To ask Her Majesty's Government what estimate they have made of the number of children being taught at unregistered schools; and what information and directions they have given to (1) local authorities, and (2) Ofsted, on this issue.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what powers, (1) Ofsted, (2) local authorities, and (3) the Secretary of State, have to close unregistered schools; what representations they have received about the adequacy of such powers; and whether they have any plans to strengthen those powers.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they regard children attending unregistered schools to be children at risk and therefore subject to assessment under local authority child protection procedures.
National statistics on the number of children being taught at unregistered schools are not held centrally. However, we are working closely with Ofsted and local authorities to tackle this sector.
We have provided Ofsted with additional resources to root out and inspect those suspected of operating unlawfully and take action to bring them into compliance with the law. We have also been supporting local authorities to use their existing powers under safeguarding or health and safety legislation to disrupt and tackle both unsuitable out-of-school settings and unregistered independent schools.
Although we don’t track closures of unregistered schools, Ofsted’s Annual Report 2015/16: education, early years and skills, published on 1 December 2016, noted that from January 2016 to end August 2016 (the end of the period covered by the report), Ofsted inspected 38 such settings; Ofsted issued 19 warning notices telling proprietors to cease operating illegally; and 15 of those providers ceased to operate illegally following those inspections. Ofsted will publish its next annual report later this year.
The annual report can be accessed on gov.uk at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/574186/Ofsted_annual_report_education_and_skills_201516_web-ready.pdf.
It is a criminal offence for any person to operate an unregistered independent school and Ofsted has powers to inspect such settings. Anyone who is found to be conducting an independent school without registration is breaking the law and may be liable to prosecution. However, in most cases, collaborative working between Ofsted and local authorities has resulted in such settings voluntarily ceasing to operate unlawfully, which is verified by the figures highlighted in the Ofsted report referred to above.
As part of our ongoing work with Ofsted and local authorities we have been raising awareness on how we can all work together to help ensure that children are safe and are receiving a suitable education. We keep this under constant review.
The legislative framework for the child protection system in England is provided largely by the Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 2004. This sets out the overarching responsibility of local authorities for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children in their area, regardless of where they are educated. It is for local authorities to assess whether the threshold for intervention is met in the case of an individual child taking account of the impact and influence of environmental factors, such as attending an unregistered school. However, wherever local authorities have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, they are under a duty to investigate. Local authorities should make whatever enquiries necessary to decide what, if any, action to take to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.