Ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools could close for refusing to teach pupils about being gay

Pupils arrive at Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School

Pupils arrive at Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School - Credit: Archant

Two ultra-Orthodox Jewish school refuse to teach pupils about being gay, lesbian or transgender despite threat of closure.

Private Beis Malka Girls’ School and Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass in Stamford Hill have said they won’t back down in the face of severe criticism from education watchdog Ofsted this week.

Beis Malka governor Dovid Spitzer said the government has now made clear that its religious beliefs are a “barrier to our school’s success”.

Mr Spitzer said: “We believe this part of our children’s education is the duty and responsibility of the family; these subjects are not to be taught at school.”

He added: “Whilst we always strive to improve our school, it seems that our religious beliefs about the teaching of relationships are now a barrier to our school’s success.”

Both schools, which teach ages 2 to 16, are now locked in a tense stand-off with the Department for Education (DfE).

They could close down if they repeatedly fail to teach pupils about sexuality or gender – a legal requirement set out in the DfE’s regulations for independent schools: the Independent School Standards.

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Both schools, part of the Belz Hasidic community, were rated “good” by Ofsted at their last full inspections in 2013 and 2014.

But since then, inspectors have returned twice in 2015 and this year to find they do not comply with the law.

In an Ofsted inspection report published last week, Machzikei Hadass school leaders said that they don’t, and “do not intend to,” teach pupils about sexuality or gender.

The topic was also “avoided” at Beis Malka, another report on Monday stated.

A spokesman for the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations said the community would “not give in”.

He said: “The rabbis in the Orthodox Haredi community are very adamant that none of the schools should speak to children about sexuality. Parents don’t want the schools to teach their children this.”

He added that the issue has been raised with education secretary Nicky Morgan.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “All children, whether they go to an independent school or a state funded school, should receive a broad education that prepares them for life in modern Britain.

“Any independent school that refuses to comply with the Independent School Standards risks being removed from the register of independent schools, meaning it would no longer be able to operate.”

It is not the first time the schools have run into trouble with the DfE. Last year, Belz leaders threatened to ban pupils if their mothers drove them to school over concerns about modesty. The proposed policy was withdrawn after a backlash.

Machzikei Hadass was also until recently an unregistered “illegal school,” Hackney Council has confirmed. It is now on the register.

Beis Malka also had an unregistered crèche on its site, which was closed down in April, according to Ofsted.

As illegal schools are founded under the radar, they cannot be held accountable to Ofsted or the DfE.