Unregistered Schools

Legal references on this page apply to England.

Illegal Schools

Independent article on number of illegal schools, February 2017 + editorial

"Illegal schools" are schools which meet the criteria for registering as independent schools but where the proprietors have opted NOT to register. Newsnight claims that many illegal schools don't register because they fear being shut (ie they would draw attention to the fact that they are ALREADY breaking the law and they would fail the pre-registration test). If they weren't closed down they would have to make big changes as well as teaching a broader syllabus.

These schools are not necessarily hidden away, but there are many obstacles to proving that they are breaking the law and getting them closed down. See also blog on home education and illegal schools September 2016

Schools only have to register if they are full time and there is no legal definition of full time although the Government has given 18 hours a week as a guide. Much of the investigation of whether a school is full time (and therefore subject to registration and inspection) hinges on the timetable for an individual child, and not on how many hours the school is open.

Local councils have no power in law to inspect registers or check individual pupils’ timetables if the school won't co-operate. The only body which can do this is Ofsted under section 97 powers. This has not prevented Ofsted from blaming councils for not doing enough.

Historically the Government has been reluctant to prosecute or to shut schools down, preferring instead for schools to be supported through the registration process. Sir Michael Wilshaw, until recently head of Ofsted, disagreed vehemently with this and piled on the pressure until finally in December 2015 the Government gave Ofsted the go ahead to investigate and collect evidence against unregistered independent schools and to liaise with the Crown Prosecution Service.

Reference to "Ofsted inspections" of illegal schools is quite confusing. It can refer EITHER to an investigation of how many hours a child is being taught, OR to pre-registration inspections where a school is – allegedly – in the process of registering even though it is already operating.

Sir Michael has also blamed the fact that children can leave school without anyone checking where they go, and thinks home education freedoms are being abused and that local councils aren't doing enough (despite their lack of powers). Read a typical rambling interview with Sir Michael here

In response, from September 1st 2016 the Government has introduced new requirements for ALL schools to check the whereabouts of children coming out of school and to collect and record more detail about onward destinations, sharing this with the local authority on a regular basis.

Guidance on Children Missing Education has been updated accordingly. Sir Michael - has now been replaced by Amanda Spielman. (Sir Michael was still repeating the same message in an interview with a London journalist, September 2016)

Legislation does exist for regulating part-time schools as well (12.5 or 15 hours) but it has never been brought into force. Meanwhile, the Government is trying to bring in new laws to regulate part-time out of school settings but this has met with fierce opposition from MPs because of objections to "Sunday School snoops." fuelled by Ofsted's critical inspection of Christian schools

Regulating and Prosecuting Illegal Schools

In December 2015 the Government gave Ofsted the go ahead to investigate and collect evidence against unregistered independent schools and to liaise with the Crown Prosecution Service and in January 2016 the Department for Education published Regulating Independent_Schools and Prosecuting Unregistered_Independent_Schools via this page

Policy statement: prosecuting unregistered independent schools, Department for Education January 2016

"7. For any possible unregistered school, immediate steps will be taken to establish whether the institution is providing full-time education and is operating unlawfully as an independent school.

8. Ofsted may decide to make an unannounced visit to an institution on the basis of information they have received to establish whether the institution is operating as an independent school and the identity of the proprietor. The Department may write to an institution or may refer information direct to Ofsted to decide whether to make an unannounced visit.

9. If Ofsted consider in the course of such a visit that an institution is operating unlawfully and should cease to operate as a school, they will inform the proprietor that it is an offence to operate without registration and take any appropriate steps with the LA to ensure the premises are closed and the children provided for. They will inform the department the same day for follow-up action.

10. Where an institution is identified as operating unlawfully, the Department (Independent Education and Boarding Team) will consider taking the following steps:

• Confirm to the institution the legal requirement to register as an independent school, setting out the consequences of failing to do so. The institution may also have received the same information from Ofsted;
• Make clear to the institution that it must not operate as a school in advance of registration being granted and must cease to operate;
• Point the institution to the guidance on the DfE website on how registration applications can be made;
• Ask the institution to confirm by return that it has ceased to operate as a school and to confirm whether or not it intends to submit a registration application;

• If the institution continues or continued to operate as a school without registration, including during the registration process, the Secretary of State may exercise her power to pursue the prosecution of the person(s) who the Department considers is conducting/has conducted the unregistered independent school (section 96 ESA 2008).

11. The Secretary of State may take immediate steps to exercise her power to pursue a prosecution if it is considered appropriate to do so given the seriousness of particular circumstances."

The first illegal private school to be shut down was an orthodox Jewish school in Stamford Hill which had never registered and had been operating outside the law for 40 years.

The school was known to the council and to Ofsted which had been carrying out "pre-registration inspections". (British Humanist Association article) In April 2016 it emerged that the school might still be open. Meanwhile, Newnight claimed there were up to 20 illegal private Charedi Jewish schools in east London. (Watch Chris Cook Newsnight Film March 2016)

The schools are not necessarily hidden away, but there are many obstacles to getting them closed down

The first obstacle concerns the definition of an "independent school".

Part-time schools currently don't have a legal status, so the school is either full-time or not a school. However, "full-time education" is not defined for independent schools. Until January 2016 the advice from DfE said 18 or possibly 20 hours (which is why some of Ofsted's letters about independent schools refer to 20 hours) but this was firmed up to 18 hours in January. Full-time independent schools providing education to 5 or more children (or just 1 child with a statement or EHCP) are required to register and submit to regular inspections.

The second obstacle is that hours relate to the education being provided for a particular child, rather than the number of hours that the school is open

Hypothetically if a school takes half its pupils in the morning (eg 9-12) and the remaining half in the afternoon (eg 1-4), then the school is open "full-time" but no child is receiving more than 15 hours education and therefore something which to all intents and purposes looks like a school will not be legally classified as a school.

The third difficulty is that nobody from the council is currently allowed to inspect school registers or question the proprietor on school premises to check individual pupils' timetables.

The only body which has the power to do this is Ofsted and even for Ofsted this has only been possible since January 2015 when the relevant sections of the Education and Skills Act 2008 were brought into law. Ofsted refers to these as "section 97 powers." As set out in Ofsted's guidance for inspecting unregistered schools, updated September 6th 2016, "on arrival at the premises concerned, the inspector(s) will attempt to enter and inspect the premises. The lead inspector will explain that s/he has reasonable cause to believe that an unregistered independent educational institution is being conducted at the premises. Section 97 of the Education and Skills Act 2008 provides a right of entry to all types of premises to carry out an inspection under section 97, including a private house. If the lead inspector concludes that the institution is operating as an unregistered independent school, the lead inspector will explain to whomever appears to be the most senior person present that it is a criminal offence to conduct an unregistered independent school. The lead inspector will provide the person who appears to be the most senior person present with a warning notice outlining the implications of continuing to operate an unregistered independent school. The warning notice states the HMI’s judgement based on the available evidence that an unregistered school is being conducted on the premises and should cease to operate illegally with immediate effect. The lead inspector will report the inspection findings to the DfE/Secretary of State. Ofsted will provide the relevant local authority with information regarding pupils who may be attending unregistered independent schools. Where Ofsted believes that a child may not be receiving a suitable education, it will also share information regarding that child with the relevant local authority."


Legislation does exist for regulating part-time schools (12.5 or 15 hours) but it has never been brought into force.

Some home educators may remember Government plans for the registration and inspection of "independent educational institutions" - ie part-time schools - and if you look at Part 4 of the The Education and Skills Act 2008 there do appear to be rules for regulating part-time education for 12.5 hours or 15 hours, and essentially treating part-time schools in much the same way as full-time schools.

However, although this was set out in primary legislation and forms part of the final Act it still only has "prospective" status and successive Governments have opted NOT to bring these provisions into force, with the exception of parts of sections 94-97, which now enables Ofsted to investigate where it has grounds for suspecting that an illegal school may be operating.

See also this statement from the Minister Lord Nash, March 2nd 2017: "We have no immediate plans to implement the provisions in Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Education and Skills Act which enable the registration and regulation of institutions providing part-time education because we do not intend to bring such settings into the same regulatory system as used for independent schools..."


Full time independent schools MUST comply with regulations covering the welfare health and safety of pupils, breadth of curriculum, quality of educational provision, suitability of teaching staff and proprietors, appropriate premises, and record-keeping.

The requirements are summarised here here (January 2016). Once registered, independent schools are subject to regular inspection, as set out here here (January 2016).

Independent schools are inspected either by Ofsted or by other inspectorates approved by the Secretary of State. (In turn, these inspectorates are monitored by Ofsted)

In September 2016 it was reported that a registered independent Muslim primary school judged by Ofsted to have significant failings would have to close immediately. The proprietor had claimed that the school should stay open because otherwise pupils would end up in home education and might be radicalised. This was dismissed by the Tribunal judge.

Independent schools must provide:

  • written policy on the curriculum
  • appropriate plans and schemes of work
  • full-time supervised education giving pupils experience in linguistic mathematical scientific technological human social physical aesthetic and creative education
  • education such that pupils acquire speaking listening and numeracy skills
  • lessons in written and spoken English
  • personal social health and economic education which encourages respect for other people
  • for pupils receiving secondary education, access to accurate impartial up to date careers guidance
  • effective preparation of pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life in British society
  • a framework to assess pupils’ work regularly and thoroughly
  • arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of pupils at the school which have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State
  • a written behaviour policy
  • an effective anti-bullying strategy
  • a written health and safety policy
  • an admission and attendance register maintained in accordance with the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006(c)
  • a written risk assessment policy
  • that no-one is employed who is barred from working with children
  • that no-one is employed who is not allowed to work in the UK
  • suitable toilet and washing facilities for the sole use of pupils
  • separate toilet facilities for boys and girls aged 8 years or over except where the toilet facility is provided in a room that can be secured from the inside and that is intended for use by one pupil at a time
  • suitable changing accommodation and showers for pupils aged 11 years or over who receive physical education
  • suitable accommodation for the medical and therapy needs of pupils
  • suitable drinking water facilities
  • suitable outdoor space in order to enable physical education in accordance with the school curriculum and pupils to be able to play outside

Since September 2014, independent schools have been required to actively promote "fundamental British values" and ensure that there is political balance in teaching and other activities.

The Government's ideas about "fundamental British values" are set out in the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/2374/regulation/2/made and reproduced below.

2.—(1) The Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2010(1) are amended as follows.

(2) In Part 2 of Schedule 1 (Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Development of Pupils), for paragraph 5 substitute—

5. The standard about the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school is met if the proprietor—

(a)actively promotes the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs;

(b)ensures that principles are actively promoted which—

(i)enable pupils to develop their self-knowledge, self-esteem and self-confidence;

(ii)enable pupils to distinguish right from wrong and to respect the civil and criminal law of England;

(iii)encourage pupils to accept responsibility for their behaviour, show initiative and understand how they can contribute positively to the lives of those living and working in the locality in which the school is situated and to society more widely;

(iv)enable pupils to acquire a broad general knowledge of and respect for public institutions and services in England;

(v)further tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions by enabling pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures;

(vi)encourage respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010(2); and

(vii)encourage respect for democracy and support for participation in the democratic process, including respect for the basis on which the law is made and applied in England;

(c)precludes the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school; and

(d)takes such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils—

(i)while they are in attendance at the school;

(ii)while they are taking part in extra-curricular activities which are provided or organised by or on behalf of the school; or

(iii)in the promotion at the school, including through the distribution of promotional material, of extra-curricular activities taking place at the school or elsewhere;

they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views.

The Department for Education explains more about what "promote" means in the context of fundamental British values" here via this page

8. It is not necessary for schools or individuals to ‘promote’ teachings, beliefs or opinions that conflict with their own, but nor is it acceptable for schools to promote discrimination against people or groups on the basis of their belief, opinion or background.
9. The following is not designed to be exhaustive, but provides a list of different actions that schools can take, such as:
• include in suitable parts of the curriculum, as appropriate for the age of pupils, material on the strengths, advantages and disadvantages of democracy, and how democracy and the law works in Britain, in contrast to other forms of government in other countries;
• ensure that all pupils within the school have a voice that is listened to, and demonstrate how democracy works by actively promoting democratic processes such as a school council whose members are voted for by the pupils;
• use opportunities such as general or local elections to hold mock elections to promote fundamental British values and provide pupils with the opportunity to learn how to argue and defend points of view;
• use teaching resources from a wide variety of sources to help pupils understand a range of faiths; and
• consider the role of extra-curricular activity, including any run directly by pupils, in promoting fundamental British values."

The Department for Education explains more about how to explore the relationship between the law of the land and religious law here via this page

The intention is to ensure pupils support the rule of English civil and criminal law. This is not incompatible with encouraging pupils to respect religious law if the school’s ethos is faith-based; the school should not avoid discussion, of an age-appropriate nature, of potential conflicts between state law and religious law, and the implications for an individual living in England. It is expected that pupils should understand that while different people may hold different views about what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, all people living in England are subject to its law. The school’s ethos and teaching, which schools should make parents aware of, should support the rule of English civil and criminal law and schools should not teach anything that undermines it. If schools teach about religious law, particular care should be taken to explore the relationship between state and religious law. Pupils should be made aware of the difference between the law of the land and religious law.

Independent schools registered as having a religious ethos are able to admit pupils and provide education and access to other aspects of school life on religious grounds.

Such discrimination is generally prohibited by the Equality Act 2010, but a specific exemption exists for schools registered as having a religious ethos.

In addition, the Religious Character of Schools Regulations as amended allow the Secretary of State to make an order designating an independent school as having a religious character.

Government Advice says:

Independent schools designated as having a religious character can:
• give preference in connection with the appointment, promotion and remuneration of teachers on religious grounds;
• take into account conduct incompatible with the precepts or tenets of the religion in appointing or terminating the employment of teachers.
The Equality Act 2010 is not breached by doing anything permitted as a result of religious designation.
The proprietor of a registered independent school, or a person or body of persons planning to open an independent school, can apply for designation of the school as a school with a religious character.


The most common type of faith school in England is a state-funded Church of England primary school

In September 2015 there were 6,817 state-funded faith schools in England. 6,182 of the state-funded faith schools are primary schools (including academies and free schools) representing 37% of all state funded primaries. Church of England schools are the most common type of state-funded faith primary schools (26% of all primaries).

At secondary level, there are 635 state funded faith schools making up 19% of all state-funded mainstream secondaries. Roman Catholic schools are the most numerous type of state funded faith school at secondary level (9%), such as the voluntary aided Catholic secondary school in London where Sir Michael Wilshaw was head

Statistics for 2014 show 47 state-funded schools were Jewish, 23 Muslim, 10 Sikh and 4 were Hindu. Most faith schools are at primary level. 6,182 state-funded primary schools are faith schools, representing 37% of all state funded primaries. There were 47 Jewish, 23 Muslim, 10 Sikh and 4 Hindu state funded schools at the start of September 2014.

There has been controversy over Ofsted's inspection of orthodox Jewish schools, both maintained and independent, with allegations that inspectors were asking pupils culturally inappropriate questions and downgrading schools

After the Trojan horse affair in Birmingham where students in several Birmingham schools were said to be vulnerable to being exposed to extremism, Ofsted began looking at "British values" in schools Jewish schools said they were being singled out over pupils not being adequately prepared for modern life


Link Reference

This article is http://edyourself.org/articles/unregschools.php. The following links to other websites are contained in the article, displayed as citations to aid you in printing the document.

  1. editorial http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-full-extent-of-unregistered-schools-in-england-re
    vealed-a7586101.html
  2. teaching a broader syllabus http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35928801
  3. new requirements http://edyourself.org/articles/pupilregconsult.php
  4. an interview with a London journalist http://edyourself.org/articles/cme.php
  5. Ofsted's critical inspection of Christian schools http://edyourself.org/articles/outofschoolsettings.php
  6. an orthodox Jewish school in Stamford Hill http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/charedi-talmud-torah-tashbar-stamford-hill-jewish-sch
    ool-that-does-not-teach-english-ordered-to-a6813041.html
  7. Chris Cook Newsnight Film http://hackneycitizen.co.uk/2016/03/31/investigation-launched-claims-stamford-hill-jewish-school-def
    ied-closure-order/
  8. guidance for inspecting unregistered schools http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/3364/made
  9. Part 4 of the The Education and Skills Act 2008 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/25/part/4
  10. parts of sections 94-97 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/3364/made
  11. this statement http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question
    /Lords/2017-02-21/HL5528/
  12. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/2374/regulation/2/made http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/2374/regulation/2/made
  13. Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2010(1) http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/1997/schedule/1/made
  14. as amended http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2003/2314/contents/made
  15. 6,817 state-funded faith schools in England http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN06972.pdf
  16. downgrading schools http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/oct/29/ofsted-jewish-school-downgrade-beis-yaakov-inspecti
    on
  17. not being adequately prepared for modern life http://www.thejc.com/node/123215