In May this year the UK Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (“the Standards Office”) announced that their inspectors had found 100 schools operating within the UK that had not been registered with the Government. Reportedly, a third of these illegal schools were Islamic and a sixth were Christian or Jewish. Shadow Secretary, Lucy Powell, claims that children in “illegal, unregistered schools” are at the risk of being exposed “to harm, exploitation, or the influences of extremist ideology”.
Last year the UK Government announced “a new system for registering and inspecting out-of-school education settings providing intensive tuition, training or instruction to children… for more than between 6-8 hours a week”. The new system, as the education secretary explained, “reflects the commitment made… to reduce the risk of the radicalisation occurring in out-of-school settings”.
If an inspector finds an out-of-school education setting is not “safe guarding and promoting the welfare of children” because it is engaging in “prohibited activities” the Standards Office can bar individuals from working with children and order the closure of the premises. The “prohibited activities” that will attract sanctions include “corporal punishment” and the “teaching which undermines or is incompatible with fundamental British values”.
However, the proposed changes have not been universally welcomed. In a parliamentary debate, MPs from various parties labelled the increased regulation as “disproportionate to the risks involved”. As the conservative MP for Gainsborough articulated “the scheme for spotting Jihadists is therefore going to impose state regulation on groups teaching arts, music and sport, activities in which Jihadists are not particularly known to engage”. Another reason MPs cited for their opposition was the increased regulatory burden that would be placed on authorities and education providers. Many MPs also viewed the changes as a potential threat to freedom of religion.
In replying to the debate the Education Secretary acknowledged that “the Government do… need to balance the need to protect and encourage high quality out-of-school education with the need to keep children safe from any harm.” The Education Secretary did clarify that “the Government are not proposing to regulate settings teaching children for a short period every week, such as Sunday Schools or the Scouts, nor will it apply to one off residential activities, such as week long summer camps”.