New Independent School Standards come into force

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The Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 (ISSR) came into force on 5 January 2015 replacing the previous regulations.  The ISSR apply to academies and independent schools.  Below is a summary of the key changes:

Part 1 – Quality of education provided

Following significant lobbying from the independent sector, the ISSR does not include the previously proposed provisions benchmarking against national norms and standards.  Part 1 therefore remains largely unchanged.  There are, however, new requirements that a school’s curriculum and teaching must:

  • have particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010;
  • provide effective preparation for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life in British society; and
  • not undermine the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.

Over the past six months Ofsted has published a number of reports expressly criticising schools’ teaching and promotion of British values.

Part 2 – Spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils

School proprietors are now required to actively promote fundamental British values; encourage respect for other people, having particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010; and to encourage respect for democracy, support for participation in the democratic process and the basis on which the law is made and applied in England.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published guidance for maintained schools on the new requirement to promote British values as part of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

Part 3 – Welfare, health and safety of pupils

The proprietor must now also ensure that the welfare of pupils at the School is safeguarded and promoted by “the drawing up and effective implementation of a written risk assessment policy” and that appropriate action is taken to reduce any risks identified.

In our view this goes beyond merely what is required for the purposes of health and safety legislation.  Reference to risk assessment should be made not only in the school’s health and safety policy but also in its safeguarding policy.  Furthermore, as a matter of good practice, we recommend that schools review their risk management policy to demonstrate how the proprietor meets its legal obligation to manage risk effectively.  This policy should include the governors’ approach to the identification of the major health and safety risks and safeguarding risks at the school and how the governors make decisions about addressing those risks.  This is also relevant for Part 8 of the ISSR (see below).

Part 4 – Suitability of staff, supply staff and proprietors

Part 4 contains a number of detailed changes:

  1. It seems that DBS disclosures are now only required on staff, supply staff and proprietors if they are or will be engaging in “regulated activity” under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (as amended).
  2. Teacher prohibition checks are now explicitly mentioned in the ISSRs, but it is not clear from when a school should have been carrying out these checks.
  3. Part 4 contemplates checks for directions made under section 128 of the Education and Skills Act 2008 but there appears to be no mechanism for such checks to be completed on staff not in regulated activity.

Part 6 – Provision of information

The school’s first aid policy and previous inspection report have been added to the list of documents and information that must be made available to parents of pupils and prospective pupils.  In addition, certain regulatory acts must also be published on the School’s website.  These include:

  1. any decision of the Secretary of State or order of a justice of the peace to remove the school from the register of independent schools under the Education and Skills Act 2008; or
  2. any decision of the Secretary of State to impose a restriction on the proprietor under section 116 of the Education and Skills Act 2008.

At the same time it is no longer necessary for schools to provide information about the number of staff at the school or a summary of their qualifications.

Part 7 – Manner in which complaints are handled

Schools are no longer required to keep a record of all complaints received.  It is now only necessary to keep a record of those dealt with at the formal complaints stage.

Please note that a school’s complaints policy should also be drafted sufficiently widely to include not merely formal “complaints” but also parental “concerns” or any matter about which a parent is dissatisfied and seeks remedial action by the school.

Part 8 – Quality of leadership in and management of schools

Part 8 is new.  The requirement is that a school proprietor must ensure that the leadership and management team demonstrate good skills and knowledge; fulfill their responsibility effectively; and actively promote the well-being of pupils.  The reference to “governance” which appeared in the proposed regulations has been removed.

If you would like more information, please contact Chris Hook on 0191 211 7929.