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Joint BBC/Humanists UK investigation: abuse at illegal religious schools

An investigation conducted by the BBC in conjunction with Humanists UK has identified more than 50 reports of abuse and neglect in unregistered schools since 2014.

Footage taken by the BBC at one particular unregistered Charedi Jewish school in Essex appears to show a teacher striking and manhandling a child.

Humanists UK was responsible for identifying the setting as an unregistered school, and subsequently notified Ofsted before sharing details with the BBC as part of the investigation.

In addition to identifying safeguarding concerns, the investigation obtained text from an illegal Muslim school in Birmingham, which actively encourages murdering gay people.

Echoing calls for reform made by Humanists UK in recent years, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has stated that the law is not ‘strong enough’ to allow inspectors to shut illegal schools down or prosecute their proprietors.

Humanists UK leads the national campaign demanding greater action against illegal schools. Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented:

‘These reports of widespread abuse and neglect at unregistered religious schools are a national scandal. We have been raising this issue with the Department for Education for years now, providing evidence as to the whereabouts of illegal faith schools and passing on information from former pupils and other whistleblowers in the community. This includes allegations of widespread abuse of the sort the BBC has identified today. The fact that almost no action has been taken is unacceptable, as is the Government’s refusal to give Ofsted the powers it needs to close these places down.

‘Illegal faith schools fail children more acutely than any other area of the education system, and the Government must as a matter of urgency come to those children’s aid.’

In addition to working with the BBC on this investigation, Humanists UK’s work on illegal schools includes:

  • Launching the website Faith Schoolers Anonymous, along with former pupils of illegal schools.
  • Through media work such as a 2016 Newsnight exposé, prompting the creation of Ofsted’s unregistered schools team, and being the first external group to meet with that team.
  • Meeting with Amanda Spielman and senior civil servants from the DfE alongside a group of former pupils of illegal religious schools last year to provide evidence on the experience of children within them  – the first meeting Ofsted had with former pupils.
  • Holding a meeting in parliament for MPs/peers to hear about the experience of a former illegal school pupils
  • Repeatedly calling on the Government to address gaps in the law that prevent illegal schools from being shut down and prevent the children within them from receiving their right to an education.
  • Making similar recommendations in its response to a consultation this work prompted on unregistered schools held recently by Hackney Council, a local authority in which more than 1,000 boys are known to be taught illegally in strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish schools.
  • Working with parliamentarians to repeatedly raise the matter in Parliament, for example through the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group and with the Labour and Liberal Democrat front-benches.

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078 / 07970 393 680.

Read Humanists UK’s briefing on unregistered religious schools: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-09-15-JH-UNREGISTERED-RELIGIOUS-SCHOOLS.pdf

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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