HM Chief Inspector on illegal religious schools

Ofsted has published its Annual Report – the first for Amanda Spielman as HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills. Of particular interest to this blog are the Report’s comments about conservative religious schools where the legal requirements for shared values and tolerance clash with community expectations, and the creation of illegal ‘schools’ that avoid teaching the unifying messages taught in the vast majority of schools in England. The relevant section of the Report is worth reproducing in full:

“A core function of education is to pass on what one generation knows to the next. Part and parcel of this is spreading the values and culture that bind us as a society. There is no tension between this and religious pluralism. In fact, any proper teaching of fundamental British values encourages respect and tolerance for others’ views. In the overwhelming majority of state-funded schools, whether faith or not, these values are embedded in the school’s ethos and teaching.

However, there are also those who seek to isolate young people from the mainstream, do not prepare them for life in Britain or, worse, actively undermine fundamental British values.

Within state education, there are schools spreading beliefs that are widely shared within the community that the school serves but that clash with British values or equalities law. The recent case of Al-Hijrah School in Birmingham showed that an ethos that completely segregates children in school and that spreads discriminatory views about women is unacceptable. The fact that this reflects a cultural norm in that community does not mean that children can be disadvantaged in their education.

Within the independent school sector, the proportion of schools judged to be less than good has increased again this year, from 28% to 32%. A number were faith schools, either Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, which tended to be highly conservative. In some of the schools found to be inadequate, the premises were unsafe, even squalid. The most basic checks, such as whether staff were suitable to work with children, were not in place. Perhaps more significantly, in a handful of schools inspectors found instances of sexist and sectarian literature.

In even more extreme cases, children are being educated illegally in unregistered settings. This means that there are no safeguards in place to make sure children are either safe or receiving a decent education.

We are currently working on a number of cases of suspected unregistered schools. In the cases we have investigated so far, some have simply been ignorant that they met the definition of a school. This primarily relates to alternative provision, which accounted for a high proportion of all cases. A tiny number of cases were children’s homes.

The rest of the cases are faith settings. These settings are deliberately left unregistered to avoid regulations on the quality of education young people should receive. From conversations with former pupils of unregistered faith settings, we have learned that the curriculum can be very restricted.

They can leave education with limited, if any, ability to read and write in English, no qualifications and no skills to get work. 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. 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.

The existence of unregistered schools is harder to detect because there is no record of children who have never been in school. There is no requirement to register a child who is home educated. The current statutory guidance sets out that parents can decline the offer of a home visit by the local authority.

Tensions between belief systems and British values create a motivation for some communities to try avoiding the educational and safeguarding standards that are expected of schools. While this manifests itself in different ways, the root cause is the same. This matters, because the British values of democracy, tolerance, individual liberty, mutual respect and the rule of law are the principles that keep society free from the radical and extreme views that can often lead to violence.”

[With thanks to Humanists UK for the alert.]

2 thoughts on “HM Chief Inspector on illegal religious schools

  1. “There is no tension between this and religious pluralism.”

    One can almost imagine the sinister voice of Ian Holm saying these absurd words, the actor who played the part of Squealer in the 1999 movie, Animal Farm.

    Of course the state should clamp down on schools that do not deliver a proper education, or which provide “squalid” conditions. But not because a school is carrying out the parents’ wishes by omitting to indoctrinate the children of dissident parents in a controversial ideology that the government of the day decrees to be mainstream.

  2. The fact that the school uses a language other than English, says OFSTED, “means we have no way of knowing whether they are being taught to respect fundamental British values.” Has OFSTED not heard of translation? Do they have no inspectors who speak other languages? They say, correctly, that “any proper teaching of fundamental British values encourages respect and tolerance for others’ views.” Does it not also encourage respect and tolerance for other people’s languages?

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