Landmark case sees two convicted of running an illegal ‘school’

In a landmark legal case, two people have been convicted of running an illegal school in London, according to the BBC

Nacerdine Talbi and Beatrix Bernhardt faced charges at Westminster Magistrates’ Court for teaching at their illegal ‘school’ – the Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre.

The school taught about 58 pupils in a west London office block.

The defendants argued that the school was actually a study centre where home-educated children had part-time tuition, but the court ruled that they were, in effect, running a full-time school.

The chief magistrate of England and Wales, Emma Arbuthnot, said the evidence showed that the centre was “being operated as an unregistered independent educational institution providing full-time education”.

The defendants have been given a community order of a 12-week night time curfew and the school is expected to close temporarily.

The institution itself has been fined £100.

This case follows warnings from Ofsted that there could be hundreds of such unregulated institutions.

The Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre argued that pupils were not taught for more than18 hours per week – according to guidelines, this could have made it liable to register as an independent school. Evidence was given in court that at least 27 pupils were at the school for 25 hours per week, and others more than 18 hours.

The operating hours of the school were such that pupils could not have attended school elsewhere, the court heard.

Ofsted inspectors had tried to visit the school on several occasions.

The school taught lessons in subjects including maths, science, geography, history, English and Arabic, with fees of £250 per month for secondary age pupils.

The chief magistrate concluded that the centre was “providing all, or substantially all,” of the education for those attending for 25 hours and was, as such, “being operated as an unregistered independent educational institution providing full-time education”.

Ofsted chief, Amanda Spielman, said: “We hope that today’s judgment sends out a message to all those running such schools that they will face justice.

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“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.”

Education Minister, Lord Agnew, welcomed the court’s ruling, adding:

“We have always been clear that where schools are operating illegally, action will be taken and this decision is evidence of that.”

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