We campaign to protect the rights of all children to a proper education, and have played a critical role in exposing the scandal of unregistered faith schools.
What’s the problem?
Countless children have 'vanished' from the education system across England. Research by the BBC found that more than 30,000 children went missing from English and Welsh schools for "substantial" periods during the 2014-15 academic year. 985 children went missing for part of the 2014-15 school year in Bradford alone.
Many of these children have been enrolled in unregistered and illegal 'schools' which operate without inspection or sanction. A large percentage of these schools are faith schools.
Illegal faith schools are deliberately left unregistered to avoid regulations on the quality of education young people should receive. At these establishments, the curriculum can be very restricted. Children enrolled there leave education with limited, if any, ability to read and write in English, no qualifications and no skills to get work. This leaves children unprepared for life in modern Britain, and potentially unaware of fundamental British values. They may even be taught extremist, regressive and discriminatory social attitudes, and they do so without scrutiny.
In some parts of the country, local authorities believe there to be more illegal, unregistered faith schools than registered ones. This is an endemic problem, yet there have been troubling signs of reluctance from local authorities to investigate and identify these schools. Since January 2016, the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) has identified 291 possible unregistered schools.
Ofsted has expressed that current legislation is inadequate to tackle unregistered schools. It limits their powers to tackle them and allows institutions to exploit loopholes about definitions of education. Additionally, the existence of unregistered schools is harder to detect because there is no record of children who have never been in school. There is no requirement to register a child who is home educated. The current statutory guidance sets out that parents can decline the offer of a home visit by the local authority.
It is vital that local authorities take the necessary action to identify illegal schools and register or close them. We also call for tighter inspection of home schooling, to ensure children's right to an education is protected.
What are we doing?
For many years we have been lobbying education ministers and Ofsted to tackle the growing problem of unregistered (and therefore illegal) faith schools.
Years of campaigning on this issue does appear to have been successful in changing attitudes. We have received assurances from the Department for Education that where such 'schools' are identified, the Government will take action, and take a "tougher approach to prosecuting them".
In 2016 Ofsted established a taskforce of inspectors to seek out unregistered schools that are operating outside the law. 125 inspections have taken place, 38 warning notices have been issued, 34 settings have closed or ceased operating illegally and the remaining cases remain under active investigation. Ofsted has asked the DfE for a role in supporting prosecutions of unregistered schools, and is discussing with the government about removing legislative barriers to tackling these schools.
We remain highly concerned that too many children are still being left to languish in illegal 'schools' where their fundamental right to education is being ignored. In a submission to the United Nations' periodic review of the UK's record on human rights we urged the UN to recommend that the UK develops a robust strategy for addressing this issue which includes the closing down of illegal schools.
What you can do:
Report a concern
You can report an illegal school to your local education authority. They have a duty to identify children not receiving an education. Oftsed have a taskforce to investigate unregistered schools and coordinate with the CPS if necessary.
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