Stamford Hill rabbi calls on Ofsted to be more flexible when investigating illegal Jewish schools
- Credit: Archant
A prominent Stamford Hill rabbi is calling on Ofsted to be more flexible when investigating illegal Jewish schools.
According to Hackney Council there are “possibly” as many as 35 ultra-orthodox Jewish schools across the borough that are not registered with the local authority and currently under investigation by the regulatory education body.
Ofsted says its investigations are motivated by the need to “protect the needs of children in Hackney” – a line that has drawn criticism from some quarters of the Cheredi community.
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 unregistered – thought to be due to fears of having to close down or follow a broader curriculum.
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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, who is principal of Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Stamford Hill, believes Ofsted needs a change of tact.
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“Hopefully Ofsted will come to their senses and change their guidelines,” he said. “There has to be flexibility when it comes to this issue.
“To say that children are only safe with the help of Ofsted is patronising to us as a community.
“I certainly feel there is an agenda with Ofsted. There is a feeling that we are not wanted in Hackney. Almost like they are saying: ‘Take your lifestyle and go away’.”
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.
He added: “There is no compromise whatsoever and Ofsted are not being a critical friend to Jewish schools.
“If they close down these schools, where are they going to send the thousands of students? Hackney cannot accommodate them.”
Ofsted regional director Mike Sheridan says it is a myth that the body is “following the faith” and insisted it is merely following the standards of the law.
“Children deserve the best,” he said. “If we see schools which are unregistered and not meeting standards then we will investigate them.”
Rabbi Pinter said a common reason why some Jewish schools fail the registration process is they do not teach about sex or same sex relationships at school.
He said: “Traditional values such as the nuclear family are important to the Charedi community. This can be put in jeopardy by a more mainstream education curriculum.
“But school safety is a religious requirement for Orthodox Jews and it is up to parents to decide what is best for their children.”
Despite the calls for Ofsted and the local authority to negotiate with unregistered Jewish schools, officials both organisations have been at pains to point out the law is black and white.
Hackney Council’s education boss Anntoinette Bramble said: “I think there will always be a difference of opinion here, but the law is non-negotiable.
“We can support unregistered schools and guide them towards registration, but what is not up for negotiation is the law.”
The local authority and Ofsted will meet at Hackney Town Hall to update members on the investigation into unregistered schools.