Ofsted, the agency which regulates schools in England and Wales, continues to raise concerns over the number of unregistered schools which continue to operate across the country. By law, all schools should be registered with the authorities, and meet certain safety standards. These include looking at the types of buildings which the schools operate in, and the types of staff they employ. Since January 2016, Ofsted has investigated a staggering 521 illegal schools. A recent court case involving a school in Streatham, London, has highlighted just how serious the problem can be.
What is a school?
There is a fairly tight legal definition of what a school is. The government defines a school as somewhere providing a full-time education to pupils, and defines “full-time” as over 18 hours per week. Any school with five or more full-time pupils have to register with the authorities. Many establishments try to get round these rules by stating they are only open for a shorter time period, or that they are providing top-up teaching rather than a full education. A lot of the unregistered schools in the UK cater for specific religious groups and are small, with 50 children or fewer.
DBS Checks for Teachers
There is no requirement for schools to only employ graduates or experienced teachers. Schools are free to recruit who they want to work in the school and might prefer to opt for someone with a lot of experience over someone with lots of qualifications. However, schools do have a responsibility to look after and protect the children in their care. In most state and private schools, this is done using the Disclosure and Barring Process.
Most teachers will have an enhanced disclosure check either when entering the profession for the first time, or when changing jobs. An enhanced disclosure is a “deep dive” into an individual’s criminal record and the certificate may show very distant convictions and cautions as well as more recent offences. The aim of the disclosure process is to weed out violent or sexual offenders who might pose a risk to children in their care. Many unregistered schools do not have DBS checks for all of their members of staff. In a recent investigation into a Streatham school, it was found that six out of the eleven teachers did not have DBS checks.
Other Types of Schools
Nearly all other schools in the UK, both in the state and independent sectors, are fully registered with the authorities and come up to the correct standards. Other types of establishments which are known as “schools” might not fit the legal definition. Football schools, or a school to give children extra skills in maths or English are not providing a full-time education. Tutors and sports coaches will need an enhanced DBS check in most cases, but there are no further requirements in terms of curriculum and training for teachers.
The best advice for parents is to ask lots of questions. A genuine school will not be evasive in any way.