'Illegal' schools putting children at risk of harm, warns Ofsted

Watchdog uncovers 100 schools operating outside the supervision of the English authorities

(Image credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Thousands of English children are at risk of "harm and indoctrination" in so-called "illegal" schools, the head of Ofsted has warned.

The number of children being taught in unregistered schools that teach for more than 20 hours a week is much higher than previously thought, according to Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of the schools watchdog.

A taskforce launched in January has uncovered more than a 100 such schools in England alone that operate outside the supervision of the Department for Education (DfE) or local authorities. "Roughly a third of them were Islamic and a sixth either Christian or Jewish," says the BBC.

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In a letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Wilshaw stressed his deep concern that there were "many more children hidden away from the authorities than previously thought who may be at significant risk of harm and indoctrination".

Last month, inspectors issued seven warning notices to suspected illegal schools located in homes or shared buildings in Birmingham, Luton, Wolverhampton, Stoke-on-Trent and London, with as much as a quarter of all suspected cases found in the capital.

In a nod to the Home Office's own counter-extremism strategy, Wilshaw warned that these institutions were "operating on the cusp of the law" and risked "undermining the Government's efforts to ensure that all schools are promoting British values".

In March, the BBC reported that over 1,000 boys from strictly Orthodox Jewish families were attending as many as 20 different illegal private schools in east London. Last year, it said there was also a 65 per cent increase in the number of children recorded as home-educated over a six-year period.

Wilshaw said that those running unregistered schools were "unscrupulously" exploiting the freedom parents have to choose to home school their children and called on ministers to tighten the rules on home education.

The DfE said: "We are taking steps to ensure the system is as robust as it can be when it comes to protecting young people, while at the same time safeguarding the rights of parents to determine how and where to educate their children."

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