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We don't have to ... we are an independent school!

As someone who works exclusively with non – association independent schools, I hear many versions of this statement all the time:


❌ We don’t have to … we are and independent school!


❌ Independent schools are not required to …


❌ As an independent school, do we have to …?


Many times, I have given confirmation about some of the things that independent schools don’t have to do.


And where a school has limited resources and cannot reasonably do whatever “it” is, I will make it clear that in the interim, they don’t have to worry about “it” since there is no requirement to do it. But this does not mean I would encourage schools to completely ignore what is not required – quite the opposite. There are many things that independent schools are not required to do that I think they should choose to do if their resources permit. Let’s look at a few:


The National Curriculum

 All local-authority-maintained schools in England must teach to the national curriculum programme of studies. There is no such demand on independent schools. But, independent schools must ensure that their curriculum meets the requirements of paragraphs 2 (1)(a) and 2A of the independent school standards. However, some school leaders focus so intently on the fact that they don’t have to follow the national curriculum they forget that this does not give them carte blanche to teach whatever they want. They must meet the curriculum requirements of the standards!


Paragraphs 2 (1)(a) and 2A of the standards outline what should be contained in the curriculum. For those who have read the standards please note that it is more than just the linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technological, human and social, physical and aesthetic & creative education. Read the rest of it, there’s more!


Having said this, independent schools could choose to follow the national curriculum – and in case you are wondering, yes, the national curriculum meets the requirement of paragraphs 2 (1)(a) and 2A of the independent school standards.


Some schools choose to follow the national curriculum but … not all of it. Usually when this happens this also leaves gaps in their compliance with standards. So, if you are going to follow most, and not all of the national curriculum – check compliance with paragraphs 2 (1)(a) and 2A to ensure you are not found wanting on this front.


Qualified teacher status is a legal requirement to teach in maintained schools and non-maintained special schools. Guess where it is not a legal requirement?  In independent schools (and academies and free schools). But surely this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t aim to meet this requirement if you own or lead an independent school? Most of the pupils in non-association independent schools have:

  • had significant gaps in their education

  • been excluded from multiple mainstream provisions

  • special educational needs, some which are complex

  • had many experiences which altogether make them unwilling or reluctant to engage with education

Surely they, more than others need teachers who are qualified? So why not make qualified teacher status a requirement at your independent school?


And here I am going to quickly acknowledge the main reason that may make it challenging for some independent schools to aim for this. Particularly those that do not belong to a group of schools and those that are just starting out. And here I am talking about those that rely on pupil referrals from local authorities. Money. Finances might be limited because:

  • there is no central funding, instead schools have individual funding agreements for each pupil referred to the school

  • pupils join the school at various times of the school year and not necessarily at the beginning of the relevant phases that the school caters for

  • schools are usually paid in arrears and sometimes late

  • pupil numbers fluctuate so does the budget

  • new schools sometimes start off with a few pupils before the momentum of school referrals build


With all these challenges I understand it might not be possible to exclusively hire staff with QTS. But it is important to make sure that your pupils get good quality teaching therefore it should be something to aim for. I recently came across a school where the SLT had decided that all new hires have to be qualified teachers. They have also placed all their unqualified staff on routes to QTS. Bravo!


Schools could also hire staff who have other teaching qualifications such as QTLS. DfE guidance says that “If you are an experienced post-14 teacher and have QTLS status and membership of the Society for Education and Training, you may be eligible to work as a qualified teacher in schools in England.” So this could be an option for schools.


Having said that, sometimes QTS on its own is not enough for staff to be “right” for your school. Sometimes you get un-qualified staff who understand the needs of your pupils better and are a better fit for the school. If they are willing to get qualified, that is definitely a way to go. And in the interim, ensure that staff in training receive as much support as possible so that pupils are not disadvantaged while staff are getting qualified.



All mainstream schools (including academies and free schools) must have a SENCO. The SENCO must be a qualified teacher, or the headteacher, working at the school. Again, here there is no legal requirement for independent schools to have a SENCo.

But non-association independent schools tend to have many pupils who have SEN. Some of these schools even secure approval to be on the register of Independent Special Schools. Given all the challenges highlighted in the section about QTS and the high proportions of pupils with SEN – doesn’t it make sense to choose to meet this requirement even if it does not apply to your school? I am glad to say, many independent schools I have come across do make that choice.

For those who have not done so, why not assign a qualified teacher, the headteacher or one of the SLT as SENCo and get them on the path to get a SEN Award or the incoming NPQ for SENCOs? And in the meantime –buy in SEN support to help them set up the required procedures?  




Statutory and Non-statutory Guidance

There are many statutory and non-statutory guidance documents that apply exclusively to the state funded sector. There is no reason why independent schools should not follow this guidance as good practice. I have listed a few examples here:



Again, here I must say, it is good to know that most independent schools do so. If yours doesn’t why don’t you consider it?

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