Just Sociology

Unregistered Schools in England & Wales: Challenges and Implications

In England and Wales, there is a growing number of unregistered, illegal schools. These are institutions that do not meet the standards required to register with the Department for Education and which often operate without proper oversight.

Despite efforts by the government and other organizations to crack down on these schools, they continue to proliferate, with potentially serious consequences for the students who attend them. This article will examine the different types of unregistered schools, the issues they pose, and the consequences for those who run them.

It will also explore the relevance of this topic to the A-level Sociology curriculum, in particular modules focused on education, crime and deviance, and critiques of formal-legal systems.

Types of unregistered schools

There are several different types of unregistered schools operating in England and Wales. Alternative provision schools are a growing category, providing education for students who have been excluded from mainstream schools, or who have specific needs that cannot be met within a traditional classroom setting.

Illegal alternative provision schools are not meeting the legal requirements for safeguarding students, and are often not providing the type or quality of education required by law. Another category of unregistered schools is general educational schools, which may not have a specific religious affiliation, and may operate using a range of educational philosophies.

Finally, there are religious schools, which operate outside the legal framework that governs other schools, without regard for the UK curriculum or British Values agenda.

Issues with unregistered schools

The proliferation of unregistered schools has raised concerns about the quality of education being provided, as well as the safeguarding of students. There have been reports of inadequate staff checks, with some schools not requiring background checks for teachers or support staff.

Insufficient safeguarding provisions have also been identified, with students potentially at risk of harm from both staff and other students. Many of these schools also do not provide the required curriculum, including education on British Values and the English language.

Finally, it is difficult for authorities to investigate illegal schools, meaning that potential criminal activity may go undetected.

Consequences for running an unregistered school

Those who run unregistered schools can face criminal charges, including fines and a prison sentence. However, the penalties for operating an illegal school have been criticized as weak, and appear to have little deterrent effect.

In 2020, a man was jailed for running an unregistered school, but only received a 28-week sentence. Some critics argue that stronger penalties are needed, to both discourage the operation of illegal schools, and to demonstrate the severity of the crime.

Application to education module

The issue of illegal schools is highly relevant to the A-level Sociology curriculum, particularly the education module. The existence of unregistered schools raises questions about whether there is a consensus about the value of education, and whether all students are receiving an equal quality of education.

The focus on alternative provision raises questions about the labelling theory and the ways in which students can be disadvantaged or excluded from education. Additionally, the existence of unregistered schools highlights the concept of ‘bad schools’ and the limitations of the state to regulate all forms of education.

Application to crime and deviance module

Unregistered schools also connect to the crime and deviance module, particularly in relation to illegal activity, prosecution, and weak penalties. The operation of an unregistered school is a criminal offense, and as such, those responsible should be prosecuted.

The weak penalties given to those who operate unregistered schools, as evidenced by the case mentioned above, suggest that there is limited deterrence from breaking the law. The concept of desistance, or the idea that people can stop committing crimes, is also applicable in this context, as the weak penalties may not provide adequate motivation for those running illegal schools to change their behavior and seek legal oversight.

A critique of formal-legal systems

The existence of unregistered schools raises broader questions about the effectiveness of formal-legal systems, particularly in the context of educational regulation. While the state has a role in ensuring that all children receive an education that meets legal standards, alternative options may be more effective in promoting high-quality educational provision.

Furthermore, the recent pandemic has highlighted the challenge of regulating education, with gaps in oversight and potential disruption to formal systems. The issue of unregistered schools invites a critique of how we approach education regulations, and whether formal-legal systems are the most effective means of ensuring high-quality education for all.


In conclusion, the issue of unregistered schools is complex and multifaceted. As this article has demonstrated, there are multiple types of unregistered schools, and the issues they pose are significant.

The consequences for those who operate unregistered schools are weak, suggesting that stronger penalties may be needed to discourage this practice. The topic is relevant to the A-level Sociology curriculum, particularly in the modules focused on education and crime and deviance.

Finally, the existence of unregistered schools raises broader questions about how we regulate education, and whether formal-legal systems are the most effective means of promoting high-quality provision for all. In conclusion, unregistered, illegal schools in England and Wales pose significant challenges to student welfare and educational quality.

Types of unregistered schools include alternative provision, general educational schools, and religious schools, and issues include inadequate staff checks, insufficient safeguarding, and a lack of British Values agenda. While consequences for running an unregistered school can include fines, imprisonment, and criminal charges, the penalties are often weak.

The topic has relevance to A-level Sociology implications for education, crime, and deviance, as well as critiques of formal-legal systems. It highlights the need for effective, comprehensive oversight that supports all students in achieving a high-quality education, regardless of the type of school they attend.


1. What is an unregistered school?

An unregistered school is an educational institution which does not meet the standard required to register with the Department for Education. 2.

What types of unregistered schools exist? Alternative provision, general educational, and religious schools can be unregistered.

3. Why are unregistered schools problematic?

Unregistered schools are problematic because students may be at risk due to inadequate staff checks, insufficient safeguarding provisions, and a lack of required curriculum. 4.

What are the consequences for running an illegal school? Consequences can include criminal charges, fines, and imprisonment.

5. Are the penalties for running an unregistered school effective?

Some critics argue that penalties are weak and fail to provide an adequate deterrent. 6.

How does the issue of unregistered schools relate to A-level Sociology? The issue of unregistered schools relates to education, crime, and deviance, and critiques of formal-legal systems.

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