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Children’s Commissioner calls for new laws to enable ‘decisive action’ against illegal schools

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has called for a tightening of the law on unregistered schools and improved oversight of home education to ensure the safety and educational welfare of thousands of ‘invisible children’. Humanists UK has welcomed her remarks.

In a report published today and which will also be featured in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme this evening, Ms Longfield recommends that the UK Government make it ‘easier to prosecute illegal schools’. She goes on to support Ofsted’s call for a ‘clearer definition of full-time education’ which would ensure that illegal religious schools, including yeshivas and madrassas, are no longer able to exploit a legal loophole allowing them to escape regulation by claiming they are supplementary or out-of-school settings that merely provide religious tuition for homes-educated children.

The report has been welcomed by Humanists UK, which has long campaigned on the issue of illegal schools and uncovered the full extent of the problem including as part of a joint investigation with Newsnight in 2016 and a further joint investigation with BBC News in 2018. As the Children’s Commissioner’s report points out, these schools have been found to teach ‘dozens, sometimes hundreds of children in filthy cramped rooms… with only religious texts in sight’. However, ‘because home education does not have to be registered, nobody knows who the children are or what the true state of their education is.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham commented: ‘As it stands, the law on unregistered schools is not fit for purpose. Over a number of years, Humanists UK has uncovered substantial evidence that many children who are purported to be home educated are actually receiving narrow, religious tuition in full-time illegal schools, and often in appalling conditions. We urge the Government to take heed of the Commissioner’s recommendations and, by closing the legal loopholes that allow the operators of illegal schools to cover up their activities under other pretences, ensure that children are safe and well educated wherever that happens.’

Notes:

For more information contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager, Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanism.org.uk or 07725110860.

To read an in depth briefing about our work on illegal and unregistered schools read: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/illegal-faith-schools/

For more information on our education campaigns visit, https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/

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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