Ofsted has recently increased its attention on the policing of unregistered independent schools leading to a rising number of prosecutions. The Department for Education sets clear guidance on what it considers to be an illegal unregistered school and whilst some unregistered schools are set up with good intentions as tuition support or they can be religious in nature and contend that much of their work is religious instruction, if they provide education outside of government guidance they may risk prosecution.
If you have been visited by OFSTED on suspicion of operating an unregistered independent school please do not hesitate to contact us. Early involvement and advice can be crucial in avoiding any. The law around the criteria regarding what is an independent school is complicated and without advice the risk of inadvertent repetition of the situation that led to the investigation is significant. In most cases OFSTED inspectors will return for a second visit to check on whether any changes have been made and if so whether they are compliant. There is therefore always an opportunity to address any issues, but if the opportunity is missed the risk of prosecution is much greater.
Any successful prosecution can result in other regulatory action such as disciplinary proceedings before the TRA or barring from acting as a school manager by the Department for Education.
Unregistered means not registered with the Department for Education (DfE) and the Education and Skills Act 2008 sets out that it is an offence for a person to run an independent school that is not registered with the DfE. An independent school is one that is not maintained by the Local Authority.
An unregistered independent school would be considered in breach of the law if it offers education on a full-time basis where education is provided for:
Five or more children of compulsory school age;
Or where at least one child is looked after by the local authority, or who has an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP), or a statement of special education needs (SEN).
According to DfE guidance, education offered for less than 18 hours per week is not considered full time, unless it is all or substantially all of the education the child is receiving.
The Department for Education considers that children attending unregistered schools are potentially at risk in a number of ways, including the quality of education they receive if it is not monitored and assessed, safeguarding concerns if official policies and procedures are not in place, and a lack of oversight.
Stone King has represented a number of unregistered schools and can assist, please contact Andrew Banks.