Boys at Stamford Hill Jewish ‘boarding school’ left ‘without proper toilets or water for three months’

Hackney Town Hall.

Hackney Town Hall. - Credit: Archant

Boys at an Orthodox Jewish “boarding school” may have been left without adequate toilets, fire safety measures and hot water for three months as authorities wrangle over who is responsible for regulating it.

Call for more regulation: Rabbi Abraham Pinter. Picture: Hackney Council

Call for more regulation: Rabbi Abraham Pinter. Picture: Hackney Council - Credit: Archant

Two suspected unregistered schools in Cazenove Road, Stamford Hill, were inspected by authorities on September 29, following concerns raised in an Ofsted report about unregistered educational establishments.

Both had more than 100 pupils and were deemed to be Yeshivas – where religious teaching of the Torah and Talmud takes place – although boys were boarding at one of them.

Both were “in poor repair, with a multitude of building defects and areas of dilapidation, dubious means of escape in case of fire, and little knowledge of fire drills or evacuation procedures”, according to a council report.

A “suspect” boiler was found at one, and council officers concluded that “welfare with respect to the number and cleanliness of wash basins and lavatories and constant hot water was also an issue”.

The report states: “Health and safety is a matter for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and we notified [and] impressed upon them the urgency for a field officer to visit given the large numbers of children, their vulnerability and the continued risk.”

But three months on, the HSE has not accepted responsibility, stating child safeguarding issues outweigh those of hygiene – meaning it’s the council’s job.

A file image of Orthodox Jewish men in Stamford Hill, where unregistered faith schools are causing t

A file image of Orthodox Jewish men in Stamford Hill, where unregistered faith schools are causing the authorities a headache. Picture: Dave Collier/Flickr/Creative Commons (licence CC BY-ND 2.0) - Credit: Archant

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Hackney Town Hall, for its part, still insists the HSE should take action, maintaining that it’s not a boarding school because the children are over 16, meaning it does not have to register as a school.

A council spokesman said: “The enforcement falls within the remit of the HSE as this is a workplace environment – it is their role to investigate, take enforcement action or refer the case to other regulatory bodies.”

London Fire Brigade was unable to check whether the fire safety works had been completed at either school because the council would not share the school’s name or address or name. And Ofsted could not confirm whether an investigation was taking place or not.

A spokesman for the HSE said: “We understand that the child protection people have been involved and that Ofsted have also attended the school, we do not intend to take any further action at this stage.”

‘It’s academic’

Haredi Rabbi Abraham Pinter told the Gazette a school is only classified as such if it provides 20 hours’ teaching a week. Yeshivas do not need to register as schools because they are run through study groups with partners with little formal instruction.

But, he argued: “Even if these institutions don’t fall under education they still need oversight to make sure they meet basic health and safety,

“Health and safety is paramount and there shouldn’t be any compromise.

“If I was running a club for children I would still be required to do the DBS checks and meet health and safety requirements and I can’t understand why that’s not happening in these institutions.

“I think it is academic whether they are a school or not – the important thing is children need to be safe. I believe in the main children are safe.

“Instead of arguing ‘are you a school or not a school?’ they should say: ‘We need some sort of regulatory arrangements to check up and safeguard children’.”