HC Deb 20 March 1985 vol 75 cc489-91W
Mr. Alfred Morris

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many independent special schools there are in the United Kingdom; how many of those passed his Department's inspection first time to be registered; and if the same criteria are used as in the inspection of state schools.

Mr. Dunn

My right hon. Friend's responsibilities extend to England only. The arrangements in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the respective Secretaries of State.

In England the terms "independent school" and "special school" refer to different types of institution. A special school is a school, whether maintained by a local education authority or not, which has been approved by my right hon. Friend as a special school under section 9(5) of the Education Act 1944. "Independent school" is defined in that Act in such a way as to exclude any school which is a special school.

It is an offence under section 70 of the Education Act 1944 to conduct an independent school which is not registered or provisionally registered. Registration on a provisional basis is granted automatically on receipt of the necessary details from a new independent school, pending a decision about final registration. Information about the number of inspections or visits to independent schools before the granting of final registration could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

The requirements for registration to be made final, or for final registration to be allowed to continue, are set out in section 71 of the 1944 Act. In effect, a minimum standard of acceptability is sought in regard to premises, accommodation, instruction, and the suitability of the proprietor(s) and teachers.

I think, however, that the right hon. Member may have in mind the approval which certain independent schools may seek under the Education Act 1981. Under section 11 of that Act a local education authority may not place pupils with statements of special educational need at an independent school unless either the school is approved by my right hon. Friend as suitable for the admission of children for whom statements are maintained or he gives his consent in an individual case. So far 190 independent schools have sought approval under the 1981 Act; 91 have so far been approved, of which one third received approval after one visit by Her Majesty's inspectors. A number of schools have closed since seeking approval, including two which had secured it.

As was explained in the Department's circular No. 8/81, in order to secure approval under the 1981 Act independent schools are required to meet similar standards in respect of premises, qualified staff, education and care to those required in maintained and non-maintained special schools. They will also be required, as a condition of approval, to publish information about their facilities.