Stone King Independent Schools Briefing - May 2019

Welcome to the first edition of our new Independent Schools Briefing; our newsletter designed to bring you up to date with matters affecting the sector. As well as providing you with a summary of recent developments, we also aim to provide practical guidance around their implications, to help you plan accordingly.

The independent schools sector is a key part of our work at Stone King, and we are delighted to have welcomed a number of new faces as we have expanded our specialist team over the last year. Do take a look at our profile pages to find out more. We will also be at the ISBA conference next week where we would be pleased to see you.

This edition includes articles on:

  • Safeguarding changes ahead for 2019, including a useful reminder of your obligations regarding peer-on-peer abuse and county line exploitation
  • Affordability of independent education and options for schools going forward
  • Your obligations to transgender pupils and supporting them in school
  • The impact of Brexit on students coming from overseas to be educated in UK schools
  • Q&A on managing data breaches in your school
  • Issues with Rights of Way over school property
  • Material changes to independent schools: policy change
  • Education News Updates
  • Team feature: Charlotte Melhuish, Senior Associate

In terms of trends, our team is regularly advising on transactional work such as school mergers, safeguarding matters particularly peer-to-peer abuse, and managing litigation risk in the context of serious parental complaints.

The changes to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) has also been a hot topic for discussion and we are working closely with a number of schools on a response to this. The Department for Education published its response to the consultation on 10 April, which made clear that the DfE will consider allowing a phased withdrawal from the TPS for independent schools (subject to further consultation); consider permitting independent schools to close the scheme to new teachers whilst retaining existing members in the TPS; and confirmed that independent schools will not benefit from any government funding for the increase in employer contributions. The DfE consultation response will undoubtedly raise many questions for schools and staff and should be borne in mind when considering options going forward.

If you have any queries or comments, or if there are topics you would like to see covered in future editions, please don’t hesitate to contact any of us.

Best wishes,

Helen Tucker, Head of Independent Schools

A snapshot of safeguarding in 2019

Due to the emphasis on and importance of safeguarding pupils, it is worth considering what is on the horizon this year in terms of safeguarding. Lucy Blackwell gives a synopsis of some key areas to be aware of.

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Key considerations and top tips for managing the challenges ahead for the Independent Sector

Market conditions are getting tougher for independent schools: governors and senior management are having to consider Brexit and political uncertainty alongside the usual risk considerations. In this article we explore some of the challenges facing independent schools, how governors should approach long term strategic planning to best address those challenges, the sources of funding available and the issues governors should consider when utilising alternative sources of funding.

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Key considerations when supporting transgender pupils in school

As many schools are wrestling with the issue of how to best accommodate transgender pupils during their transition, we provide a brief guide on how this can be achieved in light of the school’s legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 (‘the Act’).

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Students coming to the UK post Brexit

How will the end of free movement impact our Independent Schools? The government published the future skills-based immigration system white paper on 19 December 2018. This paper confirms that from 2021 only independent schools will be able to sponsor EEA children who come to the UK for their education.

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Once more unto the breach

Shakespeare’s King Henry probably didn’t have personal data breaches in mind when rallying his troops, but for schools and other organisations understanding the ICO’s reporting obligations in this area can feel like something of a battle. In this article we seek to dispel some of the myths around data breaches, in particular in relation to identifying a personal data breach and knowing what to report and when.

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Rights of way - are your neighbours acquiring rights over your estate?

Are dog walkers regularly crossing your school estate? Do neighbours use your land to access their properties? If so, then they could be acquiring legal rights of access over your estate that can have serious implications for future development and pose safeguarding concerns for the daily operation of your site.

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Material changes to Independent Schools: policy change

School proprietors will recently have been informed by the Independent Education and Boarding Team of the Department for Education (DfE) of a policy change on how the DfE intends to determine applications for a material change proposed for an independent school.

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Education news updates

  • The DfE published non-statutory guidance on the ISSRs in April, which will be taken into account by inspectors when considering compliance. This can be found here: ISSR Guidance 2019.
  • The Department for Education (DfE) has recently updated the Working together to safeguard children statutory guidance. This has been updated to reflect how local authorities should notify incidents to the Child Safeguarding Panel.
  • The DfE has recently updated its best practice guidance for school complaints procedures (here), with new information on the use of independent governors and duplicate complaints. While it does not strictly apply to independent schools, it may be useful for reference. For instance, the section entitled ‘Recording meetings’ may be particularly useful; we have recently seen several instances of parents using their phones to record meetings. Similarly, the section entitled ‘Managing serial and persistent complaints’ may be useful when handling those difficult situations.
  • The UKCIS Education Working Group has developed two working documents to help early years settings managers and staff consider their practice and to take steps to safeguard both children and adults online. The guide, aimed at managers, is designed to ensure their online safeguarding practice is in line with statutory requirements and suggested best practice. The guide highlights a range of resources which can be used to support early years settings to develop a whole setting approach towards online safety in line with national guidance. The DFE ran a consultation which closed in April 2019.
  • The Children’s Commissioner for England has published proposals for government legislation on the duty of care owed by online service providers to protect children against harm and harmful content, without removing the benefits of online services.

Team feature: Charlotte Melhuish, Senior Associate

Each bulletin we will introduce you to a member of our Independent Schools Team. In this term’s publication, we meet Charlotte Melhuish, a specialist education solicitor in the team.

What’s your role in Stone King?

I am an education specialist and passionate about the work we do with our independent schools; I support schools across the country on a range of contentious and non-contentious pastoral care matters including managing serious incidents; handling complex safeguarding cases; responding to serious data breaches; supporting schools with discrimination claims; handling parental complaints; and representing clients for SENDIST tribunals claims. I also work closely with Helen Tucker, the Head of Independent Schools, in supporting key independent sector organisations including the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association, Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools and the Catholic Independent Schools' Conference.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am due to get married in June this year, so my time outside work has largely been filled with the joys of planning for the ‘big day’. My fiancé and I are also renovating our house and planning an extension. We don’t do things by halves. Any free time around this is reserved for the gym and sleep!

What are your ‘top tip’ for schools at the moment?

There is much uncertainty at present in the sector with changes to the TPS, student and staff recruitment in light of Brexit and fears of VAT on fees if we have a Labour government. School proprietors are key to supporting senior leadership in properly considering how best to manage these challenges. Close collaboration in terms of strategic planning, at governance and management level, are central to this process.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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