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Who supports non-association independent schools from the impact of COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic took all of us by surprise. I doubt there was a single business continuity policy that covered the incidence of a pandemic – but you never know, maybe there are some of you out there who had it covered. Anyway, because it was so unexpected and had such a huge impact, the government did quite a bit to help out. I am going to look at some of the support provided for schools with a focus on how non-association independent schools missed out on most of it. My question is, who supports non-association independent schools from the impact of COVID-19?

Traditionally, non-association independent schools are not eligible for most of the support offered to mainstream schools and I understand why – they are fee charging independent schools, their fees should incorporate everything they need to support pupils. Fair enough. But how were non-association independent schools supposed to incorporate the costs involved in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic when no one saw it coming? Were they supposed to turn around and increase their fees after the pandemic hit? What local authority would have said oh yes, we will now start paying you more for each pupil? For those who are not familiar with how non-association schools are funded, below is a summary.

Non-association independent schools are not funded by the government – they charge fees, usually to local authorities who refer pupils to their schools (There are some schools that charge fees to other schools who refer their pupils for alternative provision or directly to parents who send their children to them because of their religious ethos or because they offer education to pupils from a specific country). Although the fees charged by non-association independent schools tend to be much higher than the funding received by mainstream schools for their pupils, it is important to note that they educate some of the most vulnerable pupils with the most complex needs. Pupils who require various therapies, resources, specialist support and so on. Anyway, for those schools that admit pupils bt referral from local authorities, when a referral is made, the local authority draw up individual funding agreements for each pupil. They pay the school termly, in arrears. You might be thinking, that sounds great but wait – note that non-association independent schools do not typically have pupils join the school at the beginning of a phase and stay all the way to the next transition stage. Pupils are referred all year round and at various stages, usually in Key Stage 4. In some of the schools I work with, the average length of stay for pupils is 2 to 3 years so they have to manage the referral process carefully to ensure the financial viability of the school.

So now, bearing that in mind – how are these schools supposed to be coping with the impact of COVID? At least the other type of independent school – private schools have their pupils with them for full phases sometimes all educational phases which means their fees are guaranteed for many years. Also worth noting is that when COVID – 19 first hit and schools were supposed to remain open for the most vulnerable pupils and for the children of key workers – guess which schools were open because most or all of their pupils met the vulnerability criteria? There are many non-association independent schools that did not close at all since the arrival of the pandemic. So, if any type of school deserves additional support – wouldn’t you agree that it’s them?

Now let’s take a look at some of the support that was provided for schools and whether non-association independent schools were eligible.

It offers highly tailored tuition support for pupils, to help those whose education has been most impacted by the pandemic. Tuition Partners and Academic Mentors are subsidised by the government. In 2021/22, 70% of the cost of using Tuition Partners was subsidised by the government. For schools that choose to employ an Academic Mentor, 95% of the core salary cost was subsidised. For School Led Tutoring 75% of the cost was subsidised. Remaining costs were subsidised using other budgets, e.g the Recovery Premium or Pupil Premium. Only state funded schools are eligible, so here, non-association independent schools lose. On the NTP website, in the frequently asked questions - there is a note saying private schools can contact tuition partners and make their own arrangements.

The recovery premium provides additional funding for state-funded schools in the 2021 to 2022 academic year. Building on the pupil premium (which most local authorities do not pass on to non-association independent schools for eligible pupils), this funding will help schools to deliver evidence-based approaches for supporting disadvantaged pupils. As you can see, non-association independent schools, which have a higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils than most, do not get this COVID-19 related funding.

The Department for Education (DfE) has provided laptops, tablets and connectivity support to schools, colleges, other FE institutions, trusts and LAs to help children and young people during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Devices and connectivity support have been offered to:

  • disadvantaged children in years 3 to 11 and young people in 16 to 19 education whose face-to-face education is disrupted

  • disadvantaged children in any year group who have been advised to shield because they (or someone they live with) are clinically extremely vulnerable

  • disadvantaged children in any year group attending a hospital school

  • disadvantaged 14 to 16-year-olds enrolled for Key Stage 4 at sixth-form colleges and whose face-to-face education is disrupted

  • care leavers

  • disadvantaged young people supported by a social worker

Although all non-association independent schools have pupils in more than one of the categories listed above, very few of them received laptops or routers. This is because the word “schools” above – does not include non-association independent schools. At least some non-association independent schools received laptops and routers through the local authorities that refer pupils to them.

Staff absences due to COVID-19 have had a huge effect on schools. And for non-association independent schools which tend to be relatively small schools that do not employ cover staff, rarely use supply staff and rely on organising internal cover as needed, this has been a very difficult time. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) workforce fund supports schools with costs of staff absences - great! But take a look at the list of eligible schools:

  • primary, secondary and all through maintained schools, academies and free schools

  • 16 to 19 academies and maintained schools

  • maintained special schools, and special academies and free schools

  • non-maintained special schools

  • pupil referral units

  • AP academies and free schools

  • maintained and academy hospital schools

  • registered independent special schools and independent schools delivering AP are also eligible to claim for the staff they employ to support pupils whose placements are funded from local authorities’ high needs budgets.

At least some non-association independent schools can get access under the last bullet point there. But again, regular non-association independent schools that are not Section 41 registered and those who do not deliver AP miss out.

As you can see from the above, although those registered as Section 41 independent special schools and those offering alternative provision were eligible for some of this support – regular non-association independent schools have missed out on most of the COVID – 19 related support. Just to add a bit of context, there are currently 150 schools registered under Section 41 as independent special schools out of more than 1200 non-association independent schools in England. Did the government think that these schools were not affected by COVID – 19? Of course not, they did manage to send them tonnes of COVID -19 testing equipment, just none of the support.

In the meantime, what to do?

In many non-association independent schools, the majority or all sometimes all pupils have SEND and EHC plans, why not make it official? Register as an independent special school! You have already seen one of the advantages – you are less likely to be left behind when government support is being dished out. Also, your local authority will have to add your school name and offering to its SEND offer which hopefully will increase referrals to your school.

It is a platform that helps schools get in touch with businesses and other communities that want to help schools. Their mission is "to help local people come together to support schools and give every student the best chance of success by combining the best of community action with the organisational power of a digital platform." Although they usually work with mainstream schools, after a discussion about non-association schools and the challenges they face, particularly how they are excluded from COVID-19 support finding, the Founders have decided to welcoming non-association independent schools! So get in touch with them by visiting their website or reaching out on LinkedIn to Divya Garg, Founder & CEO; Gaurav Garg, Founder; Gergely Andras, Business Manager.

This is an example of a platform that can make digital learning easier, and it includes video tutorials that pupils can use independently from home. I highly recommend Atom Learning’s Prime platform to any schools with pupils working on the Key Stage 2 curriculum. I was given a demonstration of what it can do and if you want to enhance your school by: introducing digital learning; reducing teachers’ planning and marking workload; making sure than when you use supply teachers they deliver pre-planned lessons that are part of the teachers chosen sequence; making it easier for some pupils to answer questions without fear of being heard (or ridiculed by other pupils); giving pupils instant feedback; making it easier to track and analyse pupil progress then get in touch with Atom Learning. Did I mention that it is free for schools to use it? Check out their website by following the link or get in touch on LinkedIn with Emily Carmichael to arrange a demonstration.

Let’s Create our Own Association!

Non-association independent schools are named as such because their schools do not belong to any of the 7 associations that make up the Independent Schools Council (ISC). The aim of ISC is to be a service organisation promoting and protecting the independent education sector. Maybe non-association independent schools should create their own “association”😊 I am serious about this – I have thought about it quite a bit and written down some ideas. If you are reading this and would be interested, leave a comment here or on LinkedIn!

25 views3 comments


yanwen li
yanwen li
Jun 29, 2023



Ellen Mukwewa
Ellen Mukwewa
May 16, 2022
Replying to

Thank you Rebecca. I am aware of NASS, and that non-association independent schools can become members - it's just that they include non-maintained special schools who are usually eligible for many things that non-association independent schools are not.

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