Unregistered illegal religious schools are continuing to operate during lockdown, sparking concerns about the health of pupils and the wider community, i can reveal.
Humanists UK said it had received a number of reports from community insiders and local residents that unregistered Orthodox Charedi Jewish schools are continuing to teach full classes at various locations in the Stamford Hill area of Hackney, London.
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According to the accounts, the schools are not following coronavirus safety measures such as reducing pupil numbers, maintaining social distancing or wearing masks.
‘Operating with impunity’
Dr Ruth Wareham, education campaigns manager at Humanists UK, said: “We have been contacted by a number of Hackney residents saying that unregistered religious schools have been operating with impunity throughout the pandemic – even now.”
In England, it is a legal requirement for schools to register themselves with the Government if they are providing a “full-time education”. In the past, Ofsted has discovered children receiving inadequate education in unsafe conditions at unregistered schools.
A handful of proprietors have been convicted in recent years, but Ofsted estimates there could be as many as 6,000 children being taught in illegal schools.
Humanists UK said the schools were exploiting legal loopholes to stay open. It said that one reason unregistered Charedi schools have been able to get away with teaching full classes is by claiming to only provide part-time provision for pupils who are mainly home-educated.
Under the Government’s coronavirus rules, religious tuition centres and out of school clubs – such as Jewish yeshivas, Muslim madrassas and Sunday schools – are legally able to teach vulnerable pupils as well as the children of key workers during the lockdown.
The vulnerable category includes children who “may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home”, including “due to a lack of devices”. With the Charedi community largely forbidding the use of computers and the internet, particularly amongst children, this means that the majority of Charedi children meet this definition.
Dr Wareham added: “Given the record of these settings on pupil safeguarding and health and safety, it is perhaps not particularly surprising that they are prepared to put the wellbeing of children, as well as the wider community, at serious risk in order to continue pursuing their narrow religious agenda.
“However, it provides yet another reason why the Government must take swift and decisive action to close the legal loopholes that have allowed this situation to happen and shut these settings for good.”
Ofsted and the Department for Education were contacted for comment.
Last month police broke up a wedding party involving 150 people who had gathered at the Charedi Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Stamford Hill.
— to inews.co.uk