UK private schools 'spoon-feeding'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 March, 2002, 12:00am

Britain's independent schools, highly prized by parents in Hong Kong, are described by their own guiding council as spoon-feeding children and limiting their ability to think for themselves.

This was a key finding in the first annual digest of inspection reports on schools in the Independent Schools Council (ISC), published last week. The council represents 1,270 schools, more than half of the UK's independent sector.

The number of Hong Kong students in private independent schools has leapt from 4,300 in 1997-1998 to 7,000 in the last academic year, according to British Council figures. Many parents cite rote-learning and exam pressures in Hong Kong's education system as major reasons for sending their children to board in the UK.

But the digest, by Tony Hubbard, director of the ISC's Independent Schools Inspectorate, reveals that the schools commonly use tactics for which schools here face regular criticism, and for the same reasons: to achieve high grades in examinations.

The digest, based on 200 regular inspections from 2000 to 2001, identifies a common theme in reports for both junior and senior schools. The pressure to achieve high grades in public examinations and tests is driving teachers to 'over-direct' their students, giving them insufficient opportunities or incentives to think for themselves, it says. League tables that rank schools based on exam results add to the pressure.

'Spoon-feeding works because examination and its marking, carefully moderated and published to be fair and predictable, can be reduced to a formula,' the ISC digest says. But spoon-feeding risks sapping some of British schools' traditional strengths, 'turning out young people able to be inventive, creative, independent-minded, even awkward', it adds. But it concludes that a large majority of schools in the ISC succeed in providing a 'broad and reasonably balanced education'. The schools are found to be particularly strong in personal development and extra-curricular activities, as well as in ancient and modern languages.

Standards in ISC schools were high, but given the advantages of many of the sector's pupils, they should be, writes Mr Hubbard.

Last summer, 53 per cent of GCSE entries from independent schools were awarded A* or A grades, compared with 16.1 per cent of all entries.

Meanwhile, the British Council in Hong Kong and the ISC are enticing more local families by offering six scholarships to SAR students aged nine to 15 to gain first-hand experience of boarding school life. The winners of the ISC International Jubilee Scholarship will in June join 90 winners from around the world for a one-month stay in a school. Applications, which close on April 4, are available on the British Council Web site