Thousands of children at risk of 'being beaten and prevented from learning English in illegal faith schools'

Exclusive: The claims have been made in evidence submitted to a government inquiry on radicalisation in faith schools

Siobhan Fenton
Wednesday 13 January 2016 19:36
An empty classroom.  File photo
An empty classroom. File photo

Thousands of children have been taken out of mainstream education and are at risk of being beaten and prevented from learning English in unregulated faith schools across the UK, a charity has claimed.

Documents shown exclusively to the Independent detail a catalogue of claims against "illegal" ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools, including corporal punishment against children and the promotion of arranged marriage for 18-year-olds.

The documents, which have been submitted to a government consultation on the threat of radicalisation within British schools and leaked to the Independent by a charity anonymously, warn that 5,000 schoolchildren have been such schools.

Approximately 35 Yeshivah schools are reportedly operating in the UK which aspire to educate children solely in the study of Jewish religious texts.

It is alleged that school days can last from 8am until 10pm, with children only communicating in Yiddish and studying the texts.

This reportedly leaves the children unable to speak English, perform basic mathematics or cope with simple tasks necessary to modern life and who don’t “have a GCSE to their name, cannot get a job, and have no skills to manage their lives.”

Children reportedly “live in fear” of breaking strict religious laws from the age of four. One former teacher whose testimony is included in the report says that what she hated most about the job: “was the fear in which the children lived.”

The report alleges: “These institutions provide no sex education and promote arranged marriage at 18.”

It also alleges: “Neither boys or girls are prepared for or permitted to attend college or university even if they ask to.”

A witness statement submitted to the government consultation says: “I attended illegal schools between the age of 7 and 16…. Hitting children was part of routine; I was personally hit almost on a daily basis.

“A typical day would start at 8 in the morning, finishing at 10 in the evening. We would sit all day and study our religious texts… We were bred in racism, sexism and bigotry… Libraries, internet, TV, radio, social media or any other source of contact with, or information about, the world around us was strictly banned.

“We didn’t know who the at-the-time prime minister was, or for that matter, any information about current events, e.g. the royal wedding, or Olympic Games.

“Most of us couldn’t even speak a most basic form of English, thus practically ensuring that any interaction with the outside world is disabled.”

The report also claims that a number of mainstream faith schools are complicit in the alleged abuse, citing “private and state aided schools that feed these institutions often affiliated with these unregistered institutions and are also complicit in limiting the secular education of the children and by failing to teach English so that the only option open to the children at age 12 is to proceed to Yeshivah.”

It is alleged that 4,000 boys and 1,500 girls are in such illegal Yeshivah schools nationwide.

The allegations were submitted to the Department for Education as part of a consultation into radicalisation within British ‘out-of-school’ education settings. The government is considering requiring ‘out-of-school education settings’ to register and be subject to risk-based inspections such as mainstream schools in order to “protect children from the harm of extremism.”

It was launched on 26 November and invited submissions until Monday 11 January.

Pavan Dhaliwal, Director of Public of Affairs at the British Humanist Association, told The Independent: "We have been raising similiar issues with the Government to those alleged here for some time, and indeed have made very similar points in our own response to the consultation.

"The Department for Education urgently needs to get to grips with the issue of unregistered Charedi schools, as every day they allowed to continue to operate, children are being denied their basic right to education and badly let down."

A Department of Education spokesperson said: “Nothing is more important than the protection of children. Whilst many out of settings do a good job in supporting children's education, where concerns are raised about issues such as extremism, inappropriate teaching or child cruelty - such as those quoted here - action must be taken.

“That is why we have consulted on proposals to give the government more powers to intervene in those cases and where schools are found to be teaching intolerance or there are serious safeguarding concerns‎, they will be shut down.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in