The government has won its first ever prosecution for running an illegal school in a case that could open the door to a wider clampdown.
Headteacher Beatrix Bernhardt and director Nacerdine Talbi were today convicted of operating the Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre in Southall, West London.
Oftsed inspectors who visited late last year found more than 50 children, aged between 5 and 11, were being educated at the centre, housed inside an office block on Uxbridge Road.
The centre’s operators had argued that it was only providing part-time schooling of less than 18 hours a week, and therefore did not need to register as a school.
But, after seeing photographs of lesson plans and homework diaries during a three-day trial, Westminster Magistrates’ Court ruled that the establishment was offering full-time education.
The defendants were given a three-month curfew each and ordered to pay a total of £970 towards costs.
“This is the first prosecution of its kind against an unregistered school in England and Wales,” said Lynette Woodrow, a deputy chief crown prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
“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 case opens the doors for more prosecutions of dozens of unregistered schools around the country.
The Department for Education and Ofsted say they inspected 274 suspected illegal schools between 2016 and July of this year, and issued warnings to 63 of them.
According to the DfE, since then, 55 unregistered schools have ceased their operations and investigations into the remainder are ongoing.
“These schools deny children a proper education and leave them at risk of harm and, in some instances, radicalisation,” said Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman.
“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.”
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.”