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MPs call for home-education register to help tackle illegal schools

The Education Select Committee has urged the UK Government to introduce a compulsory register of children educated outside of school in England ‘as soon as possible’. Humanists UK – which has been lobbying for such a register to help prevent the operation of illegal schools for many years – has welcomed the news. But it slammed the lack of Government progress on the issue. This inaction amounts to ‘extreme negligence’ regarding the safety and education of children, it said.

The new report follows a Committee inquiry which included a call for evidence that Humanists UK responded to. In it, the cross-party group of MPs argues a register is ‘essential’. The report notes that the absence of such a register allows unregistered and illegal settings to evade regulation. This is because illegal schools often use the excuse they are providing supplementary lessons to home educated pupils as a cover for their activities. Without a register, authorities are powerless to check whether this is true. What’s more, there is no accurate record of children who are supposed to be receiving their education outside of school, a fact the Committee called ‘astonishing.’

Unregistered schools with a religious character generally provide an extremely narrow curriculum. This is usually focused on learning religious scripture to the exclusion of subjects such as English, Maths, and Science. Former pupils have described leaving these ‘schools’ unable to speak English. One said he left 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.

During the inquiry that informed the report, the Committee heard oral evidence from Ofsted Deputy Director Victor Shafiee. Mr Shafiee leads the Unregistered and Independent Schools Team for the inspectorate. He said that ‘sham home education’ is regularly being used as a front for illegal schools. Indeed, three of the four providers successfully prosecuted for operating illegal schools claimed pupils were actually educated at home. The report notes that ‘some children in those illegal schools prosecuted so far have been nominally home educated’. It goes on to say that, ‘without the consistent and robust data on children outside school that a register could provide, we cannot know the true impact of… illegal schools on children nominally receiving [elective home education].’ It also welcomed Government proposals to clamp down on illegal schools. ‘It cannot be right that settings where children receive their principal education escape regulatory scrutiny by exploiting loopholes in the law,’ it concluded.

The report comes just days after humanist members from across the House of Lords pressed the Government to say when it will take action to introduce a home education register and close illegal and unregistered schools for good.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘We strongly welcome the conclusions of this report. The Education Select Committee plays a key role in holding the Government to account on educational issues, so it is great to see them using their influence to advocate for swift action on the legal loopholes that allow illegal schools to operate.

‘The Government has acknowledged that all children are entitled to a suitable education in a safe environment. It has acknowledged that illegal schools violate this right. Yet it continues to dither and delay. This inaction amounts to extreme negligence regarding the safety and education of children. We very much hope this report gives the Government the final push it needs to bring forward legislation in this area as a matter of urgency.’

Notes:

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

Read the Education Select Committee report.

Read Humanists UK’s evidence.

Read our most recent article on the humanist peers pressing the Government for action on illegal schools.

Watch the House of Lords debate (discussion starts at 12:28:35).

Read our most recent article on the Charity Commission’s failure to take action on charities operating suspected illegal schools five years after being alerted to them.

Read our 2016 investigation into illegal schools operating as charities.

Read our article on Ofsted telling the Education Select Committee that ‘sham home education’ being used as a cover for illegal schools.

Read our article about illegal schools operating during lockdown.

Read more about our work on illegal schools.

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