£45k-a-year private school warned over 'serious regulatory failings'

A private school that charges over £45,000 a year has been warned it could be closed down by the government unless it provides an updated improvement plan to address “serious regulatory failings”.

The National Mathematics and Science College, which opened in Coventry in 2016, has been accused of failing to respond to repeated attempts to make contact by the Department for Education in a warning notice, published today.

According to its website, the school focuses on science, technology, engineering and maths for pupils aged between 15 and 19 who “wish to gain places in the world’s leading universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and top Russell Group universities”.

Fees for this academic year stand at £45,900 for boarding pupils – which is more expensive than Eton College – and £29,505 for day pupils. Although the school has capacity for 200 pupils, it had just 36 on roll in October.

In April 2018, census figures showed the average fees for attending a private secondary school as a day pupil are around £15,000 a year, or £33,000 for a boarder.

The National Mathematics and Science College was inspected by Ofsted in May last year and rated ‘requires improvement’ overall, despite being judged to be ‘good’ in every category apart from effectiveness of leadership and management which required improvement.

The report said that some student admissions had not been completed in line with DfE guidance, with one pupil exceeding the registered age range at the time of inspection, but was complimentary about teaching, pupil outcomes and improvements made by the new leadership.

However, inspectors said the school did not meet all the national minimum standards of boarding, including the safe and secure storage of medicines and ensuring there can be no unauthorised access to boarding accommodation.

The DfE’s warning notice said Ofsted’s findings amount to “serious regulatory failings” and that the action plan submitted by the school in June 2018 to show how it would improve “was not deemed acceptable by Ofsted”.

“The department has since contacted you on a number of occasions requesting a new action plan and photographic evidence to demonstrate the actions you had proposed had been carried out. The department has not received any response from you,” the notice said.

The notice, which was sent on February 13, said the DfE must receive an updated action plan by March 13. If it does not, or if the action plan is still not accepted, the school could be removed from the register of independent schools – forcing it to close – or could face restrictions to its operations.

Antonia Giovanazzi, principal of the National Mathematics and Science College, said: “We have been working closely with both Ofsted and the DFE to ensure the revised plan and the actions within it, which we completed in February 2019, will fully comply with the national minimum standards for boarding.”

Included in the other schools warned for failing to meet independent school standards or national minimum standards for boarding were Worth School in west Sussex, which charges up to £33,690 a year for boarding in its senior school, Michael House School, a Steiner Waldorf school in Derbyshire which charges up to £7,000 a year for day pupils and Sunningdale School in Berkshire, which charges boarding fees of £29,700 a year for international pupils and £25,200 for UK pupils.