Voluntary code of practice for religious tuition centres will do nothing to stop illegal schools, warns Humanists UK

23 October, 2020

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A new voluntary code of practice designed to support out-of-school settings to safeguard children will do nothing to prevent illegal schools from operating, Humanists UK has warned.

The Government guidance on keeping children safe in out-of school-settings – which includes extra-curricular clubs and tuition centres, as well as faith-based settings offering religious instruction – was published this week. It covers best practice on health and safety, safeguarding and child protection, and suitability of staff. However, it is entirely voluntary, meaning that there will be no expectation on out-of-school settings to implement its recommendations and they won’t be inspected to ensure compliance.

Humanists UK – which has led the national campaign against illegal schools for many years – has expressed alarm at the voluntary nature of the guidance, warning that, without a framework to ensure that out-of-school settings are meeting basic safety standards and are not operating as full time schools, illegal schools will continue to flourish. When the Government originally consulted on the code, Humanists UK also warned that, without inspection, it risks ‘kitemarking bad practice’.

There are currently thousands of pupils at risk in illegal, unregistered schools, many of which use the excuse that they are out-of-school settings to avoid proper regulation and oversight. These settings,   generally yeshivas catering to the Charedi Jewish community or Muslim madrassas, offer an extremely narrow religious curriculum and often operate in dirty, unsafe conditions. However, due to loopholes in the law regarding supplementary out-of-school settings, as well as home education, and what constitutes full-time education, authorities such as Ofsted and local safeguarding teams lack the powers to close them down.

The Government guidance includes a pamphlet specifically aimed at those running faith groups and activities. But it contains little detail and is unlikely to prevent unscrupulous providers from continuing to put the children they work with at risk.

Earlier this month, the Government relaunched a consultation on plans to tighten the law on illegal schools that was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Humanists UK strongly supports the proposals, 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.

Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented: 

The voluntary nature of this code of practice means that, regardless of its well-meaning intentions, it will do little to keep the children attending out-of-school settings, particularly those which are actually illegal or unregistered schools, safe from harm.

‘What is worse, the Government actually proposed to bring in proper regulation of these settings as far back as 2015 but bowed to pressure from the major churches who were concerned that there would be greater oversight of Sunday schools and other church related activities. We now call on the Government to put children first and, in addition to tightening the law on illegal schools as laid out in their recent consultation on the matter, bring in a statutory code of practice for out-of-school settings that will ensure all those attending them are kept healthy, happy, and, above all, safe.’


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

Read the Government guidance on keeping children safe in out-of-school settings and the guidance on tuition and activities for faith groups.

Read our full illegal schools consultation response.

Read our original response to the consultation on the voluntary code of practice for out-of-school settings.

Read our most recent article on Government relaunching consultation on tightening law on illegal schools.

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

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.