The Government has confirmed that a Bill to shut down illegal ‘unregistered’ schools will be included in tomorrow’s Queen’s speech, marking a major victory for Humanists UK’s long running campaign. The forthcoming Schools Bill will strengthen the definitions around such settings, give Ofsted more powers to crack down on unregistered schools, and establish a compulsory register for home educated children. All of these measures will help to close the loopholes that have prevented authorities taking action until now.
The Bill is important because 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.
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 schools, many of which are religious in nature. But Ofsted’s hands were tied. These plans should finally see the authorities given the tools they need to take enforcement action. When Parliament returns this week, the next phase of our campaign can begin: to get this into law.’
Closing illegal schools – how Humanists UK has led the campaign
- Humanists UK first establishes contact with pupils who attended unregistered Jewish schools operating in Hackney around the time that two appear on Dispatches. Humanists UK begins arranging media coverage with the pupils and organises an All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group meeting with them.
- DfE instructs Ofsted to investigate a number of settings they suspect are operating as illegal schools.
- In response to the growing media coverage Humanists UK secures, Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw writes a series of advice notes to Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan outlining his grave concerns about illegal schools.
- Humanists UK’s work on illegal yeshivas is highlighted in an exposé on BBC London News.
- Government publishes proposals to crack down on religious supplementary schools, which would incidentally close the loopholes around illegal schools.
- Humanists UK reveals that a Charedi Jewish school in Stamford Hill has been permitted to operate illegally for 40 years. Covered in the Evening Standard.
- An investigation carried out by Humanists UK reveals eight unregistered Charedi schools identified by the DfE are nevertheless registered as charities.
- A joint Humanists UK/Independent investigation reveals that Hackney Council destroyed evidence of thousands of children being educated in illegal schools.
- A Humanists UK exposé on illegal Jewish schools in Stamford Hill is aired on Newsnight and our work is featured on BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire.
- Humanists UK launches Faith Schoolers Anonymous, a website highlighting the shocking experiences of former pupils of unregistered schools.
- In line with evidence submitted by Humanists UK, the Casey Review on integration criticises ‘lax regulation’ with respect to unregistered schools.
- Hackney Council launches an inquiry on illegal religious schools in the borough in which Humanists UK participates. The final report sees the Council also conclude that the law must change.
- Ofsted calls for better regulation of home education because it is being used as a cover for unregistered schools.
- Government announces it will consult on revised guidance on home education.
- A joint BBC/Humanists UK investigation on abuse at illegal religious schools airs on BBC News at Six and Ten.
- Government publishes its Integrated Communities Strategy green paper. This includes a commitment to crack down on illegal schools but formally scraps plans to regulate out of school settings. Government also launches a public consultation on elective home education, including draft guidance for local authorities and parents.
- First successful conviction of the proprietors of an illegal religious school as Ofsted reiterates calls for tougher powers.
- Government announces proposals for a compulsory register of home educated pupils, and launches consultation on the matter. As of February 2021, its response is yet to be published.
- New data published by Ofsted estimates as many as 6,000 pupils are at risk in unregistered schools across England.
- Second successful prosecution of the proprietor of an illegal school takes place but she vows to continue to operate.
- New figures show that Ofsted has investigated more than 100 suspected illegal faith schools since the Unregistered Schools Team was established. Hackney Council complains that ‘no real progress has been made’ on the issue, as Ofsted voices further frustration on Government inaction.
- DfE consultation on proposals to tighten the law on illegal schools is launched. Humanists UK urges swift action but, in May, consultation is paused due to the pandemic. It is relaunched in October. The Government response finally appears in May 2022.
- Third successful prosecution against the proprietor of an illegal religious school.
- Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman gives evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. She highlights ‘astonishing’ issues with safeguarding in unregistered settings. In evidence to the same inquiry, Hackney Child Safeguarding Commissioner Jim Gamble says it is impossible to map the full extent of the problem unregistered schools pose due to lack of engagement with safeguarding.
- Chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon publicly gives his support for a home education register as the Committee plan an inquiry into elective home education.
- An exclusive report by Humanists UK (also covered in the i newspaper) establishes that unregistered Charedi schools are teaching full to capacity classes during lockdown.
- Former pupils of illegal schools give frank and alarming testimony about their experiences to an All-Party Parliamentary Humanists Group meeting in December.
- Government announces plans to introduce a register of home educated children and, finally responding to the 2020 consultation, provide more power to Ofsted to shut down illegal schools.
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
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