... because actual pupil numbers exceeded the maximum number permitted under the school's registration. This has arisen because schools were unaware that they needed to apply to the DfE where they had grown in size to exceed the recorded maximum.
What steps should you take to prevent this happening to your school?
The school's maximum numbers are publically available on Get Information About Schools (GIAS). This constitutes the DfE's register of independent schools and is presumably used by UKVI to satisfy itself that the school has the capacity for sponsored pupils to study there.
You can update certain information fields on GIAS. However, you cannot make revisions which would amount to a 'material change' to your registration, and the DfE will become aware of any attempt to do so. An increase in maximum pupil numbers is one of number of material changes to a school's registration set out in s162 Education 2002.
A material change can only be made after a written application has been made by the school and approved by the Secretary of State.
A school that exceeds its maximum number of pupils effectively makes a change without approval and risks being removed from the register. It is an offence under s96 Education & Skills Act 2008 to operate an unregistered independent school and is punishable by up to 51 weeks of imprisonment and/or a fine.
In the majority of cases, the risks of removal from the register and prosecution are low. However, this now appears to be a check carried out by UKVI when determining whether to issue the requested CAS. The impact of a zero CAS allocation could be far reaching, affecting your school's ability to recruit international pupils, its financial position and reputation.
In addition to providing information to the DfE in the annual census return, all independent schools should keep information on GIAS up to date.
In particular, Tier 4 sponsors should ensure that actual pupil numbers do not exceed the maximum permitted. Where material change is required, application for approval should be made promptly.
Revised in August 2019, the DfE guidance on the registration of independent schools states that such applications can be made by post email or online. Approval may take up to six months to be granted and may require an inspection to inform the decision.
Schools should be aware that if they are subject to regulatory action because they do not meet the standards relevant to the material change, approval will not normally be granted.