Headteacher and owner of learning centre where children were taught ‘Muslims and animals’ were saved in Noah’s Ark are fined for running an illegal school
- Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre in Southall, London, was not registered as a school
- But taught 60 children for five mornings a week and set homework every night
- Head teacher Beatrix Bernhardt and director Nacerdine Talbi have been fined
- Convicted of conducting an unregistered independent educational institution
Head teacher Beatrix Bernhardt, 38, director Nacerdine Talbi, 47, and the Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre have now been convicted of conducting an unregistered independent educational institution
The director and head teacher of a Muslim ‘learning centre’ for home-educated children have been fined for running an illegal, unregistered school in a landmark case.
Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre in Southall, west London, was not registered as a school but taught about 60 children for five mornings a week and set homework every night.
Head teacher Beatrix Bernhardt, 38, director Nacerdine Talbi, 47, and the Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre have now been convicted of conducting an unregistered independent educational institution after a three day trial.
The court heard that at the ‘school’ children were taught that only ‘Muslims and animals’ were saved in the Ark.
Ofsted inspectors twice visited the centre based inside a three-storey office block on Uxbridge Road on 12 October and 14 November last year.
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They found more than 50 children between five and 11 years old being taught there, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard.
The centre was set up to provide support and tuition for home-educated children, charging parents up to £2,500 a month.
At the time of Ofsted’s inspections last year it had 58 pupils, the court heard.
Talbi told the court the teaching of children never exceeded 18 hours at the centre’s doors which were open between 9am and 2pm.
He said he felt ‘intimidated’ by the Ofsted visits, adding: ‘They didn’t give me a chance to explain how the centre is run.’
At the ‘school’ children were taught that only ‘Muslims and animals’ were saved in the Ark (Pictured: A pupil’s drawing was pinned to the wall at the ‘school’)
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot said: ‘The three defendants are charged that between 3rd September and 15th November 2017 they conducted an unregistered independent educational institution.
‘It is accepted by the defence that the centre is a school in that it provides primary education and/or secondary education to five or more pupils of compulsory school age.
‘It is clear too that the centre is not maintained by the local authority.
‘The issues for the court are can it be sure that the centre is being operated as an unregistered independent educational institution providing full-time education and if so whether the defendants controlled its operation.
‘Based on the defendant’s own schedule, I find 27 children were being educated for 25 hours a week in September, October and November 2017.
‘There would appear to have been a number of other children too who were being educated for more than 18 hours a week. I accept however that other pupils only came in for three days a week and others still did a couple of sessions a day.
‘The hours of attendance at the centre for the 27 listed in Mr Talbi’s schedule was 9am to 2pm.
‘I have no doubt from the documents exhibited that the academic year at the centre is a ten month year. The fees being charged were £2,300 per month for primary school age pupils and £2,500 (corr) for secondary school age and envisaged a ten month year.
‘I find that Fridays were a special religious day but according to the many examples of the timetable there were Arabic lessons taking place.
‘Teachers were present and that Arabic was taught although I accept there may have been more informality on the Friday and parents may well have been present. Whether parents were present or not education was still being provided.
‘I find that the children were given homework over and above their hours at school.
‘In terms of Ms Bernhardt’s role in the centre, Ms Bernhardt and Mr Talbi have done their dishonest best to mislead and persuade this court that she was not the head teacher of the school at the relevant time.
‘I am sure she was the headteacher. She said as much to the inspectors; she did all the talking at the October 2017 inspection; I noted that when Ms Assefa needed to speak to someone about the second inspection she rang Ms Bernhard and not her husband.
‘Having seen her give evidence I have no doubt that she was in joint control of the school’
Bernhardt was fined £400 with £85 costs; Talbi was fined £300 with £85 costs and the school was fined £100.
Lynette Woodrow, from the CPS, said: ‘This is the first prosecution of its kind against an unregistered school in England and Wales.
‘The centre claimed it simply provided tuition to home-schooled children but using witness statements and photographic evidence collected by Ofsted inspectors, the CPS was able to prove this was not the case.
‘It is a criminal offence to run an unregistered school and we will take steps to prosecute those responsible where there is the evidence to do so.’
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