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Children’s Commissioner urges government crackdown on unregistered ‘off the grid’ religious centres

Anne Longfield voices concern about lack of regulation of home schooling and institutions such as yeshivot

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The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, has called for “decisive action” from the government to tackle unregistered religious institutions such as yeshivot that are operating “off the grid”.

In a report issued on Monday, entitled “Skipping School; Invisible Children”, she voiced her concern over the lack of regulation of children being home-schooled or educated in an out-of-school settings.

Ms Longfield said the government “must strengthen the law so that it is easier to prosecute illegal schools”.

“We support Ofsted in calling for a clearer definition of ‘full-time education’ in law, so that unregistered settings can no longer exploit this loophole to evade prosecution,” she said.

An estimated 900 to 1,500 boys from 13 upward in Hackney learn in unregistered talmudic academies. A year ago Hackney Council issued a report calling for similar government action to regulate them.

But yeshivot have argued they do not fall within the legal definition of a school and are therefore exempt from registration.

Ms Longfield reported she had accompanied Ofsted inspectors on visits to “suspected illegal schools and found dozens, sometimes hundreds of children in filthy cramped rooms and Portacabins, with only religious texts in sight.”

She did not specify which faith they represented.

She has also called for the compulsory registration of home-schooled children with the local authority and says council officers should visit them once a term to “assess the suitability of their education and welfare”.

Home schooling has been rising over the past five years and accounts for nearly 53,000 children in England.

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