A Conservative MP is mounting a fresh attempt to compel local authorities to register children who are taught at home or in out-of-school settings such as yeshivot.
Flick Drummond, the MP for Meon Valley, has reintroduced her private member’s bill, which ran out of time at the previous session of Parliament but is due to get a second reading in March.
Proposals for a register as well for regulating yeshivot - which are currently not defined as schools - were originally part of the government’s ill-fated Schools Bill, which was dropped over a year ago.
The planned measures met strong opposition in Stamford Hill and prompted several Charedi demonstrations in Westminster.
Schools Minister Baroness Barran told the Lords earlier this month that the government remained committed to registration and “intends to legislate for that at the next suitable opportunity”. It welcomed Ms Drummond’s “long and ongoing support for these measures”, she added.
An education which is entirely religious…is unlikely to be considered suitable
A Department for Education spokesman said this week that the government was committed “to ensuring that all children, especially the most vulnerable in our society, are safe and have access to a suitable education”.
But Rabbi Asher Gratt of the British Rabbinical Union, a campaign group at the forefront of protests against the Schools Bill, criticised the lack of a legal definition of “suitable education”. Without one, Ms Drummond’s Register Bill “would be akin to building a house on quicksand”, he contended.
He also had strong words about new draft guidance issued by the department on home schooling, which is the subject of a public consultation due to end next week.
The guidance, he said in a letter to Baroness Barran, “seems to express distrust towards religious and home education, aligning with a concerning pattern of criticism from members of the Department for Education and Parliament. These criticisms have portrayed the Charedi educational system as a threat to children, yet without any credible evidence”.
The guidance could be misunderstood by local authorities and lead to a “process of harassment against traditional families who choose home education, whether they belong to the Charedi community or other communities,” he warned.
An estimated 1,500 boys from 13 to 16 from Stamford Hill are missing from the school system and learning in unregulated yeshivot.
The home schooling guidance mentions that some parents may also be using out-of-school settings.
Education should include “sufficient secular education” to enable children to function as independent UK citizens “beyond the community in which they were brought up”, it said. “An education which is entirely religious without any secular element is highly unlikely to be considered suitable.”
In his letter to the Baroness, Rabbi Gratt said, “Faith-based home education is deeply rooted within the Charedi community. We believe that educating our children according to our tradition is not only a foundational aspect of our faith but also our right under English law.”
The Charedi education framework, he said, “equips our children to become well-educated and socially responsible individuals who uphold strong moral beliefs, remain devoted to their traditions, and contribute as law-abiding citizens to the country in which they live.”
But with an election likely this year, it is questionable whether there will be enough time for any new measures to get through Parliament.