Education Regulations: How Can Independent Schools Practice Compliance?

Fee-charging independent schools don’t act under the supervision of governmental authority, meaning they’re exempt from a lot of the obligations state schools must follow. However, they must still abide by a number of regulations. For example, the first regulation an independent school must comply with is to register with the Secretary of State for Education. 

So how can independent schools practise compliance within their day-to-day running?

Please note: This list of guidance is non-exhaustive. For more information, you can explore the UK Government’s Independent School Standards.

Curriculum Requirements

Independent schools aren't required to teach the national curriculum, but they do need to have a full-time, comprehensive curriculum in place. Each school must cover the following areas:

  • Linguistics.
  • Mathematics.
  • Science.
  • Technology.
  • Human and social.
  • Physical.
  • Aesthetic and creative.

Independent schools are also required to plan and strategise for the development of pupils’ ‘spiritual, moral and cultural awareness’. This is known as meeting the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) development standard. 

For example, the SMSC development standard is set out in part as:

(i) enable pupils to develop their self-knowledge, self-esteem and self-confidence;

(ii) enable pupils to distinguish right from wrong and to respect the civil and criminal law of England;

(iii) encourage pupils to accept responsibility for their behaviour, show initiative and understand how they can contribute positively to the lives of those living and working in the locality in which the school is situated and to society more widely;

(iv) enable pupils to acquire a broad general knowledge of and respect for public institutions and services in England;

In terms of Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), independent school regulations don't require schools to teach those subjects. If they choose to do so, they're required to teach to the framework provided by the Sex and Relationship Education Guidance.

Charitable Status

Under the Charities Act 2011, independent schools are defined with charitable status, as the advancement of education is deemed a charitable purpose. However, institutions must demonstrate they are for the public benefit to receive this status. Although, at this point in time, there's no statutory definition of what this entails.

This is also a highly contentious issue. In 2016, the UK government published the ‘Schools that work for everyone’ consultation which considered excluding independent schools from meeting the definitions of charitable status. The charitable status ruling was recently ended for independent schools in Scotland. 

Special Educational Needs Compliance

Local authorities are required to provide support for any child or young person with special educational needs (SEN). Independent schools can be ‘named’ within a child’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan, but only if that school has been deemed suitable by local authorities. However, it's rare that this would happen because it would usually pass to state provision. 

In such rare occasions, the local authority would meet the cost of any fees, including boarding and lodging where relevant. 

Disability Discrimination Compliance

All schools, whether private or state-owned, are subject to the Equality Act 2010. Independent schools must not exclude any admissions based on disability grounds. Some independent schools do have selective admissions processes, however, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has stated:

"A school that is using a permitted form of selection is not discriminating by applying this form of selection to disabled children who apply for admission, provided that it complies with its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled applicants during the assessment process."

Independent school regulations also require institutions to make it easy for disabled students to access services and support. 

Complaints Procedure

All independent schools must have a developed and easily accessible complaints procedure, which is set out in three stages:

  • Informal complaint.
  • Formal written complaint.
  • A panel hearing if the complainant isn't satisfied.

For more information, explore our blog ‘Independent Schools Regulations: The Breakdown’, which details guidance for independent school regulations in more depth. 

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