BHA welcomes Ofsted warnings on children at risk in ‘faith’ schools but warns problems are far more widespread

8 July, 2016

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today welcomed the comments made in an advice note by the Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw to the Secretary of State for Education regarding the risks posed to children in unregistered and some registered ‘faith’ schools, whilst warning that the problems he identifies are far more widespread. Published this morning, the advice note outlines ‘continuing concerns’ about Birmingham City Council’s record of ensuring the safety of all school-age children in the city, particularly with regard to ‘those children who are being educated at home or in unregistered schools, as well as those attending some independent faith schools’. Noting that Birmingham ‘had failed in its responsibility to support schools in their efforts to keep pupils safe from the potential risks of radicalisation and extremism’, Sir Michael claims that similar issues were found by inspectors in both Bradford and Luton.

In response to the note, the BHA has written to Sir Michael to welcome Ofsted’s work on these issues, as well as to highlight the ongoing problems in Hackney, where around 1,000 pupils are understood to be attending unregistered Charedi Jewish schools.  In his letter to the Chief Inspector, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson outlines the appalling education provided at such settings, which according to Ofsted’s own inspection reports is often ‘culturally and ethnically insular’, meaning pupils are ‘not adequately prepared for the responsibilities of adult life’ and are even ‘[un]able to develop fluency in reading, writing and spoken English’. Stating that Ofsted is right to be prioritising children at risk of falling under the influence of violent extremism, the letter nonetheless argues that ‘regardless of the threat of violence, relevant authorities have a duty to uphold the rights of children to a safe school, to a broad and balanced education, and to the protection of the state should their welfare be at risk. For the children in unregistered schools in Hackney, Birmingham, Bradford, and Luton, those rights are not being upheld.’

In line with the recommendation made by Sir Michael to the Secretary of State that one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors be assigned to any local authority where children are ‘at risk or radicalisation or their safety is being put in jeopardy by poor safeguarding practices’, the BHA has urged Ofsted to assign an inspector to Hackney.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented ‘We have been pivotal in highlighting the issue of the great many children in this country who are receiving an entirely unacceptable, hugely damaging, and potentially dangerous education within unregistered and some registered “faith” schools, and we welcome the effort that Ofsted is increasingly putting in to tackle this problem.

What is important is that we do not ignore the rights of children who are receiving this kind of education but who may not be within ‘Prevent’ programme hotspots. Those children also have a basic right to a broad and balanced education which must not be ignored or glossed over if it doesn’t fit in with a wider agenda of tackling violent extremism or radicalisation. We will be following up with Sir Micheal and hope he will give the issue the attention it deserves.’


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman on or 0207 324 3078.

Graph showing the number of children by age receiving full time education at registered Jewish schools in Hackney:



Read the BHA’s letter to Sir Michael Wilshaw: 

Read Sir Michael’s letter to the Education Secretary:

Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s previous letter to the Education Secretary from December 2015:

Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter to the Education Secretary from November 2015:

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘BHA exposé: unregistered “faith” schools enjoying charitable status despite operating illegaly’:

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘BHA reveals illegal Jewish school allowed to stay open for years despite repeated Ofsted warnings’:

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘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.