Stamford Hill rabbi accuses Ofsted of ‘targeting’ Jewish schools
PUBLISHED: 10:45 17 November 2016 | UPDATED: 14:38 17 November 2016
Tensions ran high at Hackney Town Hall last night after a prominent Stamford Hill rabbi accused Ofsted of “targeting” Jewish schools.
The children and young people scrutiny meeting had been called to discuss the investigation by the local authority and Ofsted into unregistered schools across Hackney.
First on the agenda was a presentation on the Charedi community by Chaya Spitz of the Interlink Foundation, an organisation for Orthodox Jewish charities.
The Charedi is a group within the Jewish community – 30,000 of whom are estimated to live in the borough – following a range of strictly Orthodox traditions.
Although there are registered Charedi schools in Hackney, some are believed to be unregistered due to fears of having to close down or follow a broader curriculum.
"There is a perception that Ofsted is targeting the Jewish community. I feel that this is social engineering at work, rather than safeguarding our children"
Assistant director of education services at the council Andrew Lee said as many as 35 unregistered Jewish schools in Hackney were under investigation.
“It is an offence to operate an unregistered school,” he said. “We need to ensure any education settings in Hackney are safe for children.”
Ofsted regional director Mike Sheridan, one of four members of the regulatory education body attending the meeting, said they were acting to “protect the needs of children”.
As a means of “safeguarding children”, Ofsted will inspect any unregistered education settings and work with them to get them registered – but if there is no solution, schools will be prosecuted by the Department for Education.
Rabbi Abraham Pinter then addressed the committee as both a member of the London Jewish Forum representing Charedi interests and a principal of the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Stamford Hill.
“Much of what I have heard this evening has been very distressing and upsetting,” he said. “It appears that Ofsted wants to regulate Jewish schools rather being a critical friend.
“There is a perception that Ofsted is targeting the Jewish community. I feel that this is social engineering at work, rather than safeguarding our children.”
He pointed to the fact his school, which is registered, was subjected to a no-notice inspection in 2014 as part of a round of unannounced inspections by Ofsted across England.
Three of the 40 inspections were of Jewish schools, leading the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools to complain the community was being targeted.
“School safety is a religious requirement for Orthodox Jews and it is up to parents to decide what is best for their children,” added Rabbi Pinter.
In response, Mr Sheridan said accusations of Ofsted targeting Jewish schools were “deeply worrying”.
“If there was any anti-Jewish sentiment within Ofsted, I would take robust action,” he told the meeting. “There is no targeting whatsoever of Jewish schools. We have a right to inspect any school.”
The committee will meet again in January to provide an update on the situation.