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UK school closures and its impact on independent schools

The widely anticipated announcement yesterday by the Government regarding school closures in England brought an end to the speculation of when schools…

The widely anticipated announcement yesterday by the Government regarding school closures in England (with effect from the end of the school day on Friday 20th March 2020) brought an end to the speculation of when schools will be closed. However, rather than announcing a blanket closure, schools are expected to remain partially open to cater for the children of key workers and the most vulnerable children. The Government is yet to provide full details addressing the practicalities of implementing such a partial shutdown and the measures, if any, it proposes to assist affected schools at this time.

Unlike state schools, independent schools have greater autonomy over their school calendar but the government has made it clear that it expects them to also comply with the current UK policy on school closures. This policy presents a series of pressing issues for the governing bodies of independent schools, as in addition to dealing with the practicalities of implementing a partial shutdown, they also need to deal with their contractual obligations to fee paying parents who will potentially not be able to access normal school services for a considerable length of time.

We have set out below some key questions that the governors of independent schools will likely need to consider in the coming weeks:

  • Is the school liable to repay fees paid in advance where the term is cut short as a result of a Government policy?
  • Most schools invoice in advance for the next term/academic year; can they continue to do so in these circumstances?
  • What rights does the school have if a parent withholds any outstanding fee for the period covered by the enforced school closure?
  • Can the school recover unpaid fees via its insurance policy?
  • Will the Government cover the cost of the school staying open for the children of key workers?

The answer to most of these questions will depend on the terms of the contract which the schools have in place with both parents/guardians and their insurance companies. Each of these contracts will need to be carefully considered to understand the contractual position. However, wider considerations such as maintaining the goodwill of parents will also need to be considered before any decisions are made. All of this will be in addition to questions around how the schools will maintain their wage bill and other operating costs during what could be a lengthy partial shutdown process.

The Commercial and Insurance teams at Weightmans are poised to provide whatever support and guidance independent school governors require in these largely uncharted times. We can work with you to develop a bespoke response to your specific requirements with our team of leading experts on hand to give strategic support as required.

Laurence Pritchard
Partner
DDI: 0151 242 6963
laurence.pritchard@weightmans.com

Itohan Odekunle
Solicitor

DDI: 0113 213 4046
itohan.odekunle@weightmans.com

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