Hackney's Scrutiny Commission releases report into unregistered 'schools'

Hackney Town Hall

Hackney Council’s Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Commission has released a report into unregistered educational settings, calling on the Government to strengthen legislation to ensure children in unregistered ‘schools’ are safe.

It follows a year-long investigation by the Commission, which heard that across the country, up to 6,000 children attend as many as 290 unregistered educational settings. In Hackney, around 29 unregistered yeshivas offer religious teaching to approximately 1,000-1,500 boys within the Charedi Orthodox Jewish community.

The wide-ranging investigation received evidence from organisations including the Department for Education, Ofsted, the City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Board, Interlink, the London Fire Brigade, Hackney Council’s children’s social care and education departments, the Union of Hebrew Congregations and the Partnership for Jewish Schools. It also conducted a survey, inviting members of the Charedi community to share their experiences anonymously.

Key concerns detailed in the report are around an apparent lack of safeguarding procedures, the narrow educational focus of yeshivas, and a lack of interaction with education and safeguarding professionals.

The investigation found serious failings in Government policy, which allows illegal ‘schools’ to operate without appropriate safeguarding, health and safety or curriculum standards. The report calls on the Council to continue its lobbying of Government for and effective legislative framework.

In the report, the Commission makes a series of recommendations. It calls on the Council to formalise the work it has been doing around the issues of unregistered settings by publishing its strategy. It also calls on the Charedi community to work with the local Safeguarding Children Board to establish a safeguarding process.

Hackney’s Charedi community is a valued and important part of our diverse borough, and throughout this process we’ve worked hard to ensure their voice is heard, and this report is the result of the most intensive piece of work the Commission has ever carried out.

The issue of unregistered educational settings is an issue that the Council has been working on behind the scenes for a long time. Following a series of incidents including the near-tragedy that happened when a group of Charedi boys had to be rescued on the Kent coast, we feel that now is the time to shine a light on the serious concerns shared by the Commission, the Council and many others who work with children in Hackney and beyond.

Our research brought to the fore the fundamental clash between parents’ wishes to educate their children at these settings and the rights of children to a broad education, where their safety is paramount. We’ve made a number of recommendations and have been clear that the Council needs to continue to do all it can to work with the Charedi community to ensure the safety of all our children.

However, the Government holds the key to enable local and national agencies to bring unregistered settings into compliance, and I would echo the Council’s repeated calls for them to do something about this situation.
Cllr Chris Kennedy, Chair of the Children and Young People Commission
I welcome this report, and thank the Commission for their hard work on this challenging subject. Council officers and political leaders in Hackney have worked tirelessly behind the scenes for a number of years to try to make progress on this issue, but in the end, our efforts have been hampered by the fact that legislation on unregistered schools is completely inadequate, and until the Government makes some changes in the law, it is very difficult for councils to ensure that children are safe in those settings.

I recognise that the issue of unregistered schools is a particularly sensitive one for many residents from our Charedi Orthodox Jewish communities, who want to educate their children within the traditions of their community, and I welcome the input that Charedi leaders have had into this debate and review. However, as a local authority, we have a safeguarding duty to every child in this borough, and it would be a dereliction of that duty to overlook our ability to safeguard any child or group of children.

As a Council, we champion and reflect Hackney's diversity and want the Charedi community to continue to flourish and prosper in Hackney, but there does need to be a frank discussion about how a more fully rounded approach to education could make the community more economically sustainable in the long term. Both the Council and the community must reflect on the content of this report, but primarily, the Government must act on the issue of unregistered settings, as a matter of urgency.
Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney

The report will be discussed at the meeting of the Children and Young People Scrutiny Commission on 15 January. The full report is available here: http://mginternet.hackney.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=4001&x=1&

For more information contact Helen Clarke: helen.clarke@hackney.gov.uk, 020 8356 3539.


What is the Children and Yong People’s Scrutiny Commission?

Hackney Council’s four scrutiny commissions operate in a similar way to the Government’s select committees. They operate independently of the Council to scrutinise the Council’s work and decisions. The Children and Young People Commission includes Non-executive councillors as well as faith representatives, Head Teachers, members of Hackney Youth Parliament and Parent Governor Representatives.