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Government scraps plans to regulate part-time religious schools following religious lobbying

Following intensive lobbying by religious organisations, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Government has decided to scrap plans to regulate out-of-settings such as madrassas and yeshivas. The announcement comes in the Department for Education’s formal response to a consultation held on the proposals in 2015/16, and states that ‘a voluntary code of practice’ for out-of-school settings will be consulted on instead.

In November 2015 the Government proposed to introduce a system of registration and inspection ‘out-of-school education settings’ in an effort to tackle the problem of part-time religious schools ‘promoting intolerance’ and failing to encourage children to ‘respect those of other faiths and beliefs’. At the time, Humanists UK welcomed the proposals, submitting detailed evidence of the need for such regulation. It has called the Government’s u-turn a betrayal of the children being indoctrinated and mistreated in part-time religious schools, and yet another capitulation to the will of the religious lobby.

The opposition of religious groups was first revealed last year, when the Archbishop of Canterbury admitted to personally lobbying former Prime Minister David Cameron to drop the plans, ostensibly due to unfounded fears about the impact they would have on Sunday schools. The Church of England was later criticised publicly by Ofsted for its opposition. Now, however, it seems that the religious lobby has got its way.

Revealing that more than half of responses to the consultation were from faith groups, the Government’s paper states that many respondents said the proposals ‘would be equivalent to state regulation of religion.’ Asked if out-of-school settings should be prohibited from teaching that undermines or is incompatible with fundamental British values, or promotes extremist views’, nearly two-thirds disagreed. ‘Many expressed concerns that without fixed or specific definitions, the scope of these terms could be used to prohibit teaching of some of the views and beliefs of mainstream religious groups’, the Government said.

In place of the scrapped proposals the Government now plans to consult on a voluntary code of practice ‘to set out clear standards for providers’. However, it has not ruled out ‘future legislation where gaps in existing powers are identified’, and last month announced that it plans to finally take action against full-time illegal religious schools in England. A consultation has also been launched today on the introduction of a mandatory register of home-educated children, which is intended in part to allow local authorities to better identify children who are attending illegal schools or missing education more generally.  

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘The suggestion of a voluntary code of practice in place of robust, legally-binding legislation is a terrible betrayal of the thousands of children known to be at risk in unregulated religious settings. Clearly neither the historic scandals of religious organisations’ treatment of children, nor the recent revelations unearthed by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, are enough to convince the Government that these places shouldn’t be allowed to regulate themselves.

‘This is yet another capitulation to the vested interests of some religious groups and it ignores the advice of local authorities and Ofsted, not to mention the overwhelming evidence supporting stricter oversight of any setting responsible for the education of children. We will certainly be voicing our disappointment at this decision to the Department for Education, and will urge a different approach in relation to the proposed crackdown on full-time illegal religious schools.’


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

Read the Government’s response to the consultation:

Read Humanists UK’s response to the Government’s initial consultation:

Read about Humanists UK’s work on illegal faith schools:

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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