Illegal schools in the United Kingdom

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Thousands of children are being educated in unregistered alternative provision where teachers require neither qualifications nor criminal record checks.
—Jessica Hill, Schools Week[1]

Illegal schools in British law are full-time education institutions which are not registered with the Department for Education.Wikipedia UK regulation requires schools to be registered if five or more children attend for all or substantially all of their education. There thought to be hundreds of such institutions in operation, the majority of which are faith schools run by fundamentalist Jewish and Muslim leaders, but there are also a growing number of schools run by conspiracy theorists and pseudolegal scheme proponents which espouse a form of conspirituality. Illegal schools often evade legislation by claiming to be centres for homeschooling as there is limited regulatory oversight of this and no official register of home schooled children.[2]

The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted)Wikipedia set up a task force to investigate illegal schools in 2016. Inspectors, however, have neither authority to enter premises nor seize incriminating materials. Nonetheless, there have been six successful prosecutions and two custodial sentencings related to five illegal schools as of January 2022.

Illegal Jewish schools[edit]

A 2016 report revealed that around 35 illegal ultre-Orthodox YeshivahsWikipedia were in operation across the UK with thousands of children taken out of mainstream education and are at risk of being beaten and prevented from learning English. One former pupil interviewed for the report stated: "I attended illegal schools between the age of 7 and 16… Hitting children was part of routine; I was personally hit almost on a daily basis."[3]

A typical day would start at 8 in the morning, finishing at 10 in the evening. We would sit all day and study our religious texts… We were bred in racism, sexism and bigotry… Libraries, internet, TV, radio, social media or any other source of contact with, or information about, the world around us was strictly banned. We didn’t know who the at-the-time prime minister was, or for that matter, any information about current events, e.g. the royal wedding, or Olympic Games. Most of us couldn’t even speak a most basic form of English, thus practically ensuring that any interaction with the outside world is disabled. — Former pupil

The report also claimed mainstream faith schools were complicit in the alleged abuse.

Ultra-orthodox Jewish schools in Hackney[edit]

A follow-up investigation by The Independent in London borough of Hackney confirmed that thousands of children, mostly boys between the ages of 13 and 16, were being educated in illegal schools, which had been in operation for over four decades with the acquiescence of local authorities.[4]

Looking back, I feel my childhood was stolen. Ultimately the blame comes down to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community who run these schools and send their children to them but I feel a lot of the blame is on the authorities. They are the ones who are the guardians of children and they’ve stolen my childhood, stolen my rights, stolen any chance to have real choice and opportunity in life. — Former pupil[5]

The investigation also confirmed that the pupils were at risk of physical and sexual abuse in the schools.[6] Furthermore, the Department for Education was revelaed to have been aware of the problem since 2010 and that it allowed the local education authority to destroy evidence at the request of schools.

Every day that I was at the school, the council and the Government could have acted but didn’t. I think that sometimes they misleadingly believe that by intervening they will be seen as intimidating minority communities, but they are doing exactly the opposite. They are being discriminatory against Jewish children and anti-Semitic by not intervening. They’re saying that children like me don’t have the same rights as any other child because we come from the Orthodox Jewish community. — Former pupil[5]

34 teenage pupils and two teacher from one such school in Stamford Hill nearly died after being trapped by the rising tide on a June 2016 hiking trip in Kent. The group was dressed in traditional clothing instead of hiking gear due to religious reason, were unable to read warning signs because of a lack of English, and delayed rescue by contacting community leaders in London before the emergency services to preserve the secrecy of the illegal school.[7][8]

Illegal Islamic schools[edit]

Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre[edit]

Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre was an illegal Islamic school[9] run by Beatrix "Maryam" Bernhardt (March 1980–) and Nacerdine Talbi (September 1971–)[10] in an office block in Ealing, London.[11] Ofsted inspections in October and November 2017 found 58 pupils receiving substantially all of their education for fees of £250 per month. Bernhardt and Talbi were prosecuted in what was seen as a landmark test case.[12] Talbi claimed he thought he was within regulations, was intimidated by the inspectors, and was trying to protect his pupils from them.[13] Bernhardt and Talbi were found guilty in September 2019 in the first prosecution of its kind.[14]

We hope that today’s judgement sends out a message to all those running such schools that they will face justice. We will continue to investigate and expose illegal, unregistered schools and where we find them, play our part in making sure they are closed or become properly registered. — Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector[15]

A professional conduct panel convened by the Teaching Regulation Agency in March 2022 ruled that both would be indefinitely banned from teaching.[16]

Ambassadors High School[edit]

Ambassadors High School is or was an illegal Islamic school[17][18] run by headteacher Nadia Ali and her father Arshad Ali in Streatham, London, which was discovered in June and July 2018 Ofsted inspections.[19] The school applied to register as an independent school in September 2018, but a February 2019 pre-registration inspection found it operating without registration and unlikely to meet standards.[20] At that time it claimed to have 45 pupils, charging fees of up to £4,500 per year, but its recordkeeping was poor. The Alis were found guilty in September 2019 in the second prosecution of its kind. Nadia Ali subsequently appeared on the BBC vowing to keep the school open.[21] Follow-up inspections between November 2019 and March 2020 found the school still in operation. Nadia Ali was given an eight-week custodial sentence, suspended for a year, in October 2021.[22] This was the fifth successful prosecution and the second prison sentence imposed for running an illegal school.

Advanced Education Centre[edit]

Advanced Education Centre is an "inadequate"[23] private charitable Islamic primary school run by Suleyman Folami and Mujanet Daniah in Unimix House on Abbey Road, London, which was found to have a secret illegal Islamic secondary school making £347,000 a year in fees from 66 students on the floor above.[24] Ofsted conducted inspections in 2018 and 2019, during which Folami hurriedly sent the pupils away,[25] and concluded:

This was an illegal school. The people in charge of running it successfully registered their legal school and were fully aware of the correct procedure, but despite repeated inspections chose to flout the law. — Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector[26]

Folami and Daniah were found guilty of running an illegal school in March 2020,[27] the couple were given a four-week custodial sentence, suspended for a year, which was upheld following appeal in January, 2022.[28][29] Former trust chairman Mohammad Dauhoo was found guilty of neglecting his duties. This was the forth successful prosecution and the first prison sentence imposed for running an illegal school. A professional conduct panel convened by the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) in February 2024 ruled that both would be indefinitely banned from teaching.[30]

Ayesha Tuition Center[edit]

Ayesha Tuition Center was an illegal Islamic school run by Dr Shathea Zamzam, Shahjan Yasmin Hussain and Yorkshire Tuition Centre in Grimesthorpe.[31] Ofsted inspection in 2021 found 28 pupils receiving full time education on the same premisis and with many of the same staff as the previously registered Oak School High which had been closed in 2020 after being judged inadequate.[32] Zamzam, Hussain and Yorkshire Tuition Centre were found guilty in January 2022.

Illegal special education needs schools[edit]

Freiston Hall[edit]

Freiston Hall was an illegal special education needs school run by Patricia Hodgkinson, Dr Albert Okoye and Clement Earle in Lincolnshire. Local authorities were charged £1,200 a week for each of the nine "exceptionally vulnerable" pupils, who lived at a registered children's home on site. The school was refered to Ofsted’s unregistered schools taskforce by the Department for Education in September 2017. Pre-registration inspections in 2018 found it operating without registration and unlikely to meet standards.[33] Inspectors found children wandering around unsupervised and staff were struggling to keep order. The school finally closed when the associated children was issued with a suspension notice and the children were removed.

The people running Freiston Hall 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. — Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector[34]

Hodgkinson, Okoye and Earle were convicted in October 2019 in the third prosecution of its kind. Some of the local authorities involved admitted to knowing the school was unregistered before sending students there.[35]

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. — Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector[34]

Aspiration House School was registered by Ofsted on the site in 2020.[36] A professional conduct panel convened by the Teaching Regulation Agency in July 2021 ruled that Earle would be indefinitely banned from teaching.[37][38] Dr Okoye was placed under warning from 10 May 2022 to 10 May 2023 for his actions by the General Medical Council.[39][40]

Illegal conspirituality schools[edit]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the antivax movement, under the leadership of a self-described peace constable named Olli Riddett, who operates a registered preschool in a village in Cornwall, started pulling their kids out of mainstream education and setting-up illegal schools, under the mistaken belief they were exempted them from British law under some kind of pseudolegal scheme.[41]

HOPE Sussex[edit]

Welcome to conspirituality land.

HOPE Sussex is a suspected illegal school founded by expelled British National Party (BNP) activists Matthew and Sadie Single and former theatrical nepo babyWikipedia Katy-Jo Murfin (daughter of Karl Howman)Wikipedia on an 80-acre site near Netherfield in East Sussex in 2022 as a "community centre" for antivax parents who have pulled their children out of mainstream education.[42] An investigation by The Times revealed they taught a full curriculum "through the prism of conspiracy with history lessons involving teaching that the US government knew in advance about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and discussed the possibility that stars were not real and were in fact lights." The (definitely not a) school has also published photos of its (definitely not) pupils engaged in (definitely not) combat training using crossbows and slingshots, led by (definitely not) teacher William Coleshill, an expelled former Tory councillor and founder of the antivax group Resistance GB. Coleshill has regularly harassed members of Parliament.[42] Ofsted initiated an inspection based on doubtlessly unfounded concerns, but were prevented from entering by two “obstructive and uncooperative” members of staff.[43]


Universallkidz is a suspected illegal school founded following a revelation at an anti-lockdown rally by former teacher Ladan Ratcliffe (a.k.a. Ladan Universall)[44][45] in 2021 in a converted nightclub in a decrepit Victorian mansion in Stockport. The school that Ratcliffe claims is a “a parent-child community initiative” that “only operates around 11 hours a week,” was found to provide full-time education for £30 per day to 13 to 28 children between 8 and 14 years of age who have been taken out of mainstream education for supposed "homeschooling". The school was exposed in April 2024 by an investigation by The Times:

For nearly a month I worked undercover as a teacher at Universallkidz, a suspected illegal school in Greater Manchester, alongside colleagues who believed that the dinosaurs never existed and viruses are not real; that aircraft vapours in the sky cause dementia and crystals could cure serious illness; and, most concerning of all, that the government was, in league with organisations such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) and wealthy businessmen, covertly attempting to depopulate and enslave the world — a conspiracy known as the “great reset theory”. — Tom Ball, a journalist with The Times[44]

Their syllabus includes foraging, self-defence, and natural remedies to survive and defy this supposed plot against humanity. With a "teacher" at the school explaining:

They won’t have to be woken up because they’ve never been asleep. They’ll know how to find their own medicine, find their own food when the s*** hits the fan. Because they are going to force a famine on us. Look at what they have been doing with farming. They are going to force a famine on us and we will be eating each other. — Red, a "teacher" at Universallkidz[44]

Ofsted initiated an urgent investigation immediately following the report.[46]


  1. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’: The rise of unregistered alternative provision by Jessica Hill (October 9, 2023) Schools Week
  2. The Times view on illegal schools: Lessons in Conspiracy: Establishments continue to teach extremism due to loopholes that must be closed (April 26 2024, 9.00pm BST) The Times (archived from 26 Apr 2024 21:22:07 UTC).
  3. Thousands of children at risk of 'being beaten and prevented from learning English in illegal faith schools' by Siobhan Fenton (13 January 2016) The Independent
  4. Hackney's missing children: Department for Education knew evidence of illegal faith schools was destroyed by Siobhan Fenton (3 April 2016) The Independent
  5. 5.0 5.1 'My childhood was stolen from me': Pupil of illegal Jewish faith school reveals physical abuse as told to Siobhan Fenton (3 April 2016) The Independent
  6. Calls for urgent inquiry into sexual abuse of Jewish children in illegal schools by Siobhan Fenton (23 August 2017) The Independent
  7. SAVED BY THEIR PHONES Moment more than 30 pupils trapped by rising tide are rescued by using their mobiles as distress beacons by Ellie Flynn (7 Jun 2016) The Sun
  8. Exclusive: Documents from local authority Hackney council, seen by ‘The Independent’, show they have known about the illegal school since 2011 but not shut it down, saying they have no legal powers to do so by Siobhan Fenton (11 July 2016) The Independent
  10. Nacerdine TALBI Companies House
  11. Schools in the shadows: investigating and prosecuting unregistered schools GOV.UK
  12. Duo in court as landmark ‘illegal school’ case begins by Freddie Whittaker (22 Oct 2018) Schools Week
  13. Alleged illegal school boss claims he was following DfE guidance by Freddie Whittaker (23 Oct 2018) Schools Week
  14. DfE wins first ever prosecution against Illegal school in landmark court case by Freddie Whittaker (24 Oct 2018) Schools Week
  15. Two convicted of running illegal school by Sean Coughlan (24 October 2018) BBC News
  16. Ealing pair banned from teaching after lying about setting up illegal school by Sylvie Wilkinson (7 APR 2022) My London
  17. Father and daughter guilty of running illegal school by Hannah Richardson (12 September 2019) BBC News.
  18. Spielman says second illegal school conviction is ‘tip of iceberg’ by Freddie Whittaker (12 Sep 2019) Schools Week
  19. Two convicted of running illegal school in London GOV.UK
  20. Ambassadors High School (London) Ofsted
  21. Defiant head vows to keep unregistered school open by Zoe Conway (17 October 2019) BBC News
  22. Father and daughter sentenced for running illegal school GOV.UK
  23. London school where toilets have no seats and cubicles can't be locked blasted by Ofsted by Grant Williams (January 20, 2023) My London
  24. Two primary school managers found guilty of running illegal secondary school in Park Royal by Nathalie Raffray (March 5, 2020) Brent & Kilburn Times
  25. 'Deceitful and dishonest' Headteacher and her husband raked in £347,000 while running secret Muslim faith school shut down by Ofsted inspectors by James Carr (March 27, 2020) Daily Mail
  26. Primary school managers ran illegal secondary on floor above by James Carr (March 5, 2020) Schools Week
  27. Independent primary school managers found guilty of running additional illegal school GOV.UK
  28. Appeals fail for two found guilty of running illegal school GOV.UK
  29. Pair caught running illegal secondary school above Brent mechanics lose appeal by Anna Highfield (January 25, 2022) My London
  30. Couple who ran illegal Park Royal school banned from teaching by Josh Bolton (April 23, 2024) Brent & Kilburn Times
  31. Three plead guilty to running illegal school GOV.UK
  32. Oak Tree High CLOSED Ofsted
  33. Freiston Hall Ofsted
  34. 34.0 34.1 Three convicted of running an illegal school GOV.UK
  35. Council knew illegal school was unregistered BEFORE sending vulnerable kids there by John Dickens (4 October 2019) Schools Week
  36. Aspiration House School Ofsted
  37. Teacher misconduct panel outcome: Dr Clement Earle GOV.UK
  38. Teacher who ran unregistered illegal school is struck off by Paul Whitelam (26 JUL 2021) Lincolnshire Live
  39. Albert Amaechi OKOYE General Medical Council
  40. HSE defends Camhs doctor guilty of running 'unsafe' school in UK by Noel Baker (23 April 2023) Irish Examiner
  41. Sovereign Citizens Are Trying To Set Up Their Own Anti-Vax Schools in the UK by Tim Hume (October 1, 2021) VICE News
  42. 42.0 42.1 Hope Sussex: Children’s crossbow lessons at ‘school for conspiracists’ by Tom Ball (July 17, 2023) The Times (archived July 17, 2023)
  43. CASE FILE: Hope Sussex Community (March 6, 2024) Hope Not Hate
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 Exposed: the ‘illegal school’ teaching children conspiracy theories by Tom Ball (April 25, 2024) The Times
  45. You can’t counter Conspiracy Britain with facts by Will Lloyd (April 29, 2024) The Times
  46. Urgent probe into conspiracy theory school claims (April 26, 2024) BBC News