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Humanists UK urges Government to take Canada’s lead in tackling illegal religious schools

Quebec Education Minister Sebastien Proulx

Legislators in Quebec have passed laws designed to clamp down on the presence of illegal religious schools in the province and ensure that all children are receiving the education they are entitled to. Humanists UK, which in recent years has led the campaign for greater action against illegal religious schools in England, has called on the UK Government to take its lead from the Quebec government and introduce similar provisions.

As in England, the existence of illegal religious schools in Quebec has been well-known to the authorities for decades, but until now the Government has been unable to take effective action due to restrictions over its right to enter premises and an inability to check up on the education of supposedly home-schooled children. The new law, however, will allow education officials to enter ‘at any reasonable time’ any place in which they suspect children are failing to receive their entitlement to education. Greater collaboration and data-sharing between government departments to identify children missing from the system will also be permitted, and parents who home-school their children will also be required to register with the local school board.

Speaking during the passage of the Bill, Education Minister Sebastien Proulx said: ‘There are children in Quebec in all likelihood who today don’t have the right to education because someone has made this choice in their place. We want these children to come out of the shadows to get education services’.

Humanists UK has been calling on the Government to introduce similar legislation for some time. Earlier this year the organisation wrote to Children’s Minister Edward Timpson to warn that ‘the lack of regulation around home-schooling’ was acting as a serious ‘barrier to progress’ in tackling illegal religious schools. And in 2016 Humanists UK recommended, in response to a Department for Education consultation, that supplementary schools providing intensive education to children should be forced to register and face inspection. School inspectorate Ofsted has made similar calls, as has the Local Government Association, but the Government is yet to take action.

An estimated 800-1200 children are thought to be attending illegal religious schools in Quebec, a figure dwarfed by the many thousands of children Ofsted suspects as attending similar schools in England. The testimony of former pupils of these schools has revealed an educational experience confined almost entirely to scriptural study, an almost total lack of education in subjects like English, Maths, and Science, and widespread physical punishment and abuse.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘The situation in Quebec with regard to illegal religious schools is remarkably similar to the situation here in England. The only difference appears to be that far more children are affected here than in Quebec, which is why it is so disappointing to observe the continued inaction of the UK Government relative to the progress being made elsewhere. We will certainly be writing to the Department for Education to draw its attention to this progress and call on it to follow suit.’   

Notes

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

Read the Bill: http://www.assnat.qc.ca/en/travaux-parlementaires/projets-loi/projet-loi-144-41-1.html

Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘Ofsted calls for home-schooling regulation to tackle illegal religious schools’: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/11/06/ofsted-calls-for-home-schooling-regulation-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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