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Shedding light on illegal schools remains Hackney Council priority despite criticism from Jewish community

PUBLISHED: 18:03 17 January 2018

The children and young people's commission held a meeting on unregistered schools on Monday. Photo by Ken Mears

The children and young people's commission held a meeting on unregistered schools on Monday. Photo by Ken Mears

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Shedding further light on illegal schools remains a chief priority for Hackney Council in the face of criticism from the Jewish community.

Lib Dem Cllr Abraham Jacobson. Photo by Gary Manhine courtesy of Hackney Council. Lib Dem Cllr Abraham Jacobson. Photo by Gary Manhine courtesy of Hackney Council.

In a meeting of the council’s children and young people’s scrutiny commission held at Hackney town hall last night, members voted to push through with plans to lobby government to strengthen legislation so children in unregistered schools are safe.

As reported by the Gazette earlier this month, the commission’s report into Hackney’s illegal schools has revealed an apparent lack of safeguarding procedures, the narrow educational focus of yeshivas, and a lack of interaction with education and safeguarding professionals.

In Hackney, some 29 unregistered yeshivas offer religious teaching to approximately 1,000 to 1,500 boys within the Charedi Orthodox Jewish community.

Cllr Christopher Kennedy, who chaired the meeting, said: “There is not a clear line of sight in these unregistered settings and we need access to them. We need to make sure that there are DBS [criminal records] checks for teachers and that anti-bullying policies in place.”

Orthodox Jew and committee member Cllr Abraham Jacobson persistently questioned the council’s determination to “meddle” with the curriculum, and argued that there is an agenda in place which could “destroy the way of life for the Jewish community in Hackney”.

Cllr Jacobson called on members to strike off the recommendation in the report questioning the curriculum at yeshivas, but the committee voted against his request.

The commission’s report makes clear that there will be a “significant benefit” for the Charedi community if English, maths and STEM subjects were taught in parallel with religious studies, in advance of “likely changes to legislation” over the curriculum at faith schools.

Rabbi Judah Baumgarten, who described the report as “fundamentally self-contradictory”, told the committee that the majority of children leaving yeshiva settings in the borough are “extremely successful” and that an attempt to change the law over unregistered settings “is not the solution”.

The headteacher of Urswick School believes there must be a “Hackney compromise” when it comes to the council’s investigation into illegal schools.

Speaking at the town hall’s children and young people’s group meeting, Richard Brown bemoaned the focus in the media on the Jewish community involved in the issue.

He said: “I am sympathetic with my Jewish friends on the committee. But the council must have the power to go into any school when there is a safeguarding issue.

“Hackney can be an example to the rest of the country in terms of safeguarding for children at faith schools.”

Along with fellow committee member Cllr Tom Rahilly, he stressed that the council must work with the Charedi community when it comes to creating a formal strategy plan.

The commission will be sending the plan to government to lobby for a change in law, which the report describes as “woefully inadequate”.

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