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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Executive discretion in regulating private schools in India: Evidence from Delhi

by Bhuvana Anand, Jayana Bedi, Prashant Narang, Ritika Shah and Tarini Sudhakar.

Students in India are increasingly switching to private schools. For 2017, U-DISE data shows that nearly 40% of students are enrolled in private schools. However, the growth in private schools has been sluggish; between 2012 and 2015, annual growth for private schools hovered around 3% and in 2016, dropped to 1.71% (U-DISE 2016-17).

State education departments play a critical role in the governance of private schools. They write and apply rules, recognise schools, conduct inspections, impose penalties, and resolve disputes. Despite this, there is little to no evidence on how they carry out these functions and their impact on the growth and quality of these schools.

We studied three regulatory touchpoints between the state and private schools -- licensing, inspections and fee regulation -- for Delhi, in a recent paper: Challenges of executive discretion in the regulation of private schools, by Anand et. al., in Anatomy of K-12 governance in India, Centre for Civil Society, 2019.

We used government administrative data, field observations and analysis of the regulatory framework. On close examination, we found instances of excesses in executive discretion. While necessary to an extent, the misuse of discretion can negatively affect public welfare: in this case, school, students and parents.
Discretion in state education departments vis-a-vis private schools appeared in the following forms:

  1. Overreach in the making of rules;
  2. Ad-hoc and arbitrary rule-making;
  3. Poor procedural fidelity and administrative opacity; and
  4. Opaque, inconsistent and subjective exercise of punitive measures.

For example, consider the function of inspection. The Private School Branch of the Directorate of Education is supposed to inspect all private schools every year but only 60 schools are inspected in a year. As we reviewed the approach to the few inspections that do happen, we found that the method does not fulfil the spirit of the Delhi School Education Act and Rules (DSEAR) 1973. Rule 192 states that every inspection of a private school should be “as objective as possible”. The inspection proforma, however, is populated with measures and constructs that cannot be measured objectively. One such question is: did the teacher ask “thought-provoking” and “well-distributed” questions? Not surprisingly, the interpretation of these terms and the recorded answers vary across inspectors and schools (Figure 1). Besides, it is not clear how constructs such as “proper blackboard summary” link to the quality of education.




These inspections are also not typically followed by punitive action. DSEAR 1973 allows the Director to take any action against a non-compliant school but no school has been de-recognised in the last five years in Delhi. While officials cited the fear of student displacement, schools pointed out that they often bribe officials.

What drives this subjective/opaque application of punitive measures? What are the standards of quality? Do the standards adequately measure what they intend to do? What is the consequence of this on schools and quality of education? Where does a school go for appeal? Our research raises questions on the functioning of the state department—pertinent to any debate on education reform. We argue that there is a need for administrative reform and that the coercive power of government on private action ought to be within the constraints of law, guided discretion and due process.


The authors are researchers at the Centre from Civil Society. This paper was presented at the APU-NIPFP workshop Strengthening the Republic #1, January 11, 2020.

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