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What can cause your Independent School to close and what can you do about it?

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

Last week, after watching a video by Social Ink suggesting that our content should not just be about what matters to us - that it should also be about what matters to our clients I asked our clients this question: What keeps you up at night. I got a variety of responses which I will now be addressing throughout the month of December. First on the list was:

Anything that has the potential to cause the closure of the school

So, what can cause your independent school to close? It’s a short list as you will see but what’s important is what you can do to ensure that your school is not affected by any of the items on the list:

  • Persistent failure or refusal to comply with the Independent School Standards

  • Poor Ofsted inspection outcomes (indirectly)

  • Finance problems

Failure to comply with the independent school standards

If a school persistently fails to meet the independent school standards this can lead to the DfE removing it from the register of independent schools and asking the proprietor to close their doors. This of course is the most severe enforcement action there are many regulatory and less severe actions that are taken before getting to school closure. In the DfE guidance titled "Independent Schools: Regulatory and Enforcement Policy" they say " When a school has serious failings and is considered unlikely to put them right promptly, or has failed to meet the standards for a sustained period it is more likely that removal from the register will be seen as the appropriate course of action." How can you stop this from happening?

  • Read the Independent School Standards:

  • Read the DfE’s related guidance:

  • Implement a strategy to ensure consistent compliance with the standards. We have developed one, it is being used successfully by some of the schools we work with. You can read all about it here:

  • You could also book a place on our training workshop which expands on this strategy or ask us to deliver it for your school staff in person or live via Zoom:

Poor Ofsted inspection outcomes

Poor Ofsted inspections alone will not cause your school to close. Their impact is not as direct as that of the independent school standards. However, if your school relies on pupil referrals from local authorities this is how your school could end up closing. You get a grade 3 or 4 after an Ofsted inspection, your local authority panics, they stop referring pupils to your school or worse (and I have seen this happen) they withdraw the pupils you do have. No pupils, no school. No pupils, no money, no school. Poor Ofsted inspection outcomes can also cause school closure when the poor outcome is due to non-compliance with the standards – which is usually the case. This brings back to the DfE, enforcement, closure.

To avoid getting poor Ofsted inspection outcomes:

  • Know what to expect from inspection – read Ofsted’s inspection handbook here:; and the handbook for additional inspections of independent schools too:

  • Or, if you don't have time to read the handbooks, book a place on our training workshop with the same name or ask us to deliver it for your school staff in person or live via Zoom:

  • Also, incorporate Ofsted’s inspection criteria into your school improvement system

If, however you recently got a poor Ofsted inspection outcome you need to focus on recovery first and we can help:

Finance problems

This is not one of our areas of expertise however there is some advice we can share based on what we have learned while going about our business.

  • It helps to have a Governor or Trustee with experience in finance on your Board to ensure that financial planning is robust and potential deficits are seen a mile away

  • Strategic pupil admission. If your school relies on pupil referrals from local authorities, take care that you don’t have cohorts that have large proportions of pupils in Years 11 & 13 because when they leave it can be difficult to recover from the impact of the drop in income

  • If your school is run by a charity, regularly source additional funding by applying for grants and trusts and bidding for various other sources of funding. You can also actively seek donations and support from businesses that are looking to fulfil their charitable giving objectives.

  • If your school is owned by a private company it helps to have more than one director – that will make it possible for you to apply for some sources of funding

Now some of you might be thinking – but there are other things that can cause a school to close? We don’t claim that this list is exhaustive so feel free to let us know what we have missed. If you are thinking of issues such as safeguarding, equality regulations, and other statutory regulations remember they are included in the Independent School Standards and Ofsted’s inspection framework.

We hope you have found this helpful. If so, please let us know.

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