A commission set up by a London council to investigate illegal religious schools has attacked the government for failing to remedy its “woefully inadequate” legislation.
In a report, published today, the commission appointed by Hackney Council says: “The commission is…convinced that the legislation in respect of unregistered settings is woefully inadequate and is baffled by an apparent lack of desire on the part of the government to rectify this situation.”
It added that the Department of Education has indicated that it has no plans to change this legislation.
The report states: “We find this unacceptable and if a case of serious abuse were to be revealed in one of these settings, we would consider that the Department of Education would have serious questions to answer.”
Religious leaders' 'control'
The Children and Young People Scrutiny Commission, appointed by the East London borough, spent a year investigating illegal educational settings. The council estimates that there are around 29 unregistered schools in the borough, offering religious teaching to between 1,000 and 1,500 boys.
The borough is home to a large Charedi ultra-religious Jewish community. The commission's report states: "In Hackney, the issue of unregistered educational settings chiefly relates to the education of boys within the Charedi Orthodox Jewish population living in the Stamford Hill area."
One Hackney Charedi parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the family had no choice other than to send their sons to an unregistered school: “We’d be shunned by our wider family and the synagogue if we disagreed.
“I didn’t even know what choice was out there because the rabbis are so controlling over what information we can access. No internet, no proper contact outside our community. Of course, I want a better education for my children, but even asking after this would have dire consequences.”
Children 'indoctrinated and often abused'
Jay Harman, of Humanists UK, said that children in illegal religious schools were being “indoctrinated, denied a basic education, and very often abused".
She added: “We urge the Department for Education to take forward the commission’s recommendation for legislative reform. The safety, wellbeing and development of thousands of children depend on it.”
The Department for Education said that it was keen to work with local authorities to make the best use of existing powers to safeguard children.
A spokeswoman said: “Unregistered schools are illegal and unsafe. There are clear powers in place for local authorities and the police to intervene where children are being put at risk or not receiving a suitable education. We expect them to use them and will support them to do so.”
She added that the DfE had established a joint team with Ofsted, and given it additional resources to increase investigations into these schools and take whatever action is required. This action could include closing a school or working with the police or Crown Prosecution Service as necessary.