Boston

Three convicted of running an illegal school near Boston

Three people pleaded guilty to running an unsafe and unregistered school near Boston after misleading local authorities into paying thousands of pounds of public money for children to be educated there.

Patricia Hodgkinson, Dr. Albert Okoye and Clement Earle pleaded guilty at Lincoln Magistrates’ Court on September 26 to conducting an unregistered, independent school under section 96 of the Education and Skills Act 2008.

They received a conditional discharge and were ordered to pay £1,000 costs and £20 victim surcharge.

The prosecution, only the third of its kind, was brought following an investigation by Ofsted’s unregistered schools taskforce.

After the investigation, Frieston Hall was closed because Ofsted issued the associated children’s home with a suspension notice. Children were then removed and placed elsewhere, so the proprietors had no choice other than to close the school.

Six local authorities were misled into paying public money for children to be educated at Freiston Hall School, which describes itself as a “specialist residential therapy, education and care service providing support for young people with mental health difficulties”. On its website and in other documents, Freiston Hall clearly identified itself as a school.

Local authorities were being charged £1,200 a week for each child’s education. Some local authorities told Ofsted that they were assured by the school that it was registered.

Ofsted inspections

The Department for Education referred Freiston Hall School to Ofsted’s unregistered schools taskforce in September 2017. It was suspected to be operating without registration and, despite a warning issued by Ofsted, the school continued to operate illegally.

Inspectors found nine looked after children attending full-time and several of them had an EHC plan. As the school wasn’t registered this mean’t it was was operating illegally.

Ofsted carried out two further pre-registration inspections, which highlighted that Freiston Hall was unlikely to meet the Government standards. It had failed to carry out necessary staff suitability checks, to give first aid training to staff, and to supervise pupils adequately.

Ofsed’s unregistered schools taskforce found unsupervised children wandering around the premises when they carried out a final unannounced inspection. Staff were also struggling to keep reasonable order and calm, while children became agitated and upset.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, said: “The people running Freiston Hall were receiving large amounts of public money from local authorities, who were paying for exceptionally vulnerable children to be educated in an unregistered, unsafe school.

“Registration is so important. Schools operating beneath the radar aren’t subject to regular inspection, so we cannot be assured that they are safe or providing good quality education. We want to send a clear message to those who continue to run unregistered schools, despite being warned not to. You will face justice.

“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.”