In a letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has revealed that three more unregistered religious schools have been identified by Ofsted and found to be teaching ‘a narrow Islamic-focused curriculum’. In what is the second letter sent on the issue of unregistered schools in as many months, Sir Michael states that Ofsted are now looking to prosecute those involved in the running of unregistered schools, after inspectors discovered children being taught in ‘unhygienic and filthy conditions’, and subjected to ‘misogynistic, homophobic and anti-Semitic material’ by teachers who had not been cleared to work with children. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has long campaigned for a crackdown on illegal ‘faith’ schools, has expressed its concern at the findings and welcomed the efforts of both Ofsted and the Government in tackling the problem.
Having been ordered to investigate three suspected unregistered schools in Birmingham last month, inspectors carried out no-notice inspections in each case, finding ‘clear evidence that all three settings were operating as unregistered schools’. A total of 94 children were discovered to be being educated in these schools, and books and texts found by inspectors suggested that teaching was based on a narrow, scripture-focused curriculum, which used books and other texts espousing ‘misogynistic, homophobic and anti-Semitic material’.
Detailing the ‘serious and growing threat to the safety and well-being of hundreds of children in several English regions’ posed by illegal schools, the Chief Inspector stated that Ofsted had succeeded in both shutting the schools down and arranging for the children to be placed in alternative, registered schools. This was achieved, the letter claims, in spite of Government officials providing ‘confusing and unhelpful advice to the proprietors’ which resulted in them using the complicated registration process ‘as a means to continue to operate illegally’. The letter recommends that the Government act as quickly as possible to ‘disrupt and close down’ any such schools that are discovered, and asks the Education Secretary for permission to bring prosecution cases before the courts.
The Department for Education has been taking greater steps in recent months to tackle the issue of unregistered or unregulated religious education settings, and just a few weeks ago launched a welcome consultation on plans to force madrassas, yeshivas, and Sunday schools to register and face inspection. The BHA has frequently alerted the Government to the plight of children in illegal ‘faith’ schools, most recently over the summer, and earlier this month exposed the extent of the problem in North London amongst the strictly Orthodox Jewish community.
BHA Faith Schools and Education Campaigner, Jay Harman, said: ‘Having been making noise about the growing problem of illegal “faith” schools for quite some time now, we’re glad that something finally seems to be being done, and we commend both Ofsted and the Education Secretary for that. Every year that these schools are either allowed to stay open, or else are able to evade detection, thousands more children are subjected to indoctrination, to abuse, and to an education so limited and blinkered that it can scarcely be described as an education at all. Government action on this can therefore not come soon enough, and we hope that Ofsted’s continuing investigations will lead to all of these children being given access to the full education to which they are entitled.’
For further comment or information, please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools and Education Campaigner Jay Harman on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07970 393 680.
Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter to the Education Secretary: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/484458/151211_HMCI_to_Secretary_of_State_advice_note_on_3_unregistered.pdf
Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s previous letter to the Education Secretary: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unregistered-schools-ofsted-advice-note
Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Ofsted inspectors identify illegal and unregistered schools operating throughout England’: https://humanists.uk/2015/11/12/ofsted-inspectors-identify-illegal-and-unregistered-schools-operating-throughout-england/
Watch the BHA’s exposé on BBC London on unregistered Jewish schools in North London: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hICjMR7Tj1w
Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.