Government rejects call to strengthen Ofsted to tackle illegal schools

By Joe Lepper

| 09 January 2018

The government has rejected calls to hand Ofsted greater powers to prosecute and close unregistered schools.

Lord Agnew has said the government has no plans to strengthen Ofsted's powers in relation to unregistered schools. Picture: UK Parliament

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said last month that new legal powers were needed to help it tackle unregistered schools. In launching the inspectorate's 2017 annual report she described the current legislative framework as "not adequate".

But junior education minister Lord Agnew of Oulton, in response to a parliamentary question by Labour peer Lord Warner, said the government has no plans to strengthen Ofsted's powers.

Agnew said that since a specialist Ofsted taskforce was set up with Department for Education funding in January 2016, the inspectorate has already been successfully tackling illegal schools.

He pointed to latest Ofsted figures showing that from the taskforce's launch to August 2017 the inspectorate had identified 38 unregistered schools and 34 of them are no longer operating illegally, with the remaining four still under investigation as of August 2017.

Agnew added that the number of illegal schools is also far less than had been anticipated.

"The department does not have primary legislation scheduled for this session, therefore the government has no current plans to change Ofsted's powers in relation to the investigation of unregistered schools," said Agnew.

"In January 2016 we announced that we were providing funding to Ofsted to establish a dedicated team of specialist inspectors to investigate such settings.

"The figures published in Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's annual report shows that the work of this team has been highly successful, but the figures also demonstrate that there are far fewer unregistered schools than many had believed to be the case."

Council leaders have also asked the government for greater powers to crackdown on illegal schools.

In September 2016 the Local Government Association criticised current legislation for only giving councils the power to enter premises, suspected of being used as an illegal school, if they have concerns about a child's safety.

Agnew says that the DfE is currently working with Ofsted and directors of children's services on guidance for councils on how to tackle unregistered schools, which will be published "in due course".

In July last year, Ofsted revealed that 92 suspected unregistered settings were visited between 1 April 2016 and the end of March 2017, with 31 issued with warning notices and 22 closed.

In 2016 the government reiterated its commitment to the introduction of inspections of out-of-school education settings, including Islamic madrassas and church youth groups.

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