NSS welcomes plans to safeguard children not in school
Posted: Thu, 03 Feb 2022
The National Secular Society has welcomed a government announcement that it will create a register for children not in school to help tackle unregistered illegal schools.
The new duty on local authorities to hold a register of children not in school will assist in identifying and supporting where children are not obtaining a suitable education.
The government said the proposed duty, part of broader plans to level up opportunities for every child announced today, will be launched at the "earliest available legislative opportunity".
It is illegal for educational establishments that fit the definition of a 'school' to operate without registering with the Department for Education. Some religious groups may operate unregistered schools in order to prioritise religious inculcation over children's education and welfare needs without scrutiny.
While some local authorities have voluntary registration schemes, they do not have clear records of children who have left or never entered mainstream education, making their safeguarding responsibilities difficult to fulfil. Parents opting for home education are often unaware of, or unable to, access local authority support.
Over 100 unregistered faith 'schools' were investigated in England between January 2016 and August 2019, although there was only one successful prosecution in that time. It is routine for pupils attending such establishments to be claimed to be home schooled.
The NSS has played a critical role in exposing the growing problem of unregistered faith schools and has repeatedly recommended introducing a register for elective home education to help tackle the issue.
It has long worked to raise awareness of some religious groups' use of illegal schools and campaigned to protect the rights of children within them. It supported plans to create a home school register in response to a government consultation in 2019.
NSS head of education Alastair Lichten welcomed the proposals, saying: "Children withdrawn from schools shouldn't be allowed to fall through the cracks into the unregistered sector, where religious inculcation can trump all other concerns."
"Knowing where and how pupils are being officially educated is a reasonable and proportionate measure which will increase safeguarding, prevent abuses and enable more support for genuine home educating families."
What the NSS stands for
The Secular Charter outlines 10 principles that guide us as we campaign for a secular democracy which safeguards all citizens' rights to freedom of and from religion.