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School closures: considerations for independent schools

Posted: 20/03/2020

Given the Government’s recommendation for schools to close for an unspecified period from today, many independent schools are closing in advance of their planned Easter holiday.

Those schools closing are, in these unprecedented times, concerned about any responsibility to refund fees for the current term and the ability to invoice for fees for next term, particularly in circumstances where they will continue to pay staff.

In order to limit any additional challenges during this period, independent schools should consider the following:

  • what do any terms and conditions supplied to parents state in respect of payment and/or refund of fees during school closure?
  • what ability does the school have to provide lessons and/or work remotely? This is not limited to academic lessons but also to remote sports lessons, for example, can the school provide online fitness classes? Additional consideration should also be given to the ability to provide feedback on any work, and whether it can be emailed to teachers for marking
  • is there insurance in place that may cover this situation and/or any additional costs incurred/fees lost?
  • how are staff absences being treated?
  • what ‘force majeure’ provisions are in place to protect against additional liabilities?
  • contracts with parents will be consumer contracts and therefore there are specific rules relating to the reasonableness of any clause

Whilst the above deals with the potential financial consequences of closing, guidance from the government in respect of how GCSEs and A Levels will be dealt with, which children will be permitted to continue to attend school, and which schools will be required to supply this is expected shortly. This will, no doubt, lead to further additional considerations for schools and their leadership teams.

In addition, independent schools will face additional challenges if they are called upon by the government to provide support in relation to children whose parents’ role meet the criteria in the list issued by the Department for Education. Whilst the support required may be vague currently, we expect additional guidance to be issued on this as soon as possible.

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