Hackney Council has joined calls from Ofsted for more powers to tackle unregistered schools “as a matter of urgency” – but the Government has “no plans” to do so.
Up to 1,500 young boys are estimated to be receiving illegal schooling in unregistered institutions in the borough, many of them yeshivas, according to a new report by the council’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Commission.
“The cultural and educational traditions of the Charedi community are at odds with the Council’s statutory duty to safeguard local children and central Government’s duty to ensure they receive an appropriate education which conforms to national standards,” the authors say.
In a damning report that should heap pressure on the Department for Education, the Commission says “legislation around the regulation of unregistered education settings is at best patchy and at worst contradictory” with “few if any safeguards in place to ensure [the children’s] safety and well-being”.
They added: “The Council and other statutory bodies find it impossible to satisfy themselves that the expected standards of safety and safeguarding are in place.”
The report found “no evidence” of adequate schooling of maths, English or science in the unregistered schools and – in unusually stark language – warned the government that the issue “cannot be parked forever”.
It echoes concerns raised only last month in Ofsted’s annual report, the national inspectorate warning the Education Secretary of “extreme cases” of children being educated illegally in unregistered settings.
“This means there are no safeguards in place to make sure children are either safe or receiving a decent education,” wrote Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman, who pointed the finger at faith schools.
She said that while some “have simply been ignorant that they met the definition of a school… the rest of the cases are faith settings” which are “deliberately left unregistered to avoid regulations on the quality of education”.
Those found guilty of running an unregistered school can be imprisoned for almost a year, under Section 96 of the Education and Skills Act 2008, but last week Government spokesman Lord Keen of Elie was forced to admit that there had never been any prosecutions because “the evidential test… was not met”.
In the last two years Ofsted has identified 291 “possible” unregistered schools, inspected 125 and issued 38 warning notices, with 34 settings having closed or ceased operating illegally. Others remain “under active investigation”.
Writing to Education Secretary Justine Greening last year, Spielman drew a devastating picture of the impact of unregistered faith schools, based in part on conversations with former pupils.
“They can leave education with limited, if any, ability to read and write in English, no qualifications and no skills to get work,” she wrote. “Clearly, this leaves children unprepared for life in modern Britain and means we have no way of knowing whether they are being taught to respect fundamental British values.”
Crucially, Spielman passed the buck back to lawmakers, saying: “Current legislation is inadequate to tackle unregistered schools. It limits our powers to tackle them and allows institutions to exploit loopholes about definitions of education.”
However Government spokesman Lord Agnew of Oulton, in a House of Lords debate, said: “The government has no current plans to change Ofsted’s powers in relation to the investigation of unregistered schools.”
Currently inspectors have the power to issue warning notices but Spielman said unregistered schools were “harder to detect because there is no record of children who have never been in school”.
She said: “There is no requirement to register a child who is home educated. The current statutory guidance allows parents to decline the offer of a home visit by the local authority.”
Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville, told Jewish News that he welcomes the report, but added that “legislation on unregistered schools is completely inadequate”, and called on the government to make changes.