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Ofsted sounds alarm over increase in extreme private and illegal religious schools

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman

In its Annual Report, out today, Ofsted has expressed alarm at the ‘increasing number of conservative religious schools that are spreading beliefs that clash with British values and equalities law’, as well as the ‘even more extreme’ illegal unregistered schools, which it says are ‘inadequately’ regulated to be able to tackle. Humanists UK leads the national campaign for greater action on illegal religious schools, and has worked closely with former pupils to whistleblow on such settings and provide Ofsted with evidence and information about their whereabouts and the conditions within them. It has today called on the Government to heed Ofsted’s advice.

In its summary of its report, Ofsted says:

To function effectively, British society depends on some fundamental shared values as well as a culture of mutual tolerance and respect. But we have found an increasing number of conservative religious schools that are spreading beliefs that clash with British values and equalities law.

The proportion of independent schools judged less than good increased this year from 31% to 40%. A number are highly conservative Christian, Jewish, or Muslim faith schools. In some of these schools, the premises are unsafe or squalid. The most basic checks are not always in place. Inspectors have also found sexist and sectarian literature in some schools.

In even more extreme cases, children are being educated illegally in unregistered settings. This means there are no safeguards in place to make sure children are either safe or receiving a decent education.

Current legislation is inadequate to tackle unregistered schools. It limits our powers and allows institutions to exploit loopholes about definitions of education. The existence of unregistered schools is possible because there is no requirement to register a child as home educated, so there is no record of children who have never been in school.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We are pleased that Ofsted is taking increasingly seriously the issues that private religious schools present to ensuring tolerance and respect for all.

‘But for far too long now illegal schools have been operating with impunity, due to a lack of powers for Ofsted to do anything about them. These schools often provide no education in English, maths, or science. On the contrary they are abusing children, and the longer they are allowed to operate, the greater the stain on this Government’s record. It is far past time that action is taken.’

Context to the report: Humanists UK has long voiced concern about illegal Charedi schools in Stamford Hill, having, for example, prompted Ofsted to dismiss Charedi inspectors found to be systematically giving the schools better grades than their colleagues, highlighted the fact that many of the illegal schools are also registered charities, and helped former pupils speak out in Parliament and across the media about their experiences in the settings. This work has prompted Ofsted to set up an ‘Unregistered Schools Team’ of eight inspectors, in an effort to tackle the issue.

All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group member Lord Soley is currently proposing a private members’ bill in the House of Lords, seeking to require home educated pupils to be registered. Two weeks ago this prompted the Government to announce it will review its home education guidance. Meanwhile, just on Friday, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby admitted he scuppered plans to enable Ofsted to inspect out-of-school settings supervising young pupils for more than eight hours a week per pupil. These proposals were explicitly designed to tackle illegal schools but not Sunday schools, but concerns about Sunday schools that teach for more than eight hours led the Archbishop to torpedo the entire proposals.


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on 0781 5589 636 or at

Read Ofsteds annual report:

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on religious schools:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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