Department for Education update Independent School Action Plan Guidance

21st June 2023

On 25 April 2023 the Department for Education (DfE) published the updated ‘Independent School Action Plan Guidance’.

Why would a school need to produce an ‘action plan’?

The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) is appointed by the DfE to inspect independent schools in England, currently inspecting more than 1,200 independent schools each year. The ISI inspects schools against the statutory Independent School Standards (ISS), which cover all aspects of school life. These include the quality of education provided and the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils.

Where an independent school is found to be failing the ISS or the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) the Secretary of State can issue a notice requiring the proprietor of the school to submit an action plan for evaluation.

The purpose of an action plan is to set out clear and specific actions, detailing how the school will meet any failed standards. An action plan must specify:

• the steps that will be taken to meet the standard(s) not currently met – as specified in the notice requiring the plan;
• the date by which each step will be taken.

The Independent School Action Plan Guidance is intended to support proprietors in producing such an action plan. The guidance also provides a template action plan that proprietors may find useful.

What are the recent updates to the guidance?

In the updated guidance the DfE have included information on additional support that schools should consider, for example from external organisations, when developing their action plans.

The guidance suggests that schools could consider seeking appropriate support from:

• The expertise of staff from other schools within a group with a shared proprietor.
• Peers from other unconnected schools.
• Independent consultants.
• Relevant member organisations which can provide direct support and facilitate peer support such as:

o The Independent Schools Council – including its membership associations, the GSA, HMC, IAPS, ISA, AGBIS, ISBA and the Society of Heads.
o Other representative bodies (e.g., SWSF, Chinuch UK and AMS).

How does this affect schools?

We have seen a recent increase in schools failing ISI inspections and being required to submit action plans as a result however the ISI have now published a new inspection framework and an updated commentary on the regulatory requirements. The framework will come into operation from September 2023 and provides school leaders with a clear structure to demonstrate and articulate how they fulfil their existing responsibility to ensure that the standards are met. There is also a recognition in the updated commentary that a minor, correctable error may not result in a failure to meet the required standards.

It is important that schools familiarise themselves with the new inspection framework and that they are aware, in the event of a failure to meet any of the ISS, of the guidance available to support schools in the development of any required action plan. We will update schools separately on the key changes to the inspection framework.

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