Alleged illegal school boss claims he was following DfE guidance

The director of a west London learning centre accused of running an illegal school has claimed he was following Department for Education guidance when he decided not to register his institution.

Nacerdine Talbi, 47, the sole director of the Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre in Ealing, west London, told Westminster Magistrates court today that he believed he was providing a part-time education to the centre’s 58 attendees and therefore did not need to register as an independent school.

The landmark case is the first of its kind in England, and is widely expected to become a test case for the government’s recent clampdown on unregistered schools. The centre, senior teacher Maryam Bernhardt, 38, and Talbi all deny operating an unregistered independent educational institution.

The court heard yesterday how Ofsted issued the centre with a number of warning notices following inspection in October and November last year. It is alleged that the centre should have been registered as a school because the education it provided met the government’s definition of full time, in that it operated during the day for more than 18 hours a week.

Giving evidence before senior district judge Emma Arbuthnot, the chief magistrate of England and Wales, Talbi said he felt “intimidated” when Ofsted inspectors turned up at his institution on October 12 2017, and became annoyed when they started to question the children.

“I was just protecting the children,” he said. “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.”

Talbi also questioned Ofsted’s decision to return to the centre on November 14 of last year, when both he and Bernhardt, his parter, were attending the funeral of her father.

“I felt it was wrong because we had been told we would be coming for an interview and they just turned up. I know it’s their job but I felt I don’t know why they came back.”

However, the court heard that Talbi turned down a subsequent offer of a voluntary interview with Ofsted.

“Again because I felt intimidated,” Talbi told the court. “They didn’t give me a chance to explain how the centre is run.

“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.”

Talbi confirmed today that the centre’s doors were open between 9am and 2pm, but that the teaching of children never exceeded 18 hours, in line with government advice.

“I believe that by the DfE advice, guidelines that I don’t need to register. I follow the advice,” he said.

“I always wanted to register the learning centre since I got involved. The aim is always to register. But at the moment, financially, we can’t.

“I am following the guidelines from the DfE.”

The centre was set up to provide support and tuition for home-educated children. It charges parents up to £250 a month, and at the time of Ofsted’s inspections last year had 58 pupils, the court heard.

The hearing continues.