Over 100 new unregistered school investigations opened this year

Posted: Tue, 13th Dec 2022

Over 100 new unregistered school investigations opened this year

Ofsted opened over 100 new investigations into unregistered schools, many of them faith schools, in the last 12 months.

In its annual report published today, Ofsted said approximately a fifth of the unregistered schools it inspected show evidence of having a faith ethos. Most offered a "poor standard of education, where children are restricted to an extremely narrow curriculum", often not learning basic skills such as English and mathematics.

The report also noted that children at unregistered schools were sometimes exposed to "misogynistic, homophobic, and extremist materials that are contrary to British values".

Unregistered schools are illegal and those who run them are committing a criminal offence. The National Secular Society has long warned of the use of unregistered schools by religious groups to evade scrutiny of their activities so they can prioritise fundamentalist religious ideology over the education and welfare needs of children.

Yet despite the large number of new investigations and the additional 120 inspections which were carried out in previously inspected unregistered schools, just 19 warning notices were issued with only a single prosecution.

Since being established in 2016, Ofsted's unregistered schools team said it has carried out 960 investigations into potentially illegal schools across England. During the same period, it has repeatedly raised concerns with the government about the scale of unregistered schooling.

It said many unregistered schools "remain on the cusp of the law by exploiting loopholes". Eighty-one unregistered schools investigated by Ofsted changed their service to comply with the law by reducing their hours of operation or the number of children attending. Only 16 registered as schools.

Citing its "limited powers", Ofsted noted it has only been able to bring six successful prosecutions against unregistered schools since 2016. It welcomed provisions which would have expanded its powers to investigate illegal schools in the 2022 Schools Bill. But the government confirmed last week it has scrapped this bill.

Ofsted's report also highlighted that registered independent faith schools "have worse inspection outcomes than non-faith independent schools". This is partly due to some schools limiting the curriculum in areas they "consider to conflict directly with their religion" and serving communities "that want children's education to prepare them only for life within that community". Six of the 11 warning notices to independent schools published this year were sent to faith schools.

NSS: 'New powers for Ofsted urgently needed"

NSS campaigns officer Jack Rivington said: "Ofsted's annual report demonstrates why it requires new powers to tackle unregistered schools as a matter of urgency.

"The use of unregistered schools by fundamentalist religious groups to avoid teaching anything contrary to their regressive worldviews is well documented.

"By failing to address Ofsted's impotent state, the government is betraying the thousands of children currently exposed to harmful practices and ideologies in unregistered schools.

"With its abandonment of the Schools Bill, the government must therefore set out provisions for how the concerns highlighted by Ofsted's report will be addressed."

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

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.

Tags: Faith schools, Unregistered schools