list (List 70) of all schools retained; the latest edition appeared in November 1955 and contains some 1,300 schools.

The Minister of Education publishes the conditions upon which recognition of schools will be granted. They are known as Rules 16, a two-penny leaflet. “In order to be recognised as efficient, a school… must comply with any requirements of the Education Act, 1944… as may be applicable” begin the Rules. Paragraph 2 contains the meat of the Rules; the school must be kept on a satisfactory level of efficiency, taking into consideration the level of efficiency expected from a similar school, which is a state school. The teaching given must be “efficient and suitable and adequate in scope and character” and the number of pupils must be sufficient for economical and effective teaching. The teachers must be suitable, sufficient in number, and qualified to give adequate instruction. No teacher declared to be medically unsuitable to teach in a state school may be employed in a private school, nor may any teacher who has been declared unsuitable for teaching on grounds of misconduct or professional default. (This serves to protect the children from those gentry whose presence is a moral risk). The school accommodation, including (if it is a boarding school) the residential facilities, must be adequate, suitable and properly equipped.

When applying for recognition of his school as efficient, the private school headmaster must furnish, in respect of his school, certain documents, which will enable the Minister to decide if the premises are satisfactory. The local authority has to supply a report on the buildings, as well as a report by its sanitary inspector on the drainage and water supply. So a school may reach a satisfactory standard of instruction yet be refused recognition on the grounds that it has insufficient baths for the number of boarders or perhaps inadequate playing field facilities for the pupils. In fact, it is mainly on the grounds of deficient premises that most applications for recognition are turned down.

Recognition confers no direct financial benefit. No private school receives any money from public funds. The only benefit is that a school can say: ”We are recognised, therefore we achieve a certain academic and environmental standard.” It is the cachet of recognition, not the direct financial benefit, which many schools seek.

Although there is no compulsion on private schools to seek recognition, many do. Since there are 1,300 schools on List 70, it is obvious that private school proprietors in England and Wales do not resent the arm of the State stretching into their domain. Once a school has been recognised, moreover, it is thereafter subjected to regular inspection by the Ministry of Education and if it falls below the requisite standard, it may be removed from the list of recognised schools. At least every five years an inspection is liable to be carried out.

May I also clear up one point, which causes some misapprehension about education in England. There is no compulsion to send children to school. The compulsion is upon parents to ensure that their children receive a full-time and efficient education, suited to their age and ability, during the period of the compulsory school age that is from 5 to 15. Most parents send their children to school; but a number have them educated at home by a tutor or a governess or by correspondence lessons organised by the PNEU. But, if a school enquiry officer finds that a child is not at school, and his parents have not made arrangements for his education, then the parents are liable to court proceedings. It is also this requirement — that parent’s duty is to ensure that the child gets efficient education — which enables local authorities to have unsuitable private schools closed on the grounds that the pupils thereat are not getting efficient education. Therefore the court directs the parents to send the children to a school where efficient education will be given.

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