The Queen’s speech next week is expected to include the planned disbandment of dangerous or unregulated independent schools, including the threat of imprisonment and unlimited fines for owners who ignore protection concerns.
The Department of Education (DfE) said it was ready to introduce a law to give the government and Offsted more power to investigate and close private schools in England, and plans to expand the definition of a school to force more settings to formally register.
Under these powers, the secretary of education may suspend the registration of an independent school where there are “serious deficiencies in protection that pose a risk of harm to students”.
Suspension may be applied through a new criminal offense that could result in the liability of the owner if their school remains open after the suspension.
Diana Baran, school minister at Lords, said: “For too long, some children have been able to break through gaps in the system by spending most or all of the day in environments that do not meet required safety standards or quality of education.”
Offsted will also be given new powers to investigate illegal schools and support criminal prosecutions against unregistered day schools.
Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector Ofsted, said she “strongly welcomes” the proposals, which she has supported for several years.
“Many thousands of children are currently enrolled in unsuitable and dangerous illegal schools, which threatens their well-being and prevents them from receiving a proper education,” Spielman said.
“I look forward to more information on how our powers to investigate illegal schools will be strengthened, and I hope to see this law in the Queen’s speech next week.”
DfE new definition means that the institution will have to officially register as a school if it teaches school-age children for 18 hours or more per week and works at least part of that time during school hours.
The change closes the gap, which meant that the settings had to register as schools only if they taught 18 hours a week entirely during school hours. There was also no need to register if they offered a limited training program.
DfE said: “While some denominational groups, such as people of the Jewish Horeda faith, may be disproportionately affected by the proposals, the benefits they bring to the quality of children’s education and ensuring control over protection through regulated activities are more important. ”
Current laws in England allow many institutions to avoid registration as schools, while others that operate as illegal schools have been able to avoid sanctions and remain open.