‘No real progress’ made on illegal schools as Ofsted expresses frustration at ‘lack of regulatory teeth’

21 January, 2020

Hackney Council has said ‘no real progress’ has been made on the issue of so-called illegal schools in the borough despite the launch of an Unregistered Educational Settings (UES) strategy over two years ago. The Council blamed the lack of any laws to allow them to close the schools, and its statement came as Ofsted Chief Inspector of Schools similarly told of her frustration at ‘the lack of regulatory teeth’ to address the problem at the launch of the inspectorate’s Annual Report. Humanists UK has called on the Government to change the law to allow such ‘schools’ to be shut down.

Through working with whistleblowers and helping to produce various exposés with Newsnight, BBC News at Six/Ten, BBC London News, Victoria Derbyshire, the Independent, and the Evening Standard, amongst others, Humanists UK has been instrumental in uncovering the plight of children attending illegal schools. This work led to the creation of Ofsted’s unregistered schools team. Humanists UK also assisted Hackney Council in carrying out its own inquiry which, in turn, prompted the development of the UES strategy.

This led to a Government commitment to close the legal loopholes that enable unregistered schools to operate. But despite this happening nearly two years ago, both Hackney Council and Ofsted have expressed exasperation that the problem continues. Hackney Mayor, Phil Glanville, has said he will write once more to the Government urging it to tighten the definition of a school and give councils and Ofsted the legal tools they need to close unregistered settings. In her annual report, Ofsted Chief Inspector of Schools Amanda Spielman welcomed the DfE’s proposal to implement a register of children not in school to tackle the use of home education as a cover for illegal schools but said ‘greater enforcement powers’ are still necessary.

When they have a faith character, illegal schools tend to provide pupils with a narrow curriculum focused on the study of religious texts. These ‘schools’ often open in inappropriate, unsafe buildings, where little attention is paid to hygiene or pupil safeguarding. In Hackney, the vast majority of unregistered schools are Jewish yeshivas, where high numbers of students spend all day studying the Torah. Former pupils of such schools report that they were not taught even the most basic skills, and left unable to speak or read in English.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham commented: ‘The risks posed to children and young people by attending illegal schools cannot be overstated. It is hugely frustrating that, despite repeated calls from key stakeholders like Ofsted and Hackney Council, the Government is still dragging its feet on this urgent issue.

‘It is imperative that the legal loopholes allowing unregistered schools to continue operating are closed as soon as possible, before the educational chances of thousands more children are sacrificed.’


For further comment or information or requests for interviews, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3000.

Read our most recent article on over 100 suspected illegal schools having been investigated by Ofsted since 2016.

Read our article on the illegal school provider who vows she will continue to teach regardless of prosecution.

Read our 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 faith schools.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.