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(UK) Excluded disabled students warehoused in "unregulated/illegal schools"

Nov 5, 2021, Guardian: ‘Written off – at five’: children in England dumped in unfit ‘schools’

Some vulnerable children excluded from mainstream schooling are being educated in unregulated and illegal schools based in caravans on farmland, and on industrial estates and business parks, Ofsted inspectors have told the Guardian in an attempt to lift the lid on a murky world. Victor Shafiee and Sue Will, who focus on unregistered and illegal schools brought to the inspectorate’s attention through referrals from a worried parent or local authority, say alternative provision (AP) for children who cannot be accommodated in mainstream education is complex and growing. For children struggling in mainstream schools there are high-quality state-funded pupil referral units and good independent alternative provision, registered and monitored by Ofsted, that can offer a good short-term fix. But because of a shortage of places, there is also a growing unregistered sector, which is what concerns Ofsted. If an AP offers part-time provision, it is not required to register and so will not be inspected by Ofsted. It becomes illegal if it is not registered yet is offering full-time or near full-time education. The landscape becomes even murkier when children who have been excluded are referred to over-subscribed pupil referral units. They may then be subcontracted to an unregistered setting. It means troubled and challenging children, some as young as five, are being sent to “schools” in unsuitable accommodation, with unqualified staff, and may be receiving little in the way of education…. “It’s awful, isn’t it?” said Shafiee, Ofsted’s deputy director of unregistered and independent schools. “The big question for me is: what’s happened out there? Have children suddenly got worse behaved? What is it that’s fundamentally changed that means more children are going to APs, and primary kids are increasingly going to APs? Because this area is so obscure we just don’t know.” Inspectors are also seeing a growth in online APs, which can in some circumstances be helpful, though not always. “A child is having behavioural problems. What do we do? We ask them to sit in front of a computer and go on to an online AP,” said Shafiee. And a lot of money is changing hands. If a child has an education, health and care plan for severe special needs, large sums of money can follow that child, with annual fees of £30,000 [$40K] or even more being paid by local authorities to private providers. “Why have we got ourselves into a situation where some of the most vulnerable children are being cared for or educated by people that probably aren’t as qualified as normal teachers?” said Shafiee. “What’s going to happen to them? If at a very young age you end up in an illegal or unregistered AP, what are your chances?... Will is one of a small team of Ofsted inspectors who since 2016 have been going out to unregistered and illegal settings across the country. “I’ve been to settings in caravans on farmland, we’ve been to grubby halls, another favourite is on industrial estates,” she said. “We have started to identify more primary children at these settings in the last 18 months, but that’s not to say they weren’t there before. We’re really working in the dark here. There’s no regulation. There’s no requirement for paperwork. It really is the unknown.” She has come across children as young as five in these settings. “You imagine a five-year-old being written off. At five,” said Will. Shafiee added: “They deserve the system to help them as much as any other child.”…


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