DfE set to 'get tough' on failing independent schools

The government wants to break the 'really worrying' cycle of independent schools repeatedly failing to hit standards

Eleanor Busby

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The Department for Education (DfE) is looking to “toughen” up its stance on when to take enforcement action against independent schools failing to meet expected standards.  

Peter Swift, head of the independent education division at the DfE, has said the government wants to “break the cycles” of independent schools failing, taking action, improving, then failing again.

Enforcement action – a direction restricting the operation of an independent school or removing it from the register – can be taken by the DfE when standards remain unmet at a school following a revisit.

Speaking at today's Westminster Education Forum event, Dr Swift said: “We have schools that go through cycles – and this is really worrying to us.

'Breaking the cycle of failure'

“We take action, maybe enforcement action, they throw a lot of resources at it, they get themselves sorted out, they meet the standards. But then when the inspectors go back in a year's time, there are loads of failures again. That is the cycle that we need to find a way of breaking.”

He added: “If it takes a long time to get through this cycle then [pupils] are spending a substantial amount of their schooling in a school that is not meeting the standards.

“We think we should start being tougher on when we take enforcement action. We haven’t got an articulated policy on that, so that is something we’re thinking about – some sort of policy statement.”

Dr Swift noted that there are “continuing issues” about safeguarding – despite “crystal clear” guidance on this – and a slide he presented also showed that there were concerns about extremism.

He added: “Although many independent schools provide very good education, unfortunately some don’t. Most schools move very quickly to meet standards but some don’t - and they are the ones we worry about the most.”

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