NSS welcomes Welsh plan for register of children missing education

The National Secular Society has said a Welsh Government plan to introduce a database of children missing education could help tackle the problem of unregistered faith ‘schools’.

Under the plan, local authorities in Wales would be required to maintain a database of children missing education (CME). These would include children not receiving education at school, as well as those who are electively home educated but not in receipt of a suitable education, as required by law.

The regulations would also require Local Health Boards (LHBs) and general medical contractors to share information about children usually resident in the LHB area with the relevant local authority.

Responding to a consultation on the proposals, the NSS said the new requirements would help local authorities crack down on illegal unregistered schools, many of which exist to inculcate fundamentalist religion.

In 2022, the UK Government’s flagship Schools Bill, which would have required the maintenance of registers of children not in school similar to those proposed in Wales, was scrapped following lobbying by religious activists. In January, the Labour party said it plans to introduce a register of children not in school, should it form the next government.

Unregistered schools “highly motivated to conceal their activities”

In its response, the NSS welcomed the consultation’s recognition of the “well established” relationship between missing education and safeguarding concerns.

The NSS also highlighted the particular risks posed by unregistered schools. Elective home education is sometimes used as a cover to send children to these settings.

Schools are left unregistered to avoid regulations and inspections, so they can teach a very narrow, often religion-based curriculum without oversight. Those who run unregistered schools are committing a criminal offence.

Unregistered schools’ evasion of scrutiny presents major safeguarding concerns. Children have been taught in unsafe conditions and subjected to physical punishment in these schools, and the curriculum may also teach extremist, regressive and discriminatory dogma.

Recent investigations by The Times have revealed the seriousness of the issue of unregistered schools in England, including Hasidic Jewish schools leaving boys illiterate, and a ‘new age’ school which teaches conspiracy theories.

The NSS warned the Welsh Government that those running unregistered schools are “highly motivated to conceal their activities from authorities”, and that some families may go to great lengths to avoid being registered on a CME database.

Given the serious risks to safeguarding found at unregistered schools, the NSS said it was vital that all children at risk are successfully recorded by CME databases.

NSS: ‘Much-needed measures will help protect children’

NSS campaigns officer Jack Rivington said: “These proposals will help to protect some of the most vulnerable children in our society, including from harmful and illegal schools which teach religious ideology and little else.

“Given the seriousness of the safeguarding risks faced by children missing education, the Welsh Government must undertake whatever means necessary to ensure all at-risk children are successfully registered on CME databases.

“Tens of thousands of children are thought to have disappeared into unregistered schools. National and devolved government should therefore follow the Welsh Government’s example and introduce similar registers as a matter of urgency.”

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