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Success! Government to introduce register of children not in school to help shut illegal schools

The Government has announced that it will introduce a compulsory register of children not in schools, in a move that will safeguard thousands of children and help to tackle illegal schools. All other pupils are already on the registers of their schools. Humanists UK leads the national campaign against illegal schools and has been calling for a register for many years. Today it said it was delighted by the news.

The announcement comes in response to a public consultation on proposals set out in 2019. These include requiring local authorities to ‘keep a register of all children of compulsory age in their area who are not registered pupils at a state or independent school’ and placing a duty on parents of school-age children ‘to supply information to such a register’. Proprietors of educational settings that provide ‘a substantial amount of education’ to children who don’t attend a school and operate ‘for a significant proportion of the normal school day’ will also be required to provide information about the children they teach for the register.

The proposals will play a central role in the fight against illegal schools. The absence of a register currently allows these settings to operate by claiming to provide supplementary education to home educated children, even when they are providing all or most of the education the children attending them receive. Former pupils have described leaving illegal 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.

The Government says that it will ‘legislate to enact the proposals at the earliest opportunity’. However, the introduction of the register will only go part of the way towards fixing the problem of illegal schools. This is because other loopholes in the law defining which settings are required to register as schools will still allow some institutions – including those that claim only to provide religious instruction – to avoid the duty to provide information on their pupils. In 2020, the Government also consulted on proposals to strengthen the law in this area. But until it legislates on these proposals the pupils at risk in illegal schools will not be fully protected.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann commented:

‘We are delighted that the Government has finally committed to introducing a register of pupils not in school, and that this will place a duty on parents, carers and certain educational settings to supply information.

‘However, this will only go part of the way towards ensuring that illegal schools are forced to close. Until the loopholes allowing some religious settings to avoid registration are removed, thousands of children will continue to be at risk. For this reason, we call on the Government to take this additional step and shut down illegal schools for good.’



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 the Government’s response to the Children not in school consultation.

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

Read our article on the independent child sexual abuse inquiry raising serious alarm about illegal schools.

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

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

Read our exposé on illegal schools operating during lockdown.

Read more about our work on illegal schools.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

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