Humanists UK has today reiterated its call for stronger legislation to permanently close illegal religious schools following the news that one of the first providers to be prosecuted for running such a setting has vowed to continue doing so.
Nadia Ali, who was prosecuted for running Ambassadors High in Streatham, told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that she intends to continue in spite of Ofsted inspectors discovering extremist materials in the staffroom, including a book that ‘encouraged parents to hit their children if they didn’t pray’ and another saying that ‘a wife had no right to deny her husband’. More generally, they found that there is a severe lack of appropriate safeguarding, putting children at risk of harm, and teachers do not have the ‘skills or the secure subject knowledge to help pupils make good progress’.
Ms Ali denies she is operating an illegal school because she claims that Ambassadors teaches children for fewer than 18 hours per week. However, while carrying out their research, the BBC found a timetable that ‘added up to 21 hours per week’.
Currently, the law only permits settings which provide more than 18 hours of education for pupils to be legally considered schools. This means that neither the Government nor Ofsted is able to properly regulate or close down those that claim to be operating for fewer than 18 hours, even if they are the sole or main source of education for the children they teach. The problem is compounded by the fact that many illegal schools claim to be providing supplementary education for home-educated children who are not legally required to register with the local authority.
Humanists UK has long called for a change in the law to address these issues and was responsible for uncovering the appalling plight of children in illegal schools through its blogging and whistleblowing website Faith Schoolers Anonymous, as well as through various exposés with Newsnight, BBC News at Six/Ten, BBC London News, Victoria Derbyshire, the Independent, and the Evening Standard. This work eventually led to the establishment of Ofsted’s unregistered schools team.
Earlier this year, the Government announced that it would introduce legislation to close the loopholes that allow illegal schools to continue to operate, and is consulting on a register of home-educated pupils that would help local authorities to better identify children who are being taught in these settings. However, there has been little progress since and there was no sign of a bill relating to these issues in the Queen’s Speech earlier this week.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said: ‘We have long campaigned for stronger legislation that is able to force schools that are operating illegally to close. The case of Ambassadors High School starkly illustrates that the current law is not fit for purpose and is actively putting children at risk.
‘Our research has demonstrated that children attending illegal schools are often taught a narrowly religious curriculum in appalling conditions where there is a complete lack of adequate safeguarding, and many are exposed to extreme sexist and homophobic content that should have no place in modern British society.
‘The Government must act now to prevent further harm coming to these children who, like all children and young people, deserve a quality, inclusive education in safe surroundings.’
For more information, contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3000.
Read our most recent article on proposals to introduce a register of home educated children to prevent illegal schools
Read our article on Government proposals to legislate on illegal schools
Read more about our work on illegal 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.