‘Sham home education’ used as a cover for illegal schools, Ofsted tells Education Committee

23 March, 2021

‘Sham home education’ is regularly being used as a cover for illegal schools, with three of the four providers successfully prosecuted for operating illegal schools claiming pupils were actually educated at home, Ofsted has told Parliament’s Education Committee. Humanists UK has led the national campaign against illegal schools for many years and first drew attention to this loophole when these settings began being using it in 2015. Today it  has said that the comments further underline the need for a compulsory register of home-educated children and the need to change the law as a matter of urgency to protect the children at risk in illegal schools.

Speaking at an evidence session of the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into home education – to which Humanists UK has submitted evidence –  Ofsted Deputy Director of Unregistered and Independent Schools, Victor Shafiee, said that unregistered schools are a growing problem, with Ofsted having looked at ‘about 700’ since they began investigating it in 2016. Of the subset of these Ofsted has physically inspected, a quarter maintain that they are providing part-time tuition to home-educated children. This makes it more difficult to assess and monitor them, not only because regulation in this area is lax and often prevents inspectors from seizing evidence, but because there is no register of home-educated children against which to check the claim.

When they have a religious character, unregistered schools generally provide an extremely narrow curriculum, focused on learning religious scripture to the exclusion of other subjects such as English, Maths, and Science. Indeed,  former pupils have described leaving unable to speak English and with the education level of the average nine or ten-year-old. Illegal schools often operate in appalling conditions, with a total lack of safeguarding, and many pupils are exposed to extreme homophobic and misogynistic content, as well as physical abuse.

In his evidence, Mr Shafiee said that illegal schools ‘diminish… children’s chances to become successful in their later lives. They don’t provide children with good education, they don’t give them the skills they need to be able to compete in the labour market. In fact, they are very bad for children.’ To better deal with the problem, he said there should be a ‘mandatory national register for home-educated children’. He went on to say ‘it is not fair for children to be languishing in these miserable places’, describing some of the settings he had seen as ‘truly shocking’.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘Ofsted’s evidence further underlines the urgent need for new laws on illegal schools. Although the Government has consulted on this issue, it has taken far too long for it to take action and, as a result, thousands of children attending illegal schools remain at risk.

‘We first uncovered the problem of illegal schools in 2014 and first reported on the home education loophole in 2015. But, despite acknowledging the issue, practically all of the settings we reported to the Department for Education at the time continue to operate with impunity through these loopholes. The Government must stop dithering and bring forward the necessary legislation immediately.’

Humanists UK recently discovered that unregistered religious schools are presently using an additional lockdown loophole, allowing ‘vulnerable children’ who supposedly could not be educated at home because of a lack of access to electronic devices, to attend them instead. As a result many are operating at full capacity. Many such schools – known as yeshivas –  serve the Charedi Jewish community, who do not permit the use of computers or the internet. The claim that it would be impossible for these children to be taught at home during the pandemic suggests that it would also be impossible for them to be taught at home the rest of the time, casting doubt on the claim that these children are home -educated and merely receive supplementary religious instruction at the yeshiva.


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.

Watch the Education Select Committee evidence session.

Read Humanists UK’s evidence to the Committee.

Read our article about illegal schools operating during lockdown.

Read our article on Ofsted Chief Inspector saying there is ‘no room for complacency or inaction’ on illegal schools.

Read our 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 more about our work on illegal schools.

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