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Unregistered schools represent ‘major risk to quality of education’, warns Ofsted

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, has written a letter to the Public Accounts Committee outlining the education inspectorate’s views on ‘major risks to the quality of education and school effectiveness’ in England.

Among these risks, Spielman lists illegal unregistered schools and pressure from local community groups, specifically those intent on making changes in school policy on the basis of religion or culture, as some of the most concerning. Humanists UK has been leading the campaign to tackle illegal schools, having garnered repeated media coverage for the issue over the last four years.

Despite the first successful prosecution of the proprietors of an unregistered school earlier this month, Spielman asserts that Ofsted still lacks sufficient powers to put illegal operations out of business and argues that the legal inability to seize evidence during inspections means the inspectorate is effectively ‘tackling the problem with one hand tied behind [its] back’.

As Humanists UK reported as part of an exclusive joint investigation with BBC News at Six and Ten earlier this year, since 2014 there have been over 50 reports of abuse and neglect in unregistered schools, many of which are housed in ‘squalid and unsafe’ premises.

Spielman’s letter further identifies risks in the narrow nature of the curricula provided by such establishments, with some offering ‘a predominantly or exclusively religious education’ and others exposing pupils to extremist materials which advocate, amongst other things, physical and sexual violence against women, and the ‘death of gay people’.

Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham commented:

‘Amanda Spielman is entirely correct to maintain that loopholes in the law surrounding unregistered provision represent one of the biggest threats to the quality of education and school effectiveness in England. For a number of years, Humanists UK has worked to expose the appalling practices of illegal schools. This has included providing evidence of neglect, abuse and indoctrination directly to Ofsted.

‘The Government must stop hesitating and immediately give the inspectorate the legal powers it requires to ensure that no more children and young people are harmed by being forced to attend these schools.’  

Spielman also expressed concern that the Department for Education (DfE) and Local Authorities are not currently doing enough to support schools when they are put under pressure to change their policies by religious campaign groups. She said:

‘When these groups press for changes in school policy on the basis of religion or culture, it can lead to the curtailing of rights of other protected groups, most often girls. This can affect what is taught, what is not taught, what activities children take part in and what they are withdrawn from, and what children wear or do not wear.’

But while Ofsted has vowed to support schools to take decisions in the interests of all the children and young people in their care, Spielman acknowledges that there are limits on what the organisation can do, and goes on to request that the DfE introduces stronger guidance to assist schools in these circumstances.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 07815 589636.

Read more about our work on illegal faith 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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