Independent schools are schools that are not funded or controlled by central government and local authority; instead they are funded by way of tuition fees, donations and investments. Independent schools are also known as private schools and public schools. The latter is an outdated term which is typically used to refer to the most prestigious independent schools.
Types of independent schools
Boarding schools/Day schools
A boarding school is an independent school which provides facilities for pupils to live in the school on a weekly, termly or flexible basis.
A day school is an independent school which does not offer boarding facilities to pupils.
There are independent schools which can accept both boarding and day pupils.
A prep school, also known as junior school, prepares children for entry into independent secondary schools (senior school). Pre-prep schools are for children aged 3 to 7/8 and prep schools are for children aged 7 to 11-13.
All parents under Section 7 of The Education Act 1996 must provide and secure education for children who are of compulsory school age. This part of the law applies to all children irrespective of what type of school they attend.
Independent schools can exercise greater discretion with respect to formulating their admission arrangements compared to maintained schools and academies. Independent schools, for example, can refuse to offer a place based on academic ability. It is important to note however that the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination by schools against pupils or potential pupils in relation to admissions on the basis of ‘protected characteristics’ and this applies to all schools including independent schools.
The Local Authority is not responsible for coordinating admissions to Independent schools. A parent would have to contact the school concerned directly to obtain a copy of their admissions policy and for further information on their individual process.
The majority of independent schools make admission decisions based on a combination of factors including, but not limited to, the 11+ examination, an interview, reports from previous schools and information regarding a pupil’s participation in extra-curricular activities. The interview process is not used in maintained schools and academies; however, this can be an important element of the admission process for independent schools. You can find helpful information on independent 11 + school interviews on the 11 plus guide website at: https://www.11plusguide.com/independent-private-schools/independent-school-interviews/
Independent schools are required under Regulation 5 of the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 to have an admission register that will contain an index in alphabetical order of all the pupils at the school.
Regulation 6 of the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 is the relevant legislation for what must be contained in the attendance register for an independent school.
Independent schools must record information in the register at the beginning of each morning session and once during each afternoon session. The school must state in the register whether the pupil is:
- Absent (whether or not this is authorised or unauthorised);
- Attending an approved educational activity (where the pupil is compulsory school age, the nature of the activity); or
- Unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances (the nature of the circumstances).
If your child fails to attend an independent school, the Local Authority can still issue parents a Fixed Penalty Notice and proceed to prosecute for non-attendance. You can find further information on this process on the School Attendance and Absence page on our website.
Independent schools do not have to follow the national curriculum, however Regulation 2 of the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 ensures that independent schools have a written policy on the curriculum they provide; which is further supported by plans and schemes of work.
Special Educational Needs
Independent schools must adhere to the SEND Code of Practice and can be named in an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), as long as they are approved under Section 41 of the Children and Families Act 2014. You can find further information around Special Education Needs and our how-to guide on the EHCP process on our website.
Independent Schools must still adhere to the Equality Act 2010 and you can bring a claim for disability discrimination against an independent school. You can find further information on Disability Discrimination in Education on our website.
Bullying and safeguarding
Part 3 of the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 requires independent schools to have arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of pupils attending the school. The regulations also require that bullying at the school is prevented in so far as reasonably practicable, by the drawing up and implementation of an effective anti-bullying strategy.
There is no set procedure for independent schools to follow when there is an issue of bullying present. Initially, it is best to informally raise the issue with the head teacher and if it is not resolved informally, you can raise the issue through the school’s formal complaints procedure.
Additionally, independent schools have a contract with parents to provide a service in return for parents to pay school fees. There may be repercussions if the school do not provide this service to the pupil and the same situation applies to parents if they fail to make payments for the fees.
If you decide to remove the child from a school because of bullying, you are generally still contractually bound to pay fees. However, the issue is best referred to a contract law solicitor for a definitive answer for whether the school are in breach of the contract.
The statutory school exclusion guidance published by the Department for Education does not apply to Independent schools.
Exclusion from an independent school is dictated entirely by the contract between the school and parent. The contract would need to be consulted in conjunction with the school’s policies in order to determine the legal position.
The grounds for exclusion at independent schools are more or less similar to those at maintained schools and academies.
If you have any issues with the school, before making a complaint outside of the school, most external organisations will expect that you have exhausted the internal complaints procedure of the school. Part 7 of the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 ensures that all independent schools implement an effective complaints procedure.
If you are unhappy with the outcome of your complaint to the school or the school refuses to deal with your complaint, you can escalate your complaint to the body responsible for inspecting the school. Most schools are inspected by Ofsted. Schools that are members of the associations that form the Independent Schools Council are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (they will usually log any concerns and can pass the information on to the reporting inspector before the school’s next inspection) and other independent schools are inspected by the School Inspection Service. You can find out from the school who is responsible for inspecting them.
To request information from an independent school, you would request the information through Data Protection Laws. You can contact the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on 0303 123 1113 for advice on your rights in relation to this.