Back in 2019 OFSTED estimated that around 6000 pupils were taught in unregistered, illegal schools in England and Wales.
The most common type of unregistered schools offer ‘alternative provision’ – 28%, while 25% are general educational schools and 21% are religious (although the media tends to focus primarily on the later!).
Since Covid-19 OFSTED have been unable to do anything about such illegal schools, with many of the remaining uninvestigated, and many more seem to have emerged, probably as a response to children’s education having been disrupted due to the Pandemic.
It is illegal to run a school which is not registered with OFSTED, and to to so is a criminal offence which may result in fines or a prison sentence, but this hasn’t put people off setting such schools up, or put some parents off sending their children to them.
The problem with unregistered schools, according to OFSTED is that they may fail to have adequate checks in place when recruiting staff, lack adequate safeguarding provisions and not put sufficient resources into teaching the ‘British Values’ agenda.
However it seems like illegal schools may continue going forwards as Local agencies lack the power to investigate, so it’s down to OFSTED, and apparently they don’t have the power to shut down illegal schools which are performing below standards anyway.
Even if the people running them face prosecution, which is rare, the penalties handed out don’t appear to be very tough – in one example in which two people were prosecuted – they only received suspended prison sentences and a tiny fine, and that’s after having been caught once before and ignored the instruction to desist running the school!
Relevance to A-level Sociology
This topic is clearly relevant to the education module, and could also be applied to Crime and Deviance.
The existence of such ‘illegal schools’ shows us that there isn’t consensus across the education system as there are hundreds of teachers and parents willing to avoid OFSTED.
You could apply labelling theory to this – these schools are only illegal because OFSTED exists and there is a legal requirement to register – just because OFSTED labels them ‘illegal’ doesn’t mean they are bad schools.
In fact you could say it’s fair enough that such schools have increased (probably, it’s difficult to count!) since Covid-19 – given the disruption to education in regular schools, and what I can only imagine is an extremely stressful environment which is very unpleasant to be in, maybe it’s BETTER that some parents and teachers are ignoring the rules and setting up their own ad-hoc schools.
Don’t go falling into the trap/ myth that formal-‘legal’ state sanctioned ways of doing things are the best or only options!