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Pair convicted for running illegal school in landmark case

The i logo The i 25/10/2018 Elliott Kime

a sign on the side of a building © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd Two people have been convicted of running an illegal school in West London in a landmark case.

Nacerdine Talbi and Beatrix Kinga Bernhardt were given a three-month curfew and fined a total of £970 at Westminster Magistrates' Court as part of the Government's clampdown on unregistered institutions.

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Amanda Spielman, head of Ofsted, said she welcomed that the courts "recognised our serious concerns about unregistered schools".

Two inspections by the watchdog found nearly 60 compulsory school age children attending Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre in Ealing.

Protecting children

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The Crown Prosecution Service took control of the investigation after Al-Istiqamah disregarded an Ofsted warning notice instructing the school to stop operating illegally.

Giving evidence before Emma Arbuthnot, England and Wales' chief magistrate, Mr Talbi, 47, said his decision to leave Al-Istiqamah unregistered followed Department of Education guidelines.

He also said he felt 'intimated' when Ofsted inspectors arrived at the learning centre. 

“I was just protecting the children. Some of the children thought the police were here. I believed they didn't have the right to talk to the children without the parents' consent.”

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Mr Talbi subsequently declined the offer of a voluntary interview with the educational inspectors.

“I didn't want to stop co-operating with them but I said to them I'm not going to go with their requirement because I felt intimidated. I felt like a child being punished without reason.”

Photographs of the school, which charged parents up to £250 a month, were yesterday released by Ofsted. They show the cramped and deficient conditions the director's of this illegal school profited from.

This is the first time section 96 of the Education and Skills Act 2008 has been utilised due to a number of limitations on Ofsted's investigatory powers regarding unregistered schools.

Legal definition

The convictions have set a precedent that will give the government's clampdown on unregistered schools further authority to close schools operating illegally.

Ms Spielman said: “These schools deny a proper education and leave them at risk of harm and, in some instances, radicalisation. We hope that today's judgement sends out a message to all those running such schools that they will face justice.”

However, Mary Bousted, Joint-General Secretary of the National Education Union, told i: “It is clear that the legal definition of what constitutes a school needs clarification.

“The issue is surely not the precise number of hours a child spends in a particular institution but whether or not that institution is their sole or main place of education. If it is then it should be registered and subject to the same legal framework as any other school.”

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