Too many children remain at “significant risk of harm” from attending unregistered schools across the country, the head of Ofsted has warned.
Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has said that some children are being educated in “squalid conditions”, and that in some schools girls and boys are being segregated into separate classrooms.
In a letter published today, Sir Michael has called on education secretary Nicky Morgan to take urgent action to prevent these schools from operating.
“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 writes. “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.”
His letter follows an announcement by prime minister David Cameron last month that Ofsted would be inspecting supplementary schools such as madrasas, Sunday schools and Jewish yeshivas.
The watchdog has visited 28 institutions suspected of being unregistered since September 2014, and in 15 cases discovered that an unregistered school was operating. Together the schools were attended by more than 800 pupils, the inspectorate said.
The chief inspector cited the “deeply troubling” example of Bordesley Independent School in Birmingham, which inspectors have visited five times.
On one visit, inspectors were prevented from entering the premises for an hour while the school removed its female students from the building. The school was said to be operating in squalid conditions, including one room which contained “three single mattresses covered in filthy sheets” and no running water in the toilet areas.
The watchdog was forced to ask West Midlands Police to accompany inspectors on their final visit to the school, which has now closed down.
Such schools were using the freedoms afforded to genuine home educators as a cover for their activities, Sir Michael said, and he urged Ms Morgan to carry out a review of home education arrangements.
Current provisions to close down such schools were “inadequate”, he added.
“Despite our reported findings, I understand that no individual has ever been prosecuted for operating an unregistered school,” he says.
“Difficult as it may be to build a legal case that may have a reasonable prospect of success in court, I remain concerned that not enough is being done to stop this illegal activity. Too many children remain at significant risk of harm.”