LONDON – Religious extremists are exploiting lax home education laws to expose children to hate-filled material at scores of unregistered “schools” and secret teaching groups.
Extremist texts seized from illegal schools allege that homosexuality is an “abomination”, that sodomy is punishable by death and that a wife cannot “refuse sexual intercourse without sound reason”.
Boys and girls could marry once they reached puberty, one document seen by The Times states. It also blames rapes on the way women dress, saying: “If a sweet thing is left uncovered, swarms of dirty creatures are liable to prey upon it and corrupt it.”
At least 350 unregistered schools have been set up across Britain, according to Ofsted, the education regulator. Experts say they have been fuelled by a surge in home-educated children whose number has risen by almost 50 per cent in five years to at least 33,000.
While these schools can technically be inspected by Ofsted, at least 80 smaller “teaching groups” have been set up, often in warehouses and above shops, and are outside its control.
“I have huge concerns about unregistered schools and the lack of regulation and inspection,” Robert Halfon, head of the Commons education committee, told The Times. “Any school of any kind shouldn’t be unregistered. There shouldn’t be room for grey areas. Even if they have less than five pupils and are open less than 18 hours they should be inspected and registered.”
Mr Halfon, a former education minister, said he was supportive of parents who choose to teach their children outside school but his remarks will inflame thousands of responsible home educators who fiercely guard their independence. Children are home-schooled for an array of reasons and most are thought to be receiving an adequate standard of education.
Ofsted has issued warning notices to 50 suspected unregistered schools, 38 have closed or ceased to operate illegally and 12 are under criminal investigation. However, more than two years after Nicky Morgan, then education secretary, ordered the prosecution of the founders of 18 illegal schools, no case has reached court. Sources at Ofsted suggested evidence had been passed on but no action had been taken by prosecutors. Ofsted has spoken of frustration at its limited powers.
The Times obtained five extremist books relating to Islam, including Dos and Do Nots of Islam and The Islam Way of Life. One was by Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, a Jamaican-born extremist Muslim preacher who has been banned from Britain. Concerns have also been raised about illegal Christian and Jewish schools.
Izzy Posen, 23, who went to “ultra-orthodox” illegal Jewish schools in Stamford Hill, north London, from the age of seven, said that he was not taught English until 13. “They have a suspicious view of secular subjects and besides the lack of education, hygiene levels were atrocious,” he said. “There was corporal punishment, no methods were off the table but it was usually a big wooden ladle.”
Last week a teacher was filmed appearing to strike a boy at an unregistered ultra- orthodox Jewish school in Westcliff-on-Sea, in Essex.
Amanda Spielman, chief inspector at Ofsted, has warned that religious hardliners were exploiting homeschooling rules. “If people choose to educate their children at home once upon a time it would have been the Brighton and Totnes brigades doing their homespun thing, but we are seeing the emergence of things that nobody ever contemplated,” she said.
Edward Hardy’s daughter starred in the musical Matilda but has never been to school. He attacked Mr Halfon’s proposals, saying: “The notion that children in school are safe is a delusion — whether it’s abuse from bullies, teachers or in the home. This assumption that you need to keep closer tabs on everybody creates a feeling of mistrust.”
Illegal schools have been found in Birmingham, Luton and London boroughs. About a quarter are faith-based. In November 2015 the government proposed to tighten the regulation of out-of-school education settings, but this was shelved after being opposed by the Church of England. Now the Labour peer, Lord Soley, is attempting to introduce a private members’ bill to strengthen local authority powers.
The Department for Education said it and Ofsted agreed on cases to send to the Crown Prosecution Service: “If the director of public prosecutions takes a decision to charge, the case comes to the secretary of state for his consent. So far no cases have reached that stage.”
Lessons for children
“It is lawful to give slight punishment to the wife for her adverse behaviour but it is not permissible to beat her black and blue.”
“If a sweet thing is left uncovered, swarms of dirty creatures are liable to prey upon it and corrupt it. Similar is the case of a woman. The current wave of rape incidents in regions where public exposure of women prevails, strengthens this argument beyond doubt.”
“Celibacy is an unlawful criminal indulgence in sinful violations involving sex. Socially it is a disruptive and destructive act amounting to disobedience to Allah.”
“Homosexuality is not only an abomination but also unbecoming to human dignity.”
By Nicola Woolcock, Education Correspondent and Neil Johnston
The Sunday Times