Councils spent thousands sending vulnerable kids to illegal school

Councils have been warned to carry out the proper checks on school placements for vulnerable youngsters after it emerged some had spent thousands of pounds sending pupils to an “unsafe” illegal school.

Three people have been convicted of running an illegal school at Freiston Hall, in Lincolnshire – an unregistered school for looked after children with highly complex physical and mental health needs.

In a press release published today, Ofsted said that six councils were “misled into paying hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money for children to be educated” at the illegal school.

This case should also serve as a warning to local authorities

Councils were charged £1,200 a week for each child’s education. Ofsted said Freiston Hall “clearly sought to identify itself as a school in its name, on its website and in other documents”.

Councils said they had been assured the school was registered. But Patricia Hodgkinson, Dr Albert Okoye and Clement Earle pleaded guilty to running an unregistered independent school at Lincoln Magistrates’ Court last week. They have been ordered to pay £1,000 costs.

It’s the third prosecution of its kind following an investigation by Ofsted’s unregistered schools taskforce.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector, said: “This case should also serve as a warning to local authorities. Decisions about placements must be made with due diligence. All local authorities should be carrying out the necessary checks to make certain that schools are registered with the Department for Education.”

She added the people running the school were receiving “large amounts of public money from local authorities, which were paying for exceptionally vulnerable children to be educated in an unregistered, unsafe school”.

Children lived on site at the registered children’s home while receiving all their education at an on-site unregistered school. Ofsted inspectors found nine looked after children attending full time. Several of these had an EHC plan.

Ofsted was first tipped off to Freiston’s illegal operation in September 2017. After a warning from the inspectorate, two more pre-registration inspections found Freiston was unlikely to meet government standards.

Ofsted said it had failed to carry out necessary staff suitability checks, give first aid training to staff, and to supervise pupils adequately. During a final inspection, inspectors found unsupervised children with staff struggling to keep “reasonable order and calm”.

Freiston only closed after the inspectorate issued the associated children’s home with a suspension notice and the children were removed and place elsewhere.

Spielman added: “Registration is so important. Schools operating beneath the radar are not subject to regular inspection, so we cannot be assured that they are safe or providing good quality education. We want to send a clear message to those who continue to run unregistered schools, despite being warned not to. You will face justice.”

Since its illegal schools taskforce was set up more than three years ago, Ofsted has inspected almost 260 suspected unregistered institutions and issued warning notices to 71. While the majority have either closed, registered or changed how they operate, eight cases remain under investigation.

Ofsted has been handed £1 million every year since 2016 to fund the taskforce.