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Queen’s Speech to announce Bill to shut illegal schools – reports

The Queen’s Speech is going to announce a new Government Bill to shut down illegal schools in England, according to the Sunday Times. The paper reports that Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, will be granted new powers to enter such settings and remove evidence. Additionally, the previously announced compulsory register of home educated children is set to go ahead. And there may be further reforms around the definition of a school, since many illegal schools exploit gaps here to continue to operate. Humanists UK leads the campaign against illegal schools, many of which are religious in nature. Today it has strongly welcomed the reports, and will redouble its efforts to ensure the Bill actually happens.

As part of its long-running campaign, in December Humanists UK brought together three former pupils of illegal schools to talk to parliamentarians about their experiences. They told a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group that they were subjected to unsafe, unsanitary, and cramped conditions; studied a narrow religious curriculum with no English, Maths, or Science for long hours; and were subjected to intolerable physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. The former pupils stressed that their schools did not prepare them for an independent life in modern Britain, and some did not speak any English at school or in their community.

In recent years, Ofsted has been frustrated in its efforts to combat such settings, which operate by exploiting loopholes in the law. For example an institution teaching a narrow religious curriculum can avoid registration by claiming they are a part-time place of religious instruction rather than a school – even when pupils attend full-time. Since this then means they do not meet the Independent School Standards, they do not have to register, and Ofsted does not inspect part-time settings. Such schools also use ‘sham home education’ as a cover for their activities: they claim that the pupils are primarily home educated. As there is no compulsory register of home educated children, authorities cannot determine whether pupils are actually educated at home or in illegal schools.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said:

‘If these reports are true, this is great news. We have campaigned vociferously against these appalling settings for many years. It is a national scandal that thousands of British children are missing out on the education they deserve.

‘We will be watching developments with interest and will be holding the Government to account. This year’s Queen’s Speech must contain all the necessary legislation to shut down illegal schools wherever they are found.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our work on 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.

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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