Government relaunches consultation on tightening law on illegal schools

13 October, 2020

TAKE ACTION: Tell the Government to tighten the law on illegal religious schools

We are asking all our members and supporters in England to support proposed changes to the law that will make it more difficult for illegal religious schools to operate. Respond to the Government consultation by Friday 27 November using our handy online form.

The Government has today relaunched a consultation on plans to tighten the law on illegal schools that was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Humanists UK, which has led the national campaign against unregistered religious schools for many years and strongly supports the proposals outlined in the consultation, has welcomed the news, but has urged the Government to act quickly to ensure that the thousands of children currently at risk in these settings are protected from further harm.

When the original consultation was launched in February, Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said:

‘A significant number of unregistered, illegal schools are operating throughout England, many of which are religious, and we know that up to 6,000 children have been identified as at risk in these schools. In many cases, children are made to study religious texts for up to 12 hours a day, they are often exposed to extremist literature, and many schools operate in environments that are dirty and unsafe.

‘But due to loopholes in the law, Ofsted’s hands have been tied and they’ve been unable to seize evidence and shut down these illegal schools. We welcome the Government’s move to take this problem seriously and set broader criteria for school registration that will include many currently unregistered religious settings. However, they must act swiftly and give Ofsted the powers they need to protect the thousands of children currently at risk in illegal schools.’


The consultation seeks to establish views on three key changes to the law regulating independent schools:

  • Widening the range of educational setting that must register with the Department for Education and establishing a legal definition of ‘full time’ education;
  • Giving the Government additional powers to change the law if providers are found to be using legal loopholes to continue to deny pupils a broad and balanced education;
  • Changing the way the deregistration process works so that independent schools that continually fail inspections can be tackled more quickly.

All responses to the original consultation received before it was suspended in May will be considered by the Government when the current consultation closes.

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at or phone 020 7324 3000 or 0772 511 0860.

Read our full consultation response.

Read our most recent article on lack of engagement in safeguarding from unregistered Jewish schools in Hackney.

Read our most recent article on the illegal schools investigated by Ofsted since September 2019.

Read our article on the ‘manifesto for corporal punishment’ endorsed by religious leaders.

Read more about our work on illegal 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.