‘Children in illegal religious schools being failed’, says Humanists UK

27 March, 2017

Significant action by local and national authorities is required to ‘secure the rights, well-being, and education of the children’ trapped in illegal religious schools, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has told Hackney Council as part of its inquiry into unregistered schools.  

The inquiry is being run by the Council’s Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Commission and comes in response to ‘a number of articles in the national media, in the spring and summer of 2016, that questioned the safety, safeguarding and quality of education’ provided in unregistered schools predominantly serving the strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish community. The BHA has been responsible for almost all of that coverage, and in recent years has been working closely alongside former pupils of these schools to pass on information to the authorities and highlight the experiences of the children within them.

The BHA’s response notes:

  • On the well-being of pupils: ‘the testimonies of former pupils suggest that children in unregistered schools are neither safe nor sufficiently safeguarded. One former pupil recalls the following, for instance, about his time at school: “Physical punishment was commonplace and the atmosphere was one of perpetual fear”. Whistleblowers have frequently reported physical abuse by staff in the schools.
  • On the curriculum taught at unregistered schools:there is almost no effort to teach children about other cultures, religions, or ways of life, or certainly not in a positive light, and as a result pupils gain only a very limited understanding of the society that exists outside of their own community… By the time they reach their teens, most Charedi boys are unable to communicate effectively in English.’
  • On Hackney’s historic inaction: ‘the Council has failed to deal with the presence of unregistered schools in the borough for a number of decades. Many of these illegal settings have been open for as long as 50 years, and it is simply unacceptable that in all that time nothing meaningful has been done to tackle them, nor secure the rights, well-being, and education of the children within them.’

In addition, the BHA makes three recommendations aimed at addressing the problem. First, it calls for the registration and inspection of out-of-school settings, which many full-time illegal schools claim to be, in line with proposals consulted upon by the DfE last year. Second, it recommends that a mandatory register of home educated children be introduced so as to identify which children are being legitimately home educated and which are actually enrolled at illegal schools. And third, it calls on Hackney Council to properly use its powers to ensure the education and safety of children in unregistered schools, specifically through the use of school attendance orders and education supervision orders.

BHA Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘The children trapped within illegal religious schools are isolated, indoctrinated, and denied their right to a broad and balanced education. They are denied the freedom to speak freely and for themselves or to engage with the society outside of their immediate communities, and it is therefore on their behalf and on behalf of those who have managed to escape that we have submitted our evidence to Hackney Council.

‘The rights of these children to a happy, healthy, and safe upbringing and to any education at all have been neglected and ignored by the authorities for far too long, and it is vital that this inquiry finally represents a genuine commitment to dealing with the problem.’


For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Education Campaigner Jay Harman on jay@humanists.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the BHA’s full response: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/20170315-Final-BHA-response-to-Hackney-Council-consultation.pdf

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Hackney Council launches consultation on illegal religious schools following BHA campaigning’: https://humanists.uk/2017/02/19/hackney-council-launches-consultation-on-illegal-religious-schools-following-bha-campaigning/

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

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.