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Humanists UK has expressed concern about UK Government proposals for a voluntary safeguarding code of practice for providers of out-of-school settings in England.
In response to a consultation on the code, Humanists UK stated the draft proposals ‘cannot hope to address the problem of illegal schools’ and may even be used by the providers of such schools to ‘provide a veneer of legitimacy for their bad practice’.
Out-of-school settings – which include extra-curricular clubs and tuition or learning centres, as well as faith-based settings offering religious instruction – are supposed to provide part-time, supplementary education to children outside of school hours. However, in recent years, the sector has often been used as cover for the operation of illegal schools – generally yeshivas catering to the Charedi Jewish community or Muslim madrassas – offering a narrowly religious education on a full-time basis. As noted in a recent report by the Children’s Commissioner for England, these schools have been found to teach ‘dozens, sometimes hundreds of children in filthy, cramped rooms… with only religious texts in sight’.
Following a long-running campaign by Humanists UK and numerous appeals from the school inspectorate Ofsted, the Government recently announced that it would strengthen legislation on illegal schools as part of its Integrated Communities Action Plan. Further, the new safeguarding code of practice is supposed to improve the overall situation by setting out the ‘key things providers of out-of-school settings should be thinking about to help ensure they are providing a safe environment’.
A previous consultation, conducted in 2015, proposed a local authority register and system of inspection for out-of-school settings providing more than 6-8 hours per week. However, as a result of negative responses from religious groups – in particular, a backlash from the major churches, in spite of the fact that the proposals were specifically designed to avoid regulating Sunday schools – the plan was abandoned in favour of the proposed voluntary system.
Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham commented:
‘The Government’s decision to abandon its original plan for regulating out-of-school settings in favour of a voluntary code of practice is deeply regrettable. A system of registration linked, where necessary, to some kind of inspection regime is the only way to ensure that these settings are fully compliant with existing laws and regulations and not operating as illegal schools.
‘Further, although the code does attempt to draw a distinction between out-of-school settings and illegal schools, it is no substitute for legislative steps to shut them down. There is clearly a loophole in the law, focused on the definition of what is an independent school, that these settings are exploiting and it must be closed as a matter of urgency.’
Commenting directly on the content of the code, Dr Wareham continued:
‘Owing to a lack of substantive content, this code fails on its own terms and must be considerably improved if it is to be fit for purpose even for those willing to sign up. At best it will not achieve what it sets out to achieve, and at worst it risks giving a kitemark to schools and other settings that are operating illegally.’
For more information, contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3078.
To read Humanists UK’s response to the consultation, visit:
To respond to the out-of-school settings voluntary safeguarding code of practice consultation, visit:
Read our previous news item on illegal schools:
For more information on Humanists UK’s work on illegal faith schools, visit: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/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.