Defiant headteacher says her illegal Islamic school will remain open

Defiant headteacher says her illegal Islamic school will remain open October 19, 2019

LAST month Nadia Ali, above, was found guilty by a  judge of running the unregistered Ambassadors High School in Streatham, south London.

She was sentenced to 120 hours’ unpaid work and ordered to pay costs of £1,000 and an £85 victim surcharge.

Ali, 38, and her father Arshad Ali, denied running an unregistered school contrary to the Education and Skills Act 2008.

But Judge Emma Arbuthnot, sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London, said the school had five or more pupils studying full time, and found them and the company guilty.

The court heard that a school has to register with the Department for Education if it is providing education to five or more children of compulsory school age full time.

Arshad Ali, 73, was fined £100 for his role as director of the school.

Commenting on the convictions Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman, of education watchdog Ofsted said:

We will continue to expose these places, and make sure they either close or become properly registered and subject to regular inspection.Only then can we make sure all children are safe from harm and receiving a decent education that prepares them for life in modern Britain.

And we need the government to tighten the legal definition of a school. I urge them again to do so at the earliest possible opportunity.

But this week Nadia Ali told the BBC’s Today and Victoria Derbyshire programmes that the school has a “unique” approach and will remain open.

She called the pupils “happy learners” and denied the school was breaking the law, as it was now open for only 18 hours a week

By law, any institution with more than five full-time pupils has to be officially registered and inspected. Government guidance defines full-time education as more than 18 hours a week.

The south London school, which describes itself as having an Islamic ethos, says it charges £2,500 a year per pupil and had 45 children on the roll at the time of its last inspection. But it has not yet met standards required to register.

Ali said the school had remained open as its work with the children was:

Quite unique. I’ve been teaching for 15 years and I’ve seen how children need a different approach and that what we’re trying to do at Ambassadors. This is why I believe in what we’re trying to do because we’ve seen a lot of results within our children. They’re happy learners.

Inspectors twice issued warnings they believed the school was operating illegally, after it first applied to register in 2016.

It failed its pre-registration inspection in February 2019, with inspectors judging it would not meet the Independent School Standards.

However, the school remained open – leading to Ali’s prosecution.

The inspection found she had:

Wilfully neglected to meet some basic, crucial, safeguarding responsibilities.

Inspectors found six out of 11 teachers had not had Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or criminal-record checks.

But Ali insisted all staff working at the time of the inspection had been thoroughly checked.

Inspectors also said ”teachers do not have the skills” to help pupils progress and concluded there was ”no capacity for improvement” at the school.

And they found there was:

No plan in place to actively promote fundamental British values.

In 2018, inspectors found texts in the staffroom that encouraged parents to hit their children if they did not pray, and said that a wife had no right to deny her husband

However they found no evidence children had access to these books.

Ali said the books had been donated by a mosque and had been kept locked in the office and she accepted they were unsuitable.

It is unclear how many hours the school currently operates, although Ms Ali insisted it was not longer than 18 hours. But the BBC saw a timetable for pupils aged 11-14 that added up to 21 hours per week. Ms Ali denied it was accurate.

Despite Ofsted inspecting almost 260 suspected unregistered schools since January 2016, and issuing warning notices to 71, this was only the second time a case was brought for prosecution.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said there needed to be a proper legal definition of “schools” and “full-time”, as the current legislation was too vague.

If it’s providing all, or substantially all, of a child’s education, then it’s a school and it should be registered, so we can make sure children are safe and getting a good education. The law didn’t expect unregistered schools to exist – it wasn’t designed to prevent these places from happening.

Education Minister Lord Agnew said unregistered schools were:

Illegal, unsafe and anyone found to be running one will be prosecuted. Where settings are only operating part-time, there are a range of legal powers in place to make sure children are safe in their care. And in the vast majority of cases those settings are doing an excellent job in enriching young peoples’ lives.

We have provided funding to a number of councils to boost their capacity to take action on settings causing concern.

These schools, in the main, are faith-based– and a cause for concern among those who believe that all schools should be secular in nature.

Right now the National Secular Society is running a No More Faith School campaign and is asking people to sign a petition that says:

No More Faith Schools is a national campaign dedicated to bringing about an end to state funded faith schools.

Faith schools have a negative impact on social cohesion, foster segregation of children on social, ethnic and religious lines, and undermine choice and equality. They also enable religious groups to use public money to evangelise to children.

This campaign is a platform for everyone who wants to see an inclusive education system, free from religious control.

If you think children from all faith and belief backgrounds should be educated together and allowed to develop their own beliefs independently, join us in saying No More Faith Schools.

Together we can build an inclusive education system today, to ensure an inclusive society tomorrow.

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