London: Anyone found running illegal backstreet or religous schools like secret madrasas in the UK will face fines or a prison sentence, authorities have warned amid concerns that extremists are radicalising youngsters and pose a threat to child safety.
Britain’s schools inspectorate Ofsted says it has found evidence of children being taught in squalid conditions in at least three places in Birmingham which have now closed. UK education secretary Nicky Morgan has said that anyone running illegal schools could face a jail term of up to 51 weeks.
“I have asked Ofsted to prepare cases for prosecution against unregistered schools it has identified”, she said. Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw is to also be given powers to prosecute people running secret religious madrasas amid concerns that extremists are radicalising youngsters and pose a threat to child safety.
It is understood that a total of 18 unregulated schools, mainly in Muslim communities in the Midlands region of the country, have been visited as part of an investigation in recent months.
Sir Michael said “his inspectors were visibly shocked by the conditions they found”. The government has provided funding for a team of six inspectors whose job will be to investigate illegal schools.
While most of the places visited by Ofsted so far have been in Muslim communities, inspectors may also turn their attention to similar unregistered tuition centres operated by other groups.
It will apply across the board, to any religious group whether Muslim group, Jewish group, or Christian group who wants to operate this sort of provision in unsafe accommodation, in unhygienic and filthy accommodation.
“It will apply to all religious groups, I want to make that absolutely clear”,Sir Michael said.
The schools inspectorate will also be able to prosecute Islamists running registered madrasas but who fail to heed warnings to stop teaching extremist ideology, misogynistic or homophobic ideas or anti-semitism.
Islamists who try to open another religious school after one has been closed down could also be prosecuted. Under already existing powers Ofsted can close down schools.
There are an estimated 2,000 madrasas in the UK attended by about 200,000 children, according to a 2011 report by the Institute for Public Policy Research.
The report found that while many madrasas make a valuable contribution to British society, a significant minority do not have adequate child protection or teaching standards.
Ministers are also consulting on plans for more regulation of places teaching for more than six to eight hours a week. Any place where children are taught for more than 20 hours a week has to register as a school in England.