A number of unregistered schools suspected of being run illegally have been handed warning notices and may be prosecuted.
In a letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw revealed the schools watchdog has issued seven warning notices to ‘suspected illegal schools’ in Luton, London, Wolverhampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham but there are fears the problem could be more widespread.
These illegal schools are troubling because parents cannot be certain employees at these institutions have passed rigorous, robust, checks that make a child’s safety the top priorityNSPCC
The findings have prompted the education authority and children’s charity NSPCC to issue warnings over the issue.
Inspections uncovered “serious fire hazards, including obstructed exits and inaccessible fire escapes”, as well as schools with unsafe and unhygienic premises.
One case involved the discovery of “chemicals and chemistry equipment in an unlocked food cupboard in a room where children ate their lunch”, Sir Michael said.
Ofsted said it cannot disclose any information about the schools under investigation, due to the potential for prosecutions.
In Luton, inspectors have already interviewed several people under caution over suspected offences.
Sir Michael told Ms Morgan inspectors had been left ‘deeply alarmed’ by what they found.
He said: “The evidence they have gathered so far during this short period firmly reinforces my belief there are many more children hidden away from the view of the authorities in unregistered schools across the country than previously thought.”
Sir Michael added that those operating unregistered schools are “on the cusp of the law”.
He wrote: “Many are charging parents thousands of pounds to send their children to these unregistered schools.
“In doing so, many are providing a sub-standard education, placing children at risk and undermining the government’s efforts to ensure all schools are promoting British values, including tolerance and respect for others.”
Ofsted’s findings came after Ms Morgan asked Sir Michael Wilshaw to set up a taskforce to investigate suspected illegal schools in December.
The Department for Education said it has supported the investigation by giving Ofsted new resources and preparing case files for the Crown Prosecution Service.
A spokesperson said: “We have consulted on new measures to protect children in out of schools settings offering intensive education. We received a large number of responses, which we are now considering, and will make a further announcement in due course.
“Parents may choose to home school their children and many do a good job, but that education must be of a suitable quality.
“We are taking steps to ensure the system is as robust as it can be when it comes to protecting young people, while at the same time safeguarding the rights of parents to determine how and where to educate their children.”
Meanwhile, an NSPCC spokesman says the issue is concerning for parents.
“These illegal schools are troubling because parents cannot be certain employees at these institutions have passed rigorous, robust, checks that make a child’s safety the top priority,” the spokesman said.
“When picking these institutions, some parents might not know such ‘schools’ are unregistered and employees haven’t had the proper background checks or safeguarding training, and are unaware of the risks these pose to their children.
“It’s vital every individual who works with children passes these checks to help keep every child safe.”