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Independent Schools QA Information

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An independent school is defined as any school at which full time education is provided for five or more pupils of compulsory school age, or one or more such pupils with an EHC plan or a statement of special educational needs or who is “looked after” by the local authority and is not a school maintained by a local authority or a non-maintained special school.

A child is “looked after by a local authority” if he or she is in its care or is provided with accommodation for a continuous period of more than 24 hours by the authority under certain of its social services functions (see section 22 of the Children Act 1989).

If your establishment falls outside the definition of an independent school given above, it cannot be registered with the department as an independent school. However, local authorities will need to be satisfied that children of compulsory school age who are attending your establishment are receiving full-time education suitable to their age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs they may have, including any provision being made in parallel to that in your establishment. It is an offence to operate an unregistered independent school, and anyone who does so is liable on summary conviction to a fine and/or imprisonment.

Full-time education

There is no legal definition of ‘full time’. However, we would consider an institution to be providing full-time education if it is intended to provide, or does provide, all, or substantially all, of a child’s education. Relevant factors in determining whether education is full-time include:

a) the number of hours per week that is provided - including breaks and independent study time;

b) the number of weeks in the academic term year the education is provided;

c) the time of day it is provided;

d) whether the education provision in practice precludes the possibility that full-time education could be provided elsewhere.

Generally, we consider any institution that is operating during the day, for more than 18 hours per week, to be providing full-time education.

This is because the education being provided is taking up the substantial part of the week in which it can be reasonably expected a child can be educated, and therefore indicates that the education provided is the main source of education for that child. Ofsted may inspect an institution it reasonably considers is operating as an unregistered independent school. In such cases, Ofsted will assess whether the school meets the definition of an independent school, which will include assessing whether or not the school is intending to provide, or is providing, all or substantially all of a child’s education.

Education for 16-19 year olds

An independent school that provides solely for students over compulsory school age does not need to register with the department. The department does not exercise any direct statutory control over the independent sector of further and higher education, nor is that sector governed by regulations applying to maintained or assisted further and higher education institutions. Establishments that cater for five or more compulsory school age pupils, or one or more such pupils with a statement of special educational needs, or who is looked after, as well as those over the age of 16 will however be required to register as an independent school.

Special Educational Needs

There is no legal definition of an ‘independent special school’, although that title is sometimes used for around 500 independent schools which have described themselves as being specially organised to cater for children with SEN. The application form for registration asks whether the school is to be specially organised in this way, and this is recorded on Edubase, which constitutes the Register of Independent Schools


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