THE NEWS THAT THE UK GOVERNMENT’S SCHOOLS BILL has been placed on hold by Liz Truss has been met with concern by Humanists UK. Reportedly, the Bill is being delayed because of controversial aspects of Part one of the Bill. These are in a separate part of the Bill from steps to close illegal religious schools, the latter having attracted wide cross-party support.

Since 2014, Humanists UK has led a campaign to tackle such settings, and is now demanding urgent clarity from the government as to what will happen to these important plans.

Humanists UK expressed concern that delays with the Bill could lead to real consequences for the lives of thousands of children trapped in illegal schools. A significant number of unregistered, illegal schools still operate throughout England. Many of these are religious in nature, and at least 6,000 children have been identified as being in these schools.

In many cases, children are made to study religious texts for up to 12 hours a day, they are often exposed to extremist literature, and many schools operate in environments that are dirty and unsafe.

Due to loopholes in the law – for example around the definition of ‘full time’ education, and the lack of a home education register – Ofsted’s hands are currently tied and they have been unable to seize evidence and shut these schools down.

Earlier in the passage of the Bill, Humanists UK identified a couple of potential loopholes and therefore worked with parliamentarians to table two amendments. One of these focused on the fact that those settings to be regulated must be ‘full-time’, and the other looked at when Ofsted should or should not need a warrant to enter a setting. As a result of this the government listened and agreed to work with Ofsted to address the concerns.

Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann, said: “Legislation to tackle illegal schools has been many years in the making, has gone through a thorough consultation process, and commands wide cross-party support. Last week we wrote to the new Secretary of State for Education, urging him to hold firm.

“With the safety of thousands of children still attending these schools at stake, it’s vital that efforts to close these schools are not lost with the changeover in government. We’re reminding ministers how important it is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

* More information from Humanists UK on illegal faith schools here.

* More information on the Schools Bill here.

* Source: Humanists UK