Jewish leaders have said the Government’s plans for a new register of home-schooled children could be seen by the Charedi community as “an encroachment” after a consultation was launched on Tuesday.
Community members have until 24 June to give their views on plans to legally require parents to inform their local authority if their child does not attend state-funded schools or registered independent schools.
A Board of Deputies spokesman said the organisation “supports high safeguarding and academic standards for all children wherever they are being educated”.
However they said the register “may be seen by some, particularly in the Charedi community, as an encroachment on the rights of parents and religious communities to educate their children in the environment of their choosing – especially where suitable provisions are not in place in the state sector”.
Strictly Orthodox representatives have warned of an exodus of children from the classroom to the home if schools have to teach students about equalities laws including protection from discrimination based on sexuality and gender.
Last year, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) told Charedi schools not to sign up to Government contracts because it may stop them teaching creationism, the theory that God made the world in a few days 6,000 years ago.
The proposed new register will be seen by some as the latest salvo in the battle between the Government and the strictly Orthodox community over education, which includes a fight over unregistered schools.
Last year Hackney Council called for more powers to tackle unregistered schools “as a matter of urgency” having estimated that up to 1,500 young boys were receiving illegal schooling in unregistered institutions in the borough, many of them yeshivas.
A report from Hackney’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Commission said “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 Commission added that “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”.
Investigators found “no evidence” of adequate schooling in maths, English or science in the unregistered schools and – in unusually stark language – warned the Government that the issue “cannot be parked forever”.
Likewise, Ofsted has warned the Government of “extreme cases” of children being educated illegally in unregistered settings with “no safeguards in place to make sure children are either safe or receiving a decent education”.
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 there have never been any prosecutions because “the evidential test… was not met”.
Ofsted identified 291 “possible” unregistered schools, adding that it had “no way of knowing whether they are being taught to respect fundamental British values”.
Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman added that “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.”