Government fails most vulnerable children by dropping Schools Bill

7 December, 2022

In a shocking move, the Government has today finally confirmed that it has dropped its Bill to stamp out illegal schools, and has not yet given firm indication that there will be any alternative legislation to replace it. The legislation had appeared in parts three and four of the Schools Bill, which had reached third reading in the House of Lords. But appearing in front of the House of Commons Education Committee earlier today, the Secretary of State Gillian Keegan MP confirmed that the whole Bill has now been dropped, saying ‘I can confirm that the Schools Bill will not progress in the third session.

While the Secretary of State did go on to say that the Government ‘will be prioritising some aspects… of the Bill’ and that the register of children educated at home remained a priority, no indication has yet been given as to when or how these priorities are to be realised.

A failure to legislate will destroy the lives of many extremely vulnerable children who are denied any education when they are forced into illegal religious schools, and who often face sexual abuse. Since 2014, Humanists UK has led the campaign to close such settings, and is now demanding urgent clarity as to what will happen to these important plans.

The Bill was dropped because of controversial aspects in part one, which was about making all schools become academies in the next decade. Part three would have introduced a register of children educated at home (thereby closing one of the loopholes exploited by proprietors of illegal schools), while part four would have given Ofsted more powers to investigate suspected settings, and prosecutors the power to shut them down.

The plans were crucial because a significant number of unregistered, illegal schools still operate throughout England. Many of these are religious, and there are at least 6,000 children who attend them. In many cases, children are made to study religious texts for up to 12 hours a day with no maths, science, or other secular subjects; they are often exposed to extremist literature; and many settings operate in environments that are dirty and unsafe. Physical and sexual abuse is sadly widespread.

Getting the Bill before Parliament was itself a major achievement, and followed on from eight years of campaigning by Humanists UK, six years of calls for reform from Ofsted, and four years of legislative development by the Government. However today’s news means all progress on this important issue is now halted, and the effort was potentially all in vain.

Earlier in the passage of the Bill, Humanists UK had worked with parliamentarians to table two amendments to improve the plans further.

Robert Cann, Education Campaigns Manager at Humanists UK, said:

‘The rumours have been circulating for some time, but today’s official confirmation about the Bill being dropped is a major disaster for thousands of vulnerable children trapped in these extreme religious settings. Knowing how much is at stake, we were thrilled when the Government finally introduced legislation earlier this year. Now we are devastated.

‘The Government must clarify urgently what is going on – does it care about the welfare or education of thousands of children?’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Read our article on how the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse delared that unregistered religious schools represent a clear risk of abuse. Of the Report’s two recommendations, the second was that the government should take action:

the government should legislate to amend the definition of full-time education to bring any setting that is the pupil’s primary place of education within the scope of a registered school, and provide Ofsted with sufficient powers to examine the quality of child protection when undertaking inspection of suspected unregistered schools.

Part 4 of the Schools Bill would largely have addressed this recommendation.

Visit the Schools Bill page on the Parliament website.

Read our article on the Queen’s Speech.

Read our exposé on illegal schools operating during lockdown.

Read more about our work on illegal schools, religious education, and collective worship.

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.