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Pair convicted for running learning centre as illegal school in landmark case

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The headteacher and director of a learning centre have become the first people in England and Wales to be convicted of running an illegal, unregistered school.

Headteacher Beatrix Bernhardt, 38, and director Nacerdine Talbi, 47, were convicted of running the Al-Istiqamah Learning Centre in Southall, west London, where almost 60 children aged between five and 11 received education.

The landmark case was the first prosecution against an unregistered independent school in England and Wales.

The institution, reported to be a Muslim learning centre, claimed it only provided tuition to home-schooled children.

But photographs of lesson plans and homework diaries taken by inspectors showed the centre was being run as a school.

Beatrix Bernhardt was fined £400 and Talbi was fined £300. Both were also fined £85
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Beatrix Bernhardt was fined £400 and Nacerdine Talbi was fined £300

The pair were sentenced to a three-month curfew between 9pm and 6am, while Bernhardt was fined £400 and Talbi was fined £300.

They were also found guilty of conducting an unregistered independent educational institution.

Both were fined an additional £85 victim surcharge and the institution was fined £100 at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

Inside the teachers' room at the school
Image:
Inside the teachers’ room at the school

The court heard Ofsted’s unregistered schools team warned the centre to stop operating illegally after visits in October and November where inspectors found 58 children aged between five and 11 being taught.

When the warning was ignored, the investigation was passed to the CPS, which gained authorisation from the Education Secretary to bring charges.

The court heard that children learned that only “Muslims and animals” were saved in the Ark.

Headteacher Beatrix Bernhardt and director Nacerdine Talbi were each given curfews and fines
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Headteacher Beatrix Bernhardt and director Nacerdine Talbi were also given curfews

The centre was set up to provide support and tuition for home-educated children, charging parents up to £250 a month.

Talbi told the court the teaching of children never exceeded 18 hours at the centre which was 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.”

Lynette Woodrow, deputy chief crown prosecutor for the complex casework unit at the CPS, said: “This is the first prosecution of its kind against an unregistered school in England and Wales.

“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.”

Chief inspector of schools Amanda Spielman said: “I am glad the courts have recognised our serious concerns about
unregistered schools.

“These schools deny children a proper education and leave them at risk of harm and, in some instances, radicalisation.”

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