Unregistered school in London prosecuted in landmark court case

Posted on: 2018-10-24 19:00:00

The ‘learning centre’ was based inside a three-storey office block in Ealing, west London
The ‘learning centre’ was based inside a three-storey office block in Ealing, west London ( Ofsted )

Two people have been found guilty of running an unregistered, independent school in the first case of its kind 

Headteacher Beatrix Bernhardt, 38, and director Nacerdine Talbi, 47, were fined hundreds of pounds and given a curfew after they were prosecuted for their roles at the Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre Ealing, west London. 

It described itself as a learning centre for home-educated children, but a trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard it was an illegal school.

It was found to be teaching more than 50 children aged between five and 11 years old – despite not being registered as a school with the Department for Education (DfE)

The defendants were given a three-month curfew between 9pm and 6am on Wednesday. 

Bernhardt was fined £400 plus an £85 victim surcharge while Talbi was fined £300 plus an £85 victim surcharge.

It is the first time that people have been prosecuted for running an educational institution without registration in England and Wales.

Schools watchdog Ofsted visited the centre – which was based inside a three-storey office block – on two separate occasions in October and November of last year.

A homework diary showed that the learning centre was being run as a school (CPS)

Photographs of lesson plans and homework diaries taken by Ofsted inspectors showed that the centre was being run as a school, the court heard.

This was in contrary to the Education and Skills Act 2008, which states it is illegal to run a full-time educational establishment that has not been registered as a school with the DfE, the court ruled.

Ofsted issued a warning notice at the end of the inspection, instructing the organisation to stop operating illegally. When the school continued to operate, Ofsted passed the investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

“This is the first prosecution of its kind against an unregistered school in England and Wales," CPS spokeswoman Lynette Woodrow. “The centre claimed it simply provided tuition to home-schooled children but using witness statements and photographic evidence collected by Ofsted inspectors, the CPS was able to prove this was not the case. 

“It is a criminal offence to run an unregistered school and we will take steps to prosecute those responsible where there is the evidence to do so.”

The Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre in London has been convicted for running an unregistered school (Ofsted)

Photographs of homework diaries taken by inspectors showed that the centre was being run as a school (CPS)

The Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre in London has been convicted for running an unregistered school (Ofsted)

The prosecution is expected to become a test case for a clampdown on unregistered schools by the government and Ofsted.

In March this year, the government announced that Ofsted could be given new powers to crack down on suspected illegal schools – allowing them to seize extremist material and interview leaders.

Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of Ofsted, said: “I am glad the courts have recognised our serious concerns about unregistered schools. These schools deny children a proper education and leave them at risk of harm and, in some instances, radicalisation. 

“We hope that today’s judgment sends out a message to all those running such schools that they will face justice. We will continue to investigate and expose illegal, unregistered schools and where we find them, play our part in making sure they are closed or become properly registered.

She added: “Further action is needed now to protect the children who attend these settings. As I have said before, Ofsted need proper powers so that we can make sure all children receive a decent education that prepares them for life in modern Britain, and keeps them safe from harm.”

Lord Agnew, minister for the school system, said: “We have always been clear that where schools are operating illegally action will be taken, and this decision is evidence of that. I welcome the court’s ruling and look forward to continuing our work with Ofsted and the CPS, building on the successes we’ve already had, to keep children safe and ensure they are getting the best possible education.”

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent

Source: Independent

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