In most countries, education is a government-provided requirement for children up to a certain age. Parents can usually elect to send their children to private schools instead of sending them to government-sponsored public schools. Most of the time, private schools must be accredited to be considered a legitimate alternative to public school. Government-recognized accreditation is the most important, but other regional or organization-based accreditations are also usually available. The type of private school accreditation a school receives depends in part on its location and the accreditation bodies available, but also on the nature of the school and the overall quality of education that is provided there.
The main point of private school accreditation is to prove through some objective means that the education provided behind the walls meets or exceeds national standards. If parents are going to pay to send their child to a private school, they generally want some tangible assurance that the education their child will receive is as good or better than they would get at a public school. The government also has an interest in assuring the quality of private education. The quality of education is usually a matter of some national import, and governments typically require proof that a private option is at least equivalent to a state education before allowing a child to opt-out of public education.
Most private school accreditation is provided through independent accreditation bodies or private school accreditation agencies. These groups are usually made up of consortiums of similarly-situated private schools. The schools in many respects police each other, keeping each other accountable for maintaining high standards. Getting accreditation usually requires participation in these accreditation groups, and prolonged adherence to the accreditation standards.
Independent accreditation bodies typically seek government recognition of their efforts. National governments rarely accredit private schools themselves, but they often will recognize certain independent accreditation bodies, so long as the bodies meet certain standards. The required standards to be an accredited private school typically revolve around curriculum, quality of faculty, hours of class time, and average standardized test scores, among other things.
A private school at the elementary or secondary level must usually be accredited by a government-recognized accreditation body in order to market itself as a viable alternative to public school. Other kinds of accreditation exist, however. If the private school is religiously affiliated, it may also be accredited by a church or diocese, for instance. Some states and cities also have accreditation bodies that will accredit select schools. The accreditation requirements for these so-called “specialty” groups vary, and the ultimate award or rejection of accreditation usually stands independent of whether the school is recognized by the state as providing an acceptable education.
Private school accreditation is also available for private colleges and universities at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Because university-level education is not a national requirement of any country, governments typically are not as involved in higher education accreditation as they are for elementary and secondary school accreditation. Still, most governments are interested in assuring that private colleges and universities operating within their borders are providing certain minimum levels of education. As a result, governments will often work with the private school accreditation bodies governing private colleges and universities to help them set standards and enforce minimum requirements.