Hackney Council in London has announced another crack-down on yeshivas, Jewish faith schools in the borough, many of which are operating without the correct paperwork. Legal battles have been ongoing between the schools and the council since 2013. Should parents be worried?


Definition of a School

One of the issues raised in East London is the proliferation of unregistered schools providing full-time education for children. In 2019, 23% of the illegal schools investigated by OFSTED were in the London area. Legally, a school is defined as somewhere offering education to children of compulsory school age, for 18 hours or over per week. Many illegal schools skirt around the edges of this legislation by offering 17 hours and 45 minutes of education, or just not bothering to register with the authorities at all. The Department for Education has proposed a central register of children who are being home-educated and who aren’t in any registered school as a way of tracking down illegal schools, but this is being opposed by parents.


Why are Illegal Schools a Worry?

Most of the illegal schools operating in the UK are religious schools. These establishments often combine the basics of English, Maths and Science with instruction in a particular religious ethos. Illegal schools by definition fly under the radar and are not inspected. There is no assessment about the quality of the teaching, and they don’t have to employ qualified staff. If nobody is checking up on what is going on inside the school, how can parents be sure that their children are safe and being educated properly.


Disclosure Checks

Parents often take it for granted that the staff who work in their children’s schools – whether as teachers or in support roles – are thoroughly checked out. This is certainly the case for staff working in all registered schools. All schools will have policies about safe recruitment to protect the wellbeing of the children being educated. However, if the school is unofficial, then there is no body such as OFSTED checking up on the recruitment process in the school.

For most teachers, getting a DBS check is straightforward. School staff require an enhanced disclosure, which not only shows current, unspent convictions but can show up older cautions or convictions, and any intelligence held on the Police National Computer which is felt to be relevant. Teachers also have their names checked against the Barred Lists, the register of people who have committed crimes so serious that they have been banned from ever working with children again.


What Should Parents Do?

Parents whose children are in properly registered schools have nothing to be concerned about. Local councils, and governing bodies for private schools do everything they can to check up on staff who apply for jobs. Most trainee teachers in the UK are not even allowed to start a teaching degree without a DBS check. If, however you’ve chosen to withdraw your child from regulated education, you risk then being taught by unchecked members of staff. There is also a very real concern about the quality of teaching received.