The UK Government has finally set out how it will take action to close the loopholes that allow illegal faith schools to operate in England. The much-anticipated proposals have been published today in the Government’s response to the Regulating independent educational institutions consultation. Humanists UK, and over 100 individual humanists, responded to the consultation in 2020 – and many of Humanists UK’s recommendations have been taken up.
A significant number of unregistered, illegal schools are operating throughout England, many of which are religious, and at least 6,000 children have been identified as in these schools. In many cases, children are made to study religious texts for up to 12 hours a day, they are often exposed to extremist literature, and many schools operate in environments that are dirty and unsafe. Due to loopholes in the law – for example around the definition of ‘full time’ education, and the lack of a home education register – Ofsted’s hands are currently tied and they have been unable to seize evidence and shut them down.
However the plans announced today will, at last, tackle these loopholes. They include:
- Expanding on the categories of full-time institutions that will be regulated in the same way that independent schools are currently regulated, by defining what is ‘full-time’ based on:
- the number of hours per week that is provided – including breaks and independent study time;
- the number of weeks in the academic term/year the education is provided; and
- the time of day it is provided.
- Changing the basis for how some appeals against deregistration enforcement action are to be determined. In particular, requiring appeals against some deregistration decisions to be heard on a ‘judicial review’ basis only, where a school has failed to meet the standards at three consecutive inspections within a 6-year period.
- Creating a new criminal offence making the proprietor responsible if the institution stays open after being deregistered due to safeguarding failings. This new offence would be a summary offence and punishable by up to six months imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said:
‘We’re delighted to see these proposals at long last. Since 2014 we have been leading the campaign to shut down illegal faith schools, and while thousands of children have suffered unnecessarily from a narrow religious curriculum and unsafe conditions in the intervening years, this announcement is most certainly better late than never. Coupled with earlier commitments to introduce a compulsory register of home-educated children, today’s plans should finally see Ofsted given the tools it needs to take enforcement action.
‘It’s clear from the Government’s response to the consultation that many humanists also took part, and I hope they will feel heartened that their efforts have now clearly had an impact. We hope to see the relevant legislation announced formally in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday – then the next phase of the campaign, to get this into law, can begin.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at email@example.com or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
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.