Accord urges fundamental rebalancing between the rights of religious organisations and children in their care

September 2, 2021

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has today published the findings of its investigation into the child protection practices and procedures of religious institutions in England and Wales. IICSA’s report reveals shocking failures to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse across almost all major religions. Reoccurring problems were found to include faith groups placing the avoidance of reputational damage ahead of justice for and safety of abused children, victim blaming, and discouraging the external reporting of abuse.

In response the IICSA has called for all religious organisations to have a robust child protection policy and supporting procedures, and for the government to legislate to ensure the better regulation of illegally unregistered schools and other settings that provide pupils with their primary place of education. Many of these education settings are found to be faith based and to flout basic health and safety standards.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘For too long the liberty of faith groups has been placed ahead of guaranteeing the wellbeing of children in their care. IICSA’s report provides a very important wakeup call. It should ensure that, going forward, the education of young people by faith groups is open to greater scrutiny and regulation by those properly qualified and experienced to do so.’

‘More generally, it should lead to society having greater say and oversight regarding how state funded faith schools operate. It should not be automatically assumed that religious authorities will manage their schools in the broad public interest. Indeed, that many of the schools operate religiously discriminatory and segregationist policies is evidence of a failure of moral leadership by their sponsors.’

IICSA’s call for improved regulation of education settings follows repeated statements from Ofsted about it lacking powers to monitor for and shut down illegally unregistered schools. It also comes after in July the Education Selection Committee called upon the UK Government to establish a long awaited register of home educated children. Ofsted warned the Committee earlier this year that since 2016 a quarter of the education settings it had investigated for operating as an illegally unregistered school had purported to be a provider of supplementary education for home schooled children.

The Government stated in a 2018 integration strategy Green Paper that it would review Ofsted’s powers in relation to unregistered schools. However, despite this, no details about improving the inspectorate’s powers were mentioned in this year’s Queen’s Speech.

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