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Ofsted calls for home-schooling regulation to tackle illegal religious schools

Matthew Coffey, Ofsted’s Chief Operating Officer

Illegal religious schools are being allowed to continue operating due to the lack of regulation around home-schooling, Ofsted has warned. Matthew Coffey, Ofsted’s Chief Operating Officer, stated that ‘elective home education is being used as a way of taking children out of mainstream education and putting them into these unregistered settings’, many of which educate children in ‘unsafe circumstances’ and espouse ‘a particular ethos’ that may be of concern.

Humanists UK, which has repeatedly identified this problem in the past, believes that some form of home-school regulation is imperative if the Government is to ensure that all children are both safe and receiving the education to which they are entitled.

Describing the current situation as ‘a real source of frustration’, Coffey said that evidence indicated a link between the increase in the number of children being home-schooled and the proliferation of illegal, unregistered schools. There is not currently an official register of home-educated pupils, and parents are not obliged either to proactively inform their local authority if they are home-schooling their children, or provide any reason or information if they wish to withdraw their children from school.  The most recent official figures from 2014/15 claim that around 30,000 children in England are being home-schooled, but Ofsted believes that the true number is ‘significantly higher’.

Ofsted is not the only organisation to have recommended action on home-schooling given the associated problems with illegal schools. In 2016 the Local Government Association (LGA) called on the Government to give councils more powers to check up on the education arrangements of children who though ‘listed as home schooled can, in fact, be attending an illegal school.’

Earlier this year Humanists UK wrote to Children’s Minister Edward Timpson MP to warn that ‘a lack of regulation around home-schooling’ was acting as a serious ‘barrier to progress’ in tackling illegal religious schools. And last year, in response to a consultation on unregistered schools launched by Hackney Council, Humanists UK recommended that ‘a register of homeschooled children would be extremely beneficial in identifying which of the children currently not attending mainstream schools are being legitimately home-schooled and which are attending unregistered school.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘The Government has been warned time and time again, both by Humanists UK and by others, that unregistered schools are being allowed to operate with impunity due to the inability of relevant authorities to identify which children are missing education. We know that the children within these settings are at risk of abuse, indoctrination, and radicalisation, and yet there’s very little that can be done currently if parents insist that they are home-educating.

‘Even something as simple and unintrusive as an obligatory register for home-schooled children would go a long way towards addressing this problem, so we hope the Government will heed Ofsted’s warning once and for all. We will certainly continue to encourage it to do so.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read The Telegraph’s piece ‘Home-schooling loophole “sends children into hands of extremists” Ofsted Chief warns: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/11/05/home-schooling-loophole-sends-children-hands-extremists-ofsted/

Read Humanists UK’s news item ‘LGA calls for greater powers to tackle illegal religious schools’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/09/19/local-government-association-calls-for-greater-powers-to-tackle-illegal-religious-schools/

Read Humanists UK’s news item ‘Children in illegal religious schools being failed, warns Humanists UK’: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/03/27/children-in-illegal-religious-schools-being-failed-says-bha/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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