In response to a Department for Education consultation on the regulation of out-of-school education settings, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has called for illegal ‘faith’ schools to be inspected, forced to register, and, if they fail to meet the necessary standards, shut down altogether. The consultation, which closed this week, was launched as part of the Government’s Counter Extremism Strategy, and proposes to introduce for the first time an inspection and registration regime for all supplementary schools that provide education over a set time-threshold. Whilst the focus of the proposals appears to be targeted predominantly at madrassas and the effort to protect children from radicalisation, as well as on their welfare and safety, the BHA’s response draws particular attention to the plight of children within the strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish community, who despite not being seen as a terror threat, are nonetheless subjected to an appallingly limited, insular, and often abusive education within illegal and unregistered religious schools.
Having worked closely with a number of former pupils of illegal schools who have since left the Charedi community, the BHA raises a number of serious concerns about the nature of the education provided within these ‘yeshivas’, which primarily cater for Jewish boys, and their total failure to uphold ‘British values’. Noting the fact that the teaching of English is strictly prohibited as a matter of religious principle, the response states that the schools provide ‘very little in the way of a “secular” education in subjects such as science and maths, and Charedi boys therefore finish their schooling completely ignorant to, and unprepared to exist in, the outside world’. Drawing specifically on comments made late last year by one such former pupil who says he was taught that ‘the outside world is evil’, the response also notes that ‘there is almost no effort to teach children about other cultures or religions, even other Jewish traditions, and where such teaching does exist, the information provided to children is often not accurate and is designed to encourage a negative opinion of those outside their immediate community’.
The BHA is not the only organisation to raise these particular concerns. GesherEU, a charity which helps ex-Charedi individuals living in the UK or Europe to find their feet in life outside their strictly Orthodox community, stated in its response that approximately 5,000 children are currently being ‘educated’ across 35 yeshivas in the UK, ‘living in fear’ and hit by teachers ‘almost on a daily basis’, according to the testimony of pupils. The BHA has been raising these issues with the Government for some time, and recently met with the Department for Education to express their concerns around both intolerant teaching and the continued, unchecked use of corporal punishment.
Whilst the proposals being consulted on ostensibly relate only to settings providing ‘supplementary’ education, yeshivas in the Charedi community account for the entirety of a child’s schooling, and the children that attend them are therefore classed as ‘children missing education’. Government guidance makes clear that local authorities, parents, and schools themselves all have an obligation to ensure that children are receiving the suitable full time education to which they are entitled, and following action taken by Ofsted last year on illegal Muslim schools, it seems likely that a crackdown on yeshivas could result not only in their closure, but also in prosecutions.
The BHA’s Faith Schools and Education Campaigner, Jay Harman, said: ‘The issue of unregistered Charedi schools is one that has been shamefully ignored for many years, even as the number of children who are subjected to indoctrination and abuse within them has continued to increase. Despite coming far, far too late for the thousands of children who have gone before, we’re glad that the Government now might potentially be willing to intervene and, as we said in our response to this consultation, we hope that the proposals will lead to swift and comprehensive action before the lives of current or future pupils are ruined too.’
For further comment or information, please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools and Education Campaigner, Jay Harman, on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7324 3078.
Read the BHA’s response to the consultation: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015-01-07-v3-JH-RT-PD-Out-of-school-education-settings-consultation-BHA-response-FINAL.pdf
Read the full Government proposals for out-of-school settings: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/out-of-school-education-settings-registration-and-inspection
Watch the BHA’s exposé on BBC London on unregistered Jewish schools in North London: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hICjMR7Tj1w
Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Ofsted seeks prosecutions as more illegal “faith” schools are identified’: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/12/11/ofsted-seeks-prosecutions-as-more-illegal-faith-schools-are-identified/
Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion