Many private faith schools are “spreading beliefs that clash with British values and equalities law”, Ofsted has warned.
The number of independent schools judged less than good increased from 31 per cent to 40 per cent in the past year and a number are “highly conservative Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith schools”, according to the annual report by the Chief Inspector of Schools at the education watchdog.
“In some of these schools, the premises are unsafe or squalid," it said. "The most basic checks are not always in place. Inspectors have also found sexist and sectarian literature in some schools.
“In even more extreme cases, children are 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.”
The independent body, which sends millions of inspectors into schools, children’s homes, nurseries and other children’s services every year, has called for stronger legislation to help inspectors to tackle unregistered schools.
They said institutions were able to exploit loopholes such as the fact there no requirement for a parent to register their kids as home educated. This means there is no record of children who have never attended school.
Of the 170 faith schools inspected by Ofsted, 57 per cent were run by Islamic faith groups, 31 per cent were run by Jewish faith groups and 12 per cent were run by Christian faith groups.
Last November Hackney Council in north east London admitted they believed there were more illegal ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools than legal ones.
The area is home to a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish Charedi community which practices a strict interpretation of their faith and avoids contact with the secular world.
One former pupil at an illegal school in Hackney told The Independent at the time he was regularly subject to “physical and psychological abuse”.
“They went to extreme length to stop us learning English,” he said. “Education is all about preparing people to make their own choices. The very ethos of these schools is to do the exact opposite and to isolate people from secular society.”
The Chief Executive of Humanists UK, previously known as the British Humanists Association, said: “We are pleased that Ofsted is taking increasingly seriously the issues that private religious schools present to ensuring tolerance and respect for all.
“But for far too long now illegal schools have been operating with impunity, due to a lack of powers for Ofsted to do anything about them. These schools often provide no education in English, maths, or science.
“On the contrary they are abusing children, and the longer they are allowed to operate, the greater the stain on this Government’s record. It is far past time that action is taken.”
The Independent has contacted the Department of Education for comment.
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