Labour announces plan for register of children not in school

Posted: Thu, 11th Jan 2024

Proposal to record children not attending school would help tackle unregistered faith schools, NSS says.

UK Parliament, (CC BY 3.0)

The Labour Party has announced it will create a register of children not being taught in school, if elected.

In a speech given to the Centre for Social Justice on Tuesday, shadow minister for education Bridget Phillipson (pictured) said Labour would pass a law to "register and count the children being taught at home", adding that if children "aren't in school, local authorities need to be clear where they are".

The National Secular Society has long advocated for the creation of a register of children not in school to address the risks posed to children by unregistered, illegal faith 'schools'. Some children who are supposedly home educated are in fact enrolled in unregistered schools.

Unregistered schools actively conceal themselves from authorities to evade inspection. This allows them to teach a very narrow, religion-based curriculum, including extremist, regressive and discriminatory dogma, without any oversight.

Such schools also pose a serious threat to safeguarding, with evidence of children being taught in highly unsafe conditions and being subjected to physical abuse. Failure to register a school is a criminal offence.

Former chief inspector of Ofsted Amanda Spielman estimated the number of children attending unregistered schools likely numbers in the "tens of thousands".

In 2019/20, approximately 86,300 children and young people were being electively home educated.

The government's efforts to create a register of children not in school failed after it abandoned its flagship Schools Bill. The bill was widely opposed by religious lobbyists who claimed its provisions violated their freedom of religion.

Labour also announced it would move ahead with an "expert-led" review to make curricula and assessments more "inclusive" and reflective of "the issues and diversity of our society".

The NSS recently called on Labour to "think again" on faith schools after Labour leader Keir Starmer said a Labour government would be "even more supportive of faith schools" than the current government.

The NSS argued the presence of faith schools in our education system "enables discrimination against LGBT people", along with the promotion of "inaccurate and harmful perspectives on sexual health".

NSS research from 2018 revealed how letting faith schools to teach relationships and sex education (RSE) in "accordance with the tenets of their faith" leads to the promotion of stigmatising ideas about same-sex relationships, sex outside of marriage, contraception, and abortion.

Faith-based selection has been shown to lead to religious and racial segregation, and to put less well-off families at a disadvantage. They also admit fewer pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

Research by the Sutton Trust published today confirms that faith schools are more socially selective than nonreligious schools.

NSS: 'Register of children not in school vital for safeguarding'

Jack Rivington, campaigns officer at the NSS, said: "Labour's plan to create a register of children not in school is welcome.

"Far more needs to be done to tackle the blight of unregistered schools, which seriously threaten child safeguarding. The creation of a register will help protect children from unsafe conditions and extremist dogma taught in lieu of genuine education.

"Given its stated values of equality, fairness, and inclusion, Labour needs to more closely consider the place of religion in our education system. The best interests of children should always be put first, not those of religious institutions. Labour's policy on faith schools should reflect that."

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Tags: Unregistered schools