An unregistered school in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex has been suspended after a joint Humanists UK and BBC investigation revealed incidents of abuse. The Ultra-Orthodox Charedi school was suspended yesterday by the Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation, which owns the premises it operated on, after footage was obtained showing a pupil being hit by a man alleged to be a teacher. Humanists UK was responsible for identifying the unregistered school and informing both Ofsted and the BBC. A subsequent wider investigation conducted by Humanists UK with the BBC produced evidence of over 50 reports of abuse and neglect in unregistered schools since 2014.
Humanists UK has long campaigned for closer scrutiny of unregistered schools that claim to authorities to offer only supplementary education but in reality provide full-time but inadequate education to thousands of pupils with no official oversight. Schools are meant to be registered if they provide 18 hours or more of schooling for five or more children but the setting at the centre of the abuse allegations was is suspected as exceeding both limits.
In response to the allegations of abuse, the Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation’s ‘honorary legal advisor’ emailed its members to claim that the setting is a home school that operates within the law, is known to the council, and that the incidents filmed were isolated. They also claimed to have reported the BBC to the police for ‘spying’ (though it is lawful for the BBC to film adults and children if it believes there is a strong public interest in doing so). Nevertheless, the school has been suspended.
Education representatives have reacted with concern to the problems posed by unregistered schools. Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said the footage revealed ‘huge safeguarding issues’. Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has said that many cases ‘could and should have been taken forward’ by the Department for Education (DfE) but that the law is currently not ‘strong enough’ to allow illegal schools to be closed. Ofsted has identified 350 suspected unregistered schools but without further evidence it can do little to close them down. Working closely with former pupils of unregistered schools, Humanists UK is leading the campaign for the laws surrounding unregistered schools to be made tougher and more effective at shutting them down.
Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘We welcome the suspension of this suspected unregistered school, but if it is operating illegally nothing short of its permanent closure will be satisfactory. Our investigation demonstrates that urgent reform is needed so that illegal schools can no longer abuse and neglect their pupils while Ofsted stands by powerless to intervene.’
For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 324 3078 / 07970 393 680.
Read our previous article on the unregistered schools investigation: https://humanism.org.uk/2018/02/26/joint-bbc-humanists-uk-investigation-abuse-at-illegal-religious-schools/
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.