Unregistered schools and Unregistered APs under OfSTED’s Eye

PAG Staff2023, Article, Schools

Unregistered schools and Unregistered APs under OfSTED’s Eye

Since 2016, OfSTED’s Unregistered School Taskforce has monitored the activity of unregistered education establishments, commonly referred to as illegal schools. 

In the last six years, the government organisation has conducted over six hundred inspections throughout England. As a result, it has managed to get ninety-seven institutions to adapt their services according to legal requirements and duly register as educational providers. Nevertheless, the 2021-22 OfSTED Annual Report shows a rising number of placements in unregistered schools, especially in unregistered AP establishments.

What are unregistered schools?  

Unregistered schools are educational establishments that fit the legal criteria of an independent school but are not registered with the DfE and operate outside of the education system without the legally required oversight.

According to the DfE, a school is an institution that caters for children and young people to receive full-time education from (roughly) ages 5 to 18, or part-time education from ages 2 to 5. A school must register as an independent school if it offers full-time instruction to five or more students of compulsory school age, or one such student who is looked after or has an EHC plan, and is not maintained by a local authority or a non-maintained special school.

Operating an unregistered school is considered a criminal offence punishable by up to 6 months in prison, a fine, or both. However, given the limited powers OfSTED currently holds, only six irregular institutions have been prosecuted in the past six years. 

It is not uncommon for some illegal schools to be operated in inappropriate locations, expose students to materials that are contrary to British values, or offer a limited curriculum. However, when it comes to unregistered alternative provisions, there are certain unique factors that must be considered.

Unregistered AP schools  

Between January 2020 and January 2021, there was a significant decline in the number of alternative provision (AP) placements in registered state-funded schools, decreasing by 16% to 22,000. Despite this decrease, the number of placements in independent schools and unlicensed providers has been on the rise. In most local authorities, the average percentage of AP placements in the independent and unregistered sectors is between 40% to 80%[1].

In 2022, alternative provision providers made up more than half of all unregistered school inspections. According to OFSTED, around 65% of pupils enrolled in unregistered AP have an education and health care plan, which means that the most vulnerable students are receiving their education at non-inspected facilities.

It is not always ensured that schools or local authorities commissioning unregistered alternative provisions thoroughly check for their quality and safety or if the placements are suitable for each individual student's needs. A lack of local supervision and transparency in the management of placements may also hinder the effective commissioning of unregistered alternative provision. This can lead to a decrease in the visibility of the students within the AP system, putting their education in jeopardy.

However, it is important to note that just because pupils attend an unregistered AP does not necessarily mean they are at risk within these institutions. Some educational commissioners believe that when used with proper planning and supervision, unlicensed alternative provisions can play an essential role in helping children and teenagers with complex needs who require specialised programs, support, and training to get back on track with their learning. In some cases, the mere legal definition of school can affect the status of small adequate unregistered facilities by catering for barely over five students or a single pupil with an EHCP.

[1] Figure 23 of the OfSTED Annual Report 2021-2022  

Free Schools AP Wave

The DfE is currently receiving applications from organisations partnered with their Local Authorities to open new Alternative Provision Free Schools.

PAG has unparalleled experience in the free schools sector and assisted with the opening of over 150 institutions including a significant number of SEND and AP bids.

If you are considering submitting an AP bid, our expert team can support you at any stage of the free school process. To get in contact with one of our consultants, get in touch here.