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Charity Commission still investigating charities operating suspected illegal schools five years after being alerted to them

The Charity Commission is still investigating eight charities that are suspected by the Department for Education of operating as unregistered faith schools, in spite of Humanists UK complaining about them five years ago. Humanists UK has expressed dismay that children in these settings have continued to be denied an education while the investigation has dragged on.

In 2016 Humanists UK obtained from the Department for Education a list of all of the suspected illegal Jewish schools operating in Stamford Hill, London. An investigation found that eight settings on the list were registered as charities. According to the Charity Commission’s website, all are still registered. Humanists UK has persistently complained to the Charity Commission during the past five years but has simply been told it is ‘still investigating.’

Humanists UK, which leads the national campaign for action on unregistered religious schools, said it was a ‘shocking example’ of the serious levels of inaction on illegal schools. The eight schools are strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish schools, known as ‘yeshivas’. Most yeshivas teach an entirely scripture-based education, and students are often expected to study the Torah for up to 12 hours a day with no other education provided. Former students report leaving school with little or no English and being totally unprepared for life outside the Charedi community.

In 2019, Ofsted reported that up to 6,000 children are at risk in unregistered schools across England. Humanists UK has repeatedly called for more powers for Ofsted to ensure it can seize evidence and shut down settings operating outside the law. Its work exposing the plight of children in illegal schools led to the creation of Ofsted’s unregistered schools team. Last year, Humanists UK welcomed the Government’s commitment to crackdown on illegal schools and consult on widening the range of settings that will be required to register in the future. However, this consultation was withdrawn as a result of the pandemic and the DfE is only now in the process of reviewing the responses to a second version which closed in  November.

Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said: 

‘The Government is well aware that these schools are unregistered, that they provide a narrow, unsuitable education, and that children are at risk in these settings. The fact these schools are also operating as charities was brought to the attention of the DfE and the  Charity Commission nearly five years ago. But despite this, they not only remain open, but continue to receive tax exemptions, supposedly for providing a public benefit. This is a damning failure to protect the welfare of these children. It seriously undermines the integrity of charitable status.

‘The Charity Commission must immediately take action to stop charities from operating illegal schools. As a matter of urgency, the Government must also give Ofsted the powers it needs to seize evidence and shut down illegal settings. It must also close the legal loopholes that allow others to operate on the cusp of the law.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3000 or 0772 511 0860

Read our 2016 investigation into illegal schools operating as charities

Read our most recent article on Ofsted telling the Education Select Committee that ‘sham home education’ being used as a cover for illegal schools.

Read our article about illegal schools operating during lockdown.

Read more about our work on illegal schools.

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