Hundreds of children being taught in squalid unregistered schools 'at significant risk of harm', says Ofsted chief executive

Sir Michael Wilshaw has written to the Education Secretary asking her to take urgent action to speed up their closure

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of children are being taught in often “squalid” conditions in unregistered schools - where they are “at significant risk of harm”, chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has warned.

Sir Michael, chief executive of Ofsted - the education standards watchdog, has written to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan asking her to take urgent action to speed up their closure.

“The arrangements for closing down unregistered schools are inadequate,” he said.

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In one case Bordesley Independent School in Birmingham five times reporting serious concerns for the welfare of the children being educated

Sir Michael revealed that Ofsted had investigated 28 claims since September that unregistered schools had been set up and that, in 15 cases educating more than 800 pupils, they had discovered an illegally set up school.

In one case, which Sir Michael describes as “deeply troubling”, inspectors visited a Muslim school, Bordesley Independent School in Birmingham five times reporting serious concerns for the welfare of the children being educated.

At their last visit, inspectors were obstructed from entering the premises for an hour - while female pupils were evacuated from the building.

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Ofsted said that the schools were run by a mixture of proprietors. 

When they finally gained access, they discovered squalid conditions including three single mattresses covered in filthy sheets in one room and no running water in the toilet areas.

In addition, there was clear evidence of segregation with separate classrooms for boys and girls - and pupils being taught a narrow curriculum that was failing to prepare them for life in modern Britain.

However, Birmingham City Council told him it did not have automatic powers to gain entry to the school to safeguard children - at which point Sir Michael used Ofsted’s power to carry out an immediate follow-up visit with police backing to ensure entry.  The school has now been closed and the pupils resettled in mainstream schools.

Ofsted said that the schools were run by a mixture of proprietors.  Whilst, in the Bordesley case, it had been a Muslim school, other cases involved Jewish schools and some with no religious background at all.

Some were exploiting the “genuine” freedom given to home educators to teach their children as a cover for their activities, said Sir Michael.

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“Too many children remain at significant risk of harm.”

“The fact that these so-called schools are unregistered means that they are hidden from the view of local authorities, the Department for Education and Ofsted,” he added.  “It is vital, therefore, that when we do identify such illegal activity, the full force of the law is brought to bear on these institutions to stop them operating without delay.”

He cited the concern of Ofsted regional directors that “there are far greater numbers of children hidden away from view in unregistered schools across the country”.

He told Ms Morgan: “Local authorities are not acting swiftly enough to identify unregistered provision and ensure that all children and young people are kept safe  ...  The arrangements for closing down unregistered schools are inadequate.

“Too many children remain at significant risk of harm.”

He said he wanted an urgent review of arrangements for safeguarding pupils in unregistered schools and a review of the arrangements for home education “to ensure that they cannot be exploited”.

Ms Morgan said the Government had taken “robust action” to tackle unregistered schools but added:  “ However, we agree with Sir Michael that ore needs to be done.  That’s why the Prime Minister announced at the Conservative party conference that we will introduce further powers to regulate settings which teach children intensively and to intervene and impose sanctions where there are safety or welfare concerns.  We will be consulting on these proposals shortly.”

She added she was “extremely concerned” by the issues raised by Ofsted, adding: “We understand Bordesley has now closed and are keeping in close contact with Birmingham local authority as they work to urgently ensure the children involved are safe and are receiving suitable education.”

Lucy Powell, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “This is now the second time that Ofsted gas warned this Government that significant numbers of children, including those who could be at risk of being radicalised, are ending up in unregistered provision, where they could be exposed to extremist ideologies.

“It is hard to fathom why arrangements for closing down unregistered schools remain inadequate and swift action on this issue has not been taken.

“With children at risk of being exposed to harm, exploitation or undue influences, more inertia from this Government simply isn’t good enough.”

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