‘I am not reassured children are safe in yeshivas’: Hackney’s unregistered Jewish faith academies ‘put on notice’ over child safety
So-called ‘unregistered educational settings’ in Hackney, the vast majority of which are Jewish faith academies or yeshivas, have been “put on notice” by safeguarding bosses over child safety.
Hopes were raised last year that a safeguarding committee for yeshivas could be formed in the borough - but child safeguarding chair Jim Gamble has now announced he will now "draw a line" ending negotiations over the issue.
Officers described a lack of progress in oversight of basic health and safety or Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks of employees' criminal records at a Town Hall meeting. Gamble now intends to label all yeshivas as "designated agencies" under the Children and Social Work Act, with an accompanying expectation that they will behave as statutory bodies.
The Town Hall is also urging central government to give local authorities powers to define a school, which would mean they could gain oversight of its processes.
The inspection body Ofsted can currently issue a warning notice to yeshivas, but along with local authorities and the Department for Education, has no power to close them down.
Gamble said: "I will be turning the volume up on this. Since 2013, we have engaged, visited, consulted, facilitated meetings with the government and with respective ministers, but we are not one step further forward.
"While I respect so much of what goes on in the community, and so many of the good things that come out of that faith-based environment, I am not reassured that children are safe in yeshivas, and we have now got to draw a line that says safeguarding is non-negotiable.
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"We can't come back here next year and have another conversation like this. Five or ten years from now, we will be dealing with issues where people will not forgive the fact that we did not apply professional curiosity and did not respectfully challenge.
"I am putting you on notice and others that I have done as much as I can when it comes to this. We now must push forward, and see evidence that children are being safeguarded in these environments, and I have no option but to escalate that at this time."
Michael Lobenstein, representative of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, which represents synagogues as opposed to schools, said: "I've been assured that the yeshivas do have health and safety checks, that all their staff are DBS-checked, they go along with all of it. The problem is the curriculum."
He called on Gamble to influence central government to lobby for yeshivas' curriculums to be "ringfenced in law" from any alteration.