Education Minister promises to prosecute illegal faith schools

By agency reporter
May 3, 2018

During an evidence session held by the House of Commons Education Committee, Education Minister Nick Gibb has promised to prosecute illegal schools. Stating that the Department for Education (DfE) takes illegal schools "very seriously", the Minister said that the Government is "devoting quite a bit of resource to prosecuting and closing down unregistered school settings", many of which are religious.

Humanists UK has cautiously welcomed the minister’s comments, but emphasised that words must be followed by actions.

Speaking to the House of Commons Education Committee, Nick Gibb said, ‘We are devoting quite a bit of resource to prosecuting and closing down unregistered school settings… They do need to be registered and they do need to be inspected by Ofsted, and if they’re not then it is unlawful and we prosecute. Ofsted has a pot of money in order to pursue those prosecutions and we take those things very seriously.’

While Ofsted now has a team of inspectors dedicated to investigating and inspecting illegal schools, the Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has repeatedly asked the Government to give Ofsted greater powers to close down these settings once they are identified. To date, inspectors have failed to make a single prosecution in relation to an illegal school, despite the fact that thousands of children are known to attend them.

In its Integrated Communities Strategy, published for consultation in March, the Government committed to reviewing the powers of Ofsted in relation to unregistered schools, "strengthening their abilities to collect evidence and interview those suspected of running illegal schools". It also stated its intention to "amend the registration requirement for independent education settings so that all such settings which children attend full-time during the school day have to register, and we will consult in due course on detailed proposals."

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manage,r Jay Harman, commented: "It’s obviously good to see the Government making the right noises about illegal schools, particularly given how long it stayed silent in response to our repeated warnings in recent years. But now it’s time to act.

"There is a loophole in the law that allows illegal schools to keep operating even when they’ve been identified by Ofsted, and unless that loophole is closed, inspectors will continue to be frustrated in their efforts to close these settings down. That means more children at risk of abuse, more children subject to indoctrination, and more children left entirely unprepared to exist in the world beyond their closed religious community.

"This should be as unacceptable to Government as it is to everyone else, so we expect to see proposals for legislative reform without delay."

* Humanists UK https://humanism.org.uk/

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