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Former pupils of illegal schools tell parliamentarians of abuse

On Monday parliamentarians heard first hand-accounts of abuse from former pupils of illegal schools. At a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG), the pupils called for the Government to take action to close the loopholes which enable these unsafe settings to operate.

Three former pupils of illegal and unregistered schools in London gave frank and alarming testimony about their experiences. This included living or learning in unsafe, unsanitary, and cramped conditions; studying a narrow religious curriculum with no English, Maths, or Science for long hours; and being subject to intolerable physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. This included being smacked, punched, or being forced to stand for long periods of time. The pupils stressed that their schools did not prepare them for an independent modern life in the UK, and some raised that they didn’t speak any English at school or in their community. As well as painting a vivid and alarming picture of the brutal reality of illegal schools, the pupils also implored attending parliamentarians to take action to shut these schools down and protect future generations from undergoing the same harm.

The APPHG also heard from Yehudis Fletcher, an ex-Charedi campaigner and author and founder of Nahamu, and Dr Ruth Wareham, Humanists UK’s Education Policy Researcher. They called for the state to recognise the scale of the problem and respond accordingly.

A number of illegal schools operate in England by exploiting loopholes in the law. This includes one which allows settings that teach a narrow religious curriculum to claim they are places of religious instruction rather than schools to avoid registration  – even when pupils attend them full-time. Many illegal schools also use ‘sham home education’ as a cover for their activities. But, because there is no register of home educated children, authorities are unable to determine whether pupils are actually educated at home. All this means authorities such as Ofsted and the DfE are currently powerless to shut them down.

The UK Government recently consulted on tightening the law on illegal and unregistered schools, including by widening the range of settings that must register as a school. But the consultation was delayed by the pandemic. Humanists UK has repeatedly raised concerns about these delays and, just this week, Ofsted has renewed its previous calls for Government action in its latest  annual review, which criticises changes in the legislation for being ‘slow to arrive’ and leaving ‘thousands of children in unregistered schools… out of reach’.

The All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group is a cross-party group of Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords of all the main parties. The Group is co-chaired by Crispin Blunt MP and Baroness Bakewell, and has over 115 members. The meeting in question was chaired by Lord Soley. Humanists UK provides the secretariat.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Policy Researcher Dr Ruth Wareham at or phone 020 7324 3000 or 0772 511 0860

Read our most recent article on Children’s Services chiefs calling for home education register that would help close illegal schools.

Read more about our work on illegal schools.

Read more about the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group.

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