Local Government Association calls for greater powers to tackle illegal religious schools

19 September, 2016

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Board
Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board

The Local Government Association (LGA) has called on the UK Government to give councils more power to deal with illegal schools in England. The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, claims that a lack of powers to enter homes and premises is limiting councils’ ability to differentiate between children who are being legitimately home-schooled, receiving a suitably balanced education, and those who are actually being educated in illegal, unregistered schools. The representative body states that further powers to check on home-schooled children are needed, and a simple register of home-schooled children should also be introduced.

The British Humanist Association (BHA), which in recent years has consistently highlighted the plight of the thousands of children trapped in illegal religious schools in the UK, has welcomed the attention being given to this issue by the LGA, calling such action ‘long overdue’.

Recent years have seen a dramatic growth in the number of children recorded as being home-schooled, with figures obtained from the Department for Education under the Freedom of Information Act identifying a 65% increase over the last six years. The Government and Ofsted have attributed this rise to the continued prevalence and expansion of illegal religious schools, which BHA investigations have revealed often provide an entirely unsatisfactory level of education and fail to ensure their children are prepared for, or even aware of, the world outside their immediate communities.

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said that whilst ‘the vast majority of parents who home educate their children do a fantastic job’, ‘in some cases, a child listed as home schooled can, in fact, be attending an illegal school’. He stated that if councils had powers to check that children weren’t being taught in ‘dangerous environments’, they would stand ‘a better chance of finding and tackling illegal, unregulated schools’, and he also called on the Government to ensure that ‘the right regulations are in place’ so illegal schools could be shut down swiftly.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman said, ‘After years of campaigning on behalf of the children trapped in these illegal religious schools, we are glad that the authorities seem finally to be treating the issue with the seriousness it deserves. This is long overdue, of course, and for too many children it is coming too late, but it is now vital nonetheless that this new intent is translated into meaningful action and reform. All relevant authorities must work together to find a lasting solution. For our part, we will continue to work with government to ensure this happens so that all children receive the broad and balanced education they are entitled to, irrespective of the community in which they are raised.’


For further comment or information please contact Jay Harman on jay@humanists.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the LGA’s press release: http://www.local.gov.uk/web/guest/media-releases/-/journal_content/56/10180/7957375/NEWS

Watch BHA Faith School Campaigner Jay Harman discuss the LGA’s proposals on the BBC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVsz6Bn29Bo

Read the BHA’s news item ‘BHA welcome Ofsted warning on children at risk in “faith” schools but warns problems are far more widespread’: https://humanists.uk/2016/07/08/bha-welcomes-ofsted-warnings-on-children-at-risk-in-faith-schools-but-warns-problems-are-far-more-widespread/

Read the BHA’s news item ‘BHA reveals illegal Jewish school allowed to stay open for years despite repeated Ofsted warnings’: https://humanists.uk/2016/01/15/bha-reveals-illegal-jewish-school-allowed-to-stay-open-for-years-despite-repeated-ofsted-warnings/

Read the BHA’s news item ‘Ofsted seeks prosecutions as more illegal “faith” schools are identified’: https://humanists.uk/2015/12/11/ofsted-seeks-prosecutions-as-more-illegal-faith-schools-are-identified/

Read the BHA’s news item ‘BHA exposé: unregistered faith schools enjoying charitable status despite operating illegally’: https://humanists.uk/2016/03/31/bha-expose-unregistered-faith-schools-enjoying-charitable-status-despite-operating-illegally/

Watch the BHA’s previous 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.