On 10 June 2020 the Government published its response to consultation on the Online Education Accreditation Scheme (Scheme).

The purpose of this voluntary Scheme will be to provide a quality assurance framework for those providers operating online-only on a permanent basis. It does not impact on schools and colleges currently providing educational services remotely as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. However, as outlined below, it provides a timely prompt for schools and colleges to consider whether on-line provision of education could present an opportunity to diversify revenue streams.

What Does the Response Say?

The Government expects the Scheme to be operational for UK based online providers from September 2020. A Quality Assurance Board will be appointed in August 2020 and will provide an inspection service for those providers wishing to become accredited under the Scheme and subsequently for those who wish to remain accredited in future years.

Successful applicants for accreditation will need to demonstrate during an initial inspection by the Quality Assurance Board that they meet the regulatory requirements set out in proposed standards. The draft standards, to be known as the Online Education Standards, draw significantly on the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 and therefore will appear familiar to senior leadership teams.

What You Should Consider

While the Scheme is available for online-only providers, it does present opportunities for independent schools to consider, including diversification of its revenue streams, entry into new domestic and international markets or, in some circumstances, changing the business model to move away from traditional classroom based learning.

With those opportunities come a range of practical and legal considerations which will need to be worked through. In particular, the terms on which IT platforms are used by independent schools, or the terms on which schools make those platforms available to users, will require careful consideration of IT and software licensing issues. Similarly, schools will need to ensure that intellectual property in any content which is made available through those platforms is properly protected, and that ownership and licences of that intellectual property have been appropriately dealt with.

With more extensive provision of on-line learning (particularly including users beyond the school's 'traditional' pupil cohort) will come additional requirements for information security and data protection compliance. Schools and colleges will also want to consider the branding of that provision, and the extent to which it is aligned with existing branding.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.