Private schools repeatedly fail school standards but stay open


Almost 200 small independent schools are still open despite repeatedly failing to reach Ofsted standards, according to new Schools Week analysis, suggesting the government needs to do more to intervene.

In the past three years, 190 non-associated private schools failed the independent school standards but stayed open, and 48 per cent are still open despite falling short twice or more. Just three have closed.

One school, Rabia Girls and Boys School in Luton, is still open despite seven separate failed inspections.

Non-associated independent schools are private schools which don’t have an umbrella organisation, including non-denominational faith schools and Steiner schools.

Around 20 per cent of the 1,081 non-associated independent schools in the country failed to meet the independent school standards since 2014-15, Ofsted data obtained by Schools Week shows.

But only three schools have actually been shut down in that time. The Department for Education issued six more with deregistration notices, but these were either all appealed or ignored after the school improved.

In fact, 30 per cent of the schools have failed twice in this time, while 13 per cent failed three times, six failed four times and three schools failed five or more times. Half of these are faith schools.

Dr Farid Panjwani, the director of the Centre for Research and Evaluation in Muslim Education at the UCL Institute of Education, said the figures show headteachers in small faith schools need more support to understand what the standards require, and that Ofsted’s idea of failure and the schools’ “might not be the same thing”.

Ofsted also needs to appreciate what the school is trying to do

“The school needs to be clearly informed what those standards are and what they mean,” he said. “Ofsted also needs to appreciate what the school is trying to do, and not make them feel particularly scrutinised”.

Muslim schools made up 50 per cent of failed faith schools, Christian schools 28 per cent, and Jewish schools 22 per cent.

Independent schools can fail across five main areas: safeguarding, health and safety; moral and social development of pupils; premises and accommodation; complaints procedures; and the quality of education, including teaching and the curriculum.

Schools Week analysis shows that the schools which did close were not necessarily even the ones which failed most frequently.

The Cornerstone School in Surrey, a Christian school, closed after just one inspection in 2015, which found pupils were “not open to the views” of others, leading the headteacher to step down and its doors to shut.

The King of Kings School in Manchester, however, has failed five times and is open even though it is still below the standards. The Centre Academy East Anglia, another Christian school, has failed four times and has similarly yet to close.

Ayasofia primary school in east London was thrown off the independent schools’ register in September last year after it fell below the standards four times, in part because its secular curriculum was “narrow and lacked depth”. The school appealed the decision, but a judge ruled it should close.

Two schools Jewish schools in north London, the Beis Aharon School and the Getters Talmud Torah School, are still open despite both failing five times, over an insufficiently broad curriculum and poor safeguarding checks on teachers respectively.

Jay Harman at Humanists UK accused the DfE of maintaining a “long-standing deference” to religious schools as a reason for inaction.

A department spokesperson claimed that regulatory action was taken against any school which did not comply with the independent school standards, but insisted that complete deregistration only occurred in a “small minority of cases”.

More than half of the schools which failed the standards at some point since 2014-15 still haven’t rectified their issues, according to their most recent Ofsted inspections.

A spokesperson for Ofsted said it was up to the DfE, as the registration authority for independent schools, to “decide what action to take once we have reported our inspection findings”.

The statistics

58% – independent schools that failed in the past three years which still don’t meet the standards

3 – non-associated independent schools closed by the DfE

62% – independent faith schools that failed in the past three years which still don’t meet the standards

18% – non-associated independent schools which failed the independent school standards since 2014-15

Rabia Girls’ and Boys’ school: The worst offender

The Rabia Girls’ and Boys’ School, an independent Islamic school in Luton, has failed the independent school standards seven times: first in 2014, then twice in 2015, twice more in 2016 and twice again this year – more than any other school in the country.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, former chief inspector of Ofsted, eventually wrote to the then-education secretary Nicky Morgan about the school last year, urging her to get tough.

Meanwhile the Charity Commission has been chasing the Rabia Educational Trust over late accounts since 2012 – eventually using its powers to get copies of its bank statements.

Despite this, the school appears to remain open with no notification of its closure, and its website is still up and running; it has also filed its most recent accounts.

During its inspections, Ofsted failed the school on a range of standards, including inadequate careers advice, lesson-planning, teaching British values, and provision for special needs pupils.

A particularly critical report two years ago noted that girls should not be limited to “knitting and sewing” in the design and technology curriculum.

The school did improve – an inspection nine months later found girls now had a science laboratory, and equal access to resources.

The report said the school only needed to make better safeguarding arrangements to meet the standards.

Schools like Rabia were actively undermining the independent schools standards

But sixth months later, it once more failed four standards and found that male and female staff were being separated during training sessions – prompting Sir Michael to write to Morgan and sparking national headlines.

He wrote that schools like Rabia were “actively undermining” the independent schools standards and urged Morgan to “further review the DfE guidance to independent schools on these matters”.

Throughout all of this, the Charity Commission has been chasing the school’s trust for persistently handing its accounts in late, as well as over governance, compliance and financial record-keeping issues.

When trustees did not comply with the commission, it had to use its powers to get hold of bank statement copies to build its case. The trust has since complied.

As of June, the commission has concluded the trust is now compliant on its accounts.

However the watchdog concluded that it is not satisfied “this is a charity capable of operating the school in a way which meets the independent school standards”.

In the school’s latest inspection, Ofsted found pupils still didn’t make enough progress and lessons were not well-planned in April. There is no evidence the school has been closed or issued with deregistration.

Schools Week has repeatedly contacted Rabia Girls’ and Boys’ School and the Rabia Educational Trust but the phone rings out and emails have not been responded to.

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  1. Mark Watson

    I wonder if the Editor of Schools Week actually reads the articles produced by her reporters. I think this is an excellent piece which makes some really serious points about the dangers of small independent schools falling through the cracks and children being systematically failed.
    But presumably all Laura McInerney did was read the headline before pushing out her “Too posh to fail” tweet. Does she really think The Rabia Girls’ and Boys’ School is posh? It does charge £650 a term so maybe she does. How about the Getters Talmud Torah School – that doesn’t charge fees at all. Is that posh?
    What a shame that a really serious subject is reduced to a class jibe by the Editor’s personal prejudices.

    • Eve Sacks

      For the Jewish schools anyway, the parents are often of limited means, and fees are generally only for those who can afford and even then they are very low compared to the fees at other private schools. The parents choose these schools as they don’t want their children to integrate into “non-Jewish” ie secular culture, and they don’t want them to be taught a broad and balanced curriculum. They wouldn’t be happy with maintained Orthodox schools such as Hasmonean or JFS either for much the same reason (broad and balanced curriculum and Jewish but secular pupils). These parents don’t care how many Ofsted inspections are failed.

      • Mark Watson

        You sound as though you are far more knowledgeable than me in this area, but without wishing to hijack your point I think it supports what I was saying. I see this as being a really serious problem with our education system, that parents with their own beliefs (and prejudices) force their children into these schools which often not only perpetuate and continue these prejudices but also seriously disadvantage the pupils. Over the weekend there was yet another article setting out what impact this has on the children:
        (And of course this is not limited to Jewish and Muslim schools. Yes they probably get the most publicity but I’m sure there are any number of Christian and other religious and non-religious problem schools.)