‘No room for complacency or inaction’ on illegal schools, says Ofsted Chief Inspector

1 December, 2020

There is ‘no room for complacency or inaction’ on illegal and unregistered schools, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has said.

The comments feature in the Chief Inspector’s annual report to the UK Parliament, which reviews the English school inspectorate’s work over the past year. Published today, the report says that legislation on these ‘unsafe and unsuitable places’ has been ‘has been slow to arrive’. It calls on the Government to close loopholes that allow ‘unregistered settings offering an extremely restricted curriculum to evade registration as a school’ as a matter of urgency.

Humanists UK – which has led the national campaign on illegal religious schools for many years and was responsible for bringing the issue to public attention – has welcomed the comments. However, it expressed dismay that Ofsted has, once again, been forced to repeat a call for change it has been making regularly for many years. The need for better regulation of unregistered schools has featured in every annual report since 2016.

Many of the thousands of children who attend illegal or unregistered schools are taught by unqualified teachers in appalling conditions, with a total lack of safeguarding. When these schools have a religious character, the curriculum is usually narrow, focused on learning religious scripture (sometimes including extreme misogynistic and homophobic content) to the exclusion of other basic subjects such as English, Maths, and Science. Former pupils of these schools have described leaving unable to speak English and with the education level of the average nine or ten-year-old.

Today’s report welcomes the fact that the Government has recently proposed to change the law that allows unregistered schools to operate, as well as ‘constructive engagement on equipping Ofsted with the tools to investigate suspected unregistered schools as thoroughly as possible.’ But it says that ‘meaningful further action’ should be taken as a priority ‘to ensure this momentum is not lost’.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘The Chief Inspector’s call for urgent reforms to the law to tackle unregistered and illegal schools is, as always, very welcome. However, it is hugely frustrating that this report marks yet another year that has passed in which thousands of children have continued to be in these settings.

‘Recent proposals set out by the Government show that it is willing to take steps to address the situation, but it just isn’t acting quickly enough. We call on the Government to end the delay and do everything it can to protect the welfare, safety, and education of the children at risk in illegal schools.’


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 our most recent article on the Education Select Committee Chair supporting home education register that will help crackdown on illegal schools.

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

Read our full illegal schools consultation response.

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

Read more about our work on illegal schools.

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