New data on illegal schools reveals ‘grave situation’, says Humanists UK

12 April, 2019

Around 6,000 children are at potential risk in illegal schools in England, with many facing appalling conditions and a total lack of safeguarding, according to new information released today by Ofsted.

Humanists UK, which has led the campaign against illegal, unregistered schools, says the data, which has never been published before, provides new evidence of the ‘grave situation’ of illegal schools, including religious schools.

Ofsted investigated 521 settings and inspected 259 schools since January 2016. Alternative provision is the most common type of setting (28%). Around a quarter (26%) of the settings are ‘general education providers’, and a fifth (21%) are places of religious instruction.

This said, the overall number of unregistered schools with some kind of religious ethos is closer to 26% because some have a ‘core purpose’ of providing ‘general education’. Indeed, Humanists UK has highlighted that the overall religious schools figure could be even higher as ‘no religion’ and ‘unknown’ are currently listed in the same category and those described as ‘general education providers’ may still have an undeclared religious ethos.

Around 6,000 children were identified at potential risk, with reports suggesting children were being educated in settings with untrained teachers, inadequate safeguarding, and health and safety concerns, including rat traps, holes in the wall, and exposed electrics.

Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said: ‘As the data shows, the scale of the problem of unregistered schools is huge and we suspect that the number of illegal religious schools could potentially be even higher.

‘We have grave concerns that children in these schools only receive a very narrow religious education, or no education at all, and are forced to study religious texts for up to fourteen hours a day. We also know the content they are exposed to can be extremely homophobic and misogynistic, with some children being taught these ideas through the use of shockingly extremist literature. Some children have also suffered abuse and many grow up not knowing how to speak English, leaving them unprepared for life in modern Britain.

‘It is crucial that the Government legislates now to protect children and close these schools for good.’

In total, 71 settings were issued with a warning notice by Ofsted inspectors. A total of 15 of those settings have since closed, while 39 have changed the way they operate in order to comply with the law, and 9 have registered as independent schools.

Humanists UK has been responsible for revealing the appalling plight of children trapped within illegal schools, both through its blogging and whistleblowing website Faith Schoolers Anonymous, and through various exposés with Newsnight, BBC News at Six/Ten, BBC London News, Victoria Derbyshire, the Independent, and the Evening Standard, among others.

That work prompted the creation of Ofsted’s unregistered schools team, which Humanists UK was the first external group to meet. Humanists UK also organised the first meeting between Ofsted, the Government, and former pupils of illegal religious schools.


For further comment or information or requests for interviews, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read more about our work on illegal faith schools here:

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.