Notices to failing private schools to be made public by government

Notices to failing private schools to be made public by government

Damning improvement notices for dozens of failing private schools will now be published online by the government, a year after Schools Week first requested and revealed the figures.

The disclosure comes as new figures show the number of independent schools rapped for poor performance is increasing.

The government said publishing statutory improvement notices issued to private schools was part of a new transparency drive.

But the number of notices throws a shadow on the government’s insistence that private schools should sponsor state schools to drive up standards.

Melissa Benn (pictured), founder of the Local Schools Network campaign group, said: “When will the government ditch this faulty policy and provide public education with what it really needs, including proper investment?”

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that 131 improvement notices were issued to independent schools between January 1 and the end of November last year (when Schools Week submitted the information request). That compares with 120 issued in the 2015 calendar year.

131 improvement notices were issued to independent schools between January 1 and the end of November last year

Notices are issued when there has been a “substantial number of regulatory failures”, including health and safety, education provision and safeguarding – and schools can be closed if they fail to act.

Some private schools failed to meet as many as seven different regulations – however, Schools Week could not analyse all the notices for further details as the Department for Education (DfE) refused to release those sent in 2016.

Instead the government said that this month it would start to publish all notices, including those issued last year, on the .gov.uk website.

Private schools are supposed to publish the notices on their websites, but a previous investigation by Schools Week uncovered that many did not.

Benn said the move towards greater openness should be welcomed. “Any institution that is in charge of the education and welfare of young people must be subject to appropriate inspection and, whatever the status of the school, the public has a right to know how well it meets its responsibilities.”

Improvement notices issued this academic year, according to the DfE figures, include the Brockhurst and Marlst

on House twin schools, in Berkshire, which charge up to £7,775 per term and have an 18th-century chateau in south-west France that pupils visit each year.

St Hugh’s school, in Lincolnshire, which charges up to £6,500 for boarding pupils, was also issued a notice. Neither school  responded to requests for comment.

Other schools handed notices in the 2015-16 academic year include the highly coveted Royal Ballet School in west London, and Hill House school in central London, once attended by Prince Charles.

A spokesperson for the Independent Schools Council (ISC) said just 2 per cent of its members received notices last year, but said they were taken “extremely seriously”, Schools responded quickly “to demonstrate the steps they will take to become fully compliant as soon as possible”.

The ISC includes half of the country’s private schools that educate around 80 per  cent of all independent school pupils.

The spokesperson said notices were an important quality assurance and having the information “freely available online” was a “valuable addition to transparency”.

“It will also be useful for the schools to be able to demonstrate reasons for compliance issues, which may be procedural and quickly rectified.”

The DfE said publication was in the interests of transparency so notices were easily available to the public.

ISC chairman Barnaby Lenon (pictured above) has previously said the independent sector did not see itself as “hero knights coming into save state schools”.

Commenting on the government’s plan to force private schools into sponsorship of academies, he said private schools should work in consortiums with their state counterparts to “give expertise where we are experts”.