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Children’s Commissioner for England joins calls for action on illegal religious schools

Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield OBE

The Children’s Commissioner for England has expressed concern about the number of illegal schools, many of them religious, operating in England, and joined calls for greater action to protect the children who attend them. In a briefing ‘designed to shine a light on children who are known to be, or at higher risk of, falling through the gaps in the education system’, Anne Longfield OBE states that such settings ‘are almost always hidden, unregulated and uninspected’, with the children attending them at risk of ‘corporal punishment’ and/or ‘religious extremism.’

Humanists UK, which leads the campaign for greater action against illegal religious schools, has welcomed the intervention and repeated its calls for reform.

Estimating that ‘thousands of children’ are in illegal education settings in England, the Children’s Commissioner states that ‘the children attending them are potentially being placed in environments that are unsafe, taught by staff that have not been appropriately vetted, and receiving an education that may not be appropriate in terms of content, breadth and quality.’ In reference to unregistered religious schools specifically, the briefing notes that:

‘former pupils and whistle-blowers have alleged that corporal punishment takes places at some schools. Concerns have also been raised about potential religious extremism within the settings that are faith-based, or that such settings undermine “the government’s efforts to ensure that all schools are promoting British values, including tolerance and respect for others.’

The briefing also describes the ‘link between home education and the use of unregistered schools’, an issue that Humanists UK and others have been drawing attention to for some time. Indeed, only last week Ofsted called on the Government to regulate home-schooling in England, explaining that ‘elective home education is being used as a way of taking children out of mainstream education and putting them into these unregistered settings’.

According to the Children’s Commissioner, a reasonable estimate for the number of home-schooled children in England is over 50,000, though she notes that ‘the true number of home-educated children is unknown and most likely higher’. This is due to the complete lack of regulation in this area, leading to a ‘lack of oversight’, ‘potential concerns in relation to safeguarding’, and ‘risk of abuse or neglect’ that is ‘easier to hide’.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘The Children’s Commissioner is part of a growing coalition of individuals and organisations that recognise the need to take urgent action on the thousands of children missing education in this country. We know, and the Government knows, that children attending illegal, unregistered religious schools are at risk of indoctrination and abuse, and are receiving an education so narrow and insular that it can hardly be called an education at all.

‘We hope that this latest intervention has communicated the gravity of this situation to the Government and will prompt ministers to make the necessary reforms. We will certainly be engaging with the Children’s Commissioner to ensure that this much-needed pressure is maintained.’


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on or 0207 324 3078.

Read Humanists UK’s prevous news item ‘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’:

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.

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