The Department for Education is the regulator for independent schools in England and sets the Independent School Standards (ISS) that registered schools must meet, including those in the important area of safeguarding. The department commissions Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) to carry out inspections of registered schools on a regular cycle to assess their compliance with the ISS. Where an inspection finds that a school has not met the ISS, the department may issue a statutory notice requiring an action plan to bring about rapid improvement. It also has powers to take enforcement action. Enforcement action is the strongest step the department can take to achieve compliance with the ISS. This can take one of two forms. The department can either impose a ‘relevant restriction’ on the proprietor of the school, or where appropriate, remove a school from the register of independent schools. This has the effect of requiring it to cease operating as a school.
There are approximately 2,500 registered independent schools in England of which, 143 are currently failing to meet the legal requirements set out in the ISS. Of the 143 schools, 135 are in regulatory action and the remaining 8 are under enforcement action.
It is a criminal offence under section 96 of the Education and Skills Act 2008 to conduct an unregistered independent school. All unregistered schools are unsafe since they are not regulated or subject to regular inspection against agreed standards. The department and Ofsted continue to investigate schools believed to be operating as unregistered schools. As set out in section 97 of the Education and Skills Act 2008, Ofsted can carry out inspections without notice where it has reasonable cause to believe that an unregistered school is being operated on the premises. Evidence gathered through these investigations is used to support the prosecution of those responsible for running such schools.
The department has committed to introducing legislation to bring measures to make it easier for Ofsted to investigate and gather evidence of breaches of section 96 of the 2008 Act and prosecute those responsible for running unregistered schools.