The Department of Education (DfE) has instructed Britain’s education regulator, Ofsted, to prepare legal cases against the founders of three illegal Islamic schools in Birmingham, which were found to be teaching children extremist Islamic ideology.
Fifteen such schools around the country were found in an Ofsted investigation into unregistered schools.
Last month, the regulator’s head, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wrote to the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan regarding his concerns for the safety of the children in the schools, which were described as “squalid”, the Times has reported.
In his letter, he wrote of the three Birmingham schools: “Inspectors found clear evidence that all settings were operating as unregistered schools.”
Inspectors had found “a narrow Islamic-focused curriculum [and] inappropriate books and other texts including misogynistic, homophobic and anti-Semitic material,” he said. In one prayer room, a book was found which advocated violence against homosexuals.
The children were being taught in “unhygienic conditions”, and safety concerns were raised over blocked fire escapes and obstructed exits. In addition, the staff had not undergone any checks to ensure that they were suitable for work with children.
In total, 94 children were being educated across the three schools.
Calling on the government for tougher powers to shut such schools down, Sir Michael described how inspectors had tried to close the schools, but returned weeks later to find them still operating. When confronted, the proprietors cited advice from the DfE granting new schools leave to operate while they applied for formal registration.
The inspectors, accompanied by local authority officials, took action by refusing to leave the premises until they had shut and the children had been transferred to legitimate schools.
“This was achieved in spite of your officials providing what I believe to be confusing and unhelpful advice to the proprietors that they could now apply to register their provision,” Sir Michael wrote.
“This allowed the proprietors to believe they could continue to operate while their applications were submitted and considered. This sends out an entirely wrong message of what the DfE perceives to be acceptable practice.”
He said that Ofsted were taking the unusual step to lead prosecutions themselves, unless the DofE acted swiftly.
A DfE spokesman said: “Since 2010 we have taken robust steps to tackle unregistered schools and improve safeguarding and this includes being completely clear it is a criminal offence to operate an unregistered independent school.
“We agree with Ofsted that more needs to be done and will be strengthening our communications to potential providers.
“We are also introducing further powers to regulate settings which teach children intensively and to intervene and impose sanctions where there are safety or welfare concerns.
“We are pleased Ofsted has agreed to take forward these prosecutions and we look forward to immediate progress.”
Mrs Morgan said: “Tackling extremism in all its forms is a key priority of this Government and since 2010 I have taken robust steps to tackle unregistered schools and improve safeguarding.
“However, we know there is more to do, and as the Prime Minister has already announced, we will introduce further powers to regulate settings which teach children intensively and to intervene and impose sanctions where there are safety, welfare or extremism concerns.
“We are currently consulting on these new powers, and I have personally received strong support from community leaders for them.
“In a further step, I have now asked Ofsted to prepare cases for prosecution against unregistered schools it has identified.
“For a child to spend a single day in one of these schools is unacceptable, and we are acting swiftly and decisively to eradicate them.”
Speaking to the BBC, Sir Michael said that while Ofsted had so far focused its attention on Muslim communities, inspectors could turn their attention to other faiths.
He said: “It will apply across the board, to any religious group whether Muslim group, Jewish group, or Christian group who wants to operate this sort of provision in unsafe accommodation, in unhygienic and filthy accommodation.
“It will apply to all religious groups, I want to make that absolutely clear.”