An official compaint has been made to Ofsted by secular organisations for showing “leniency” to a Jewish school in Hackney, which has a curriculum and behaviour code that strictly adhere to Orthodox Judaism.
The teaching at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, which excludes human evolution, sexual education and the use of the internet and social media has been rated as ”good” by Ofsted. But the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association have now both criticised Ofsted for an “incorrect” inspection.
Richy Thompson, spokesperson for the BHA and campaigns officer for Faith Schools and Education, said he was “troubled” by Ofsted’s ”good” rating of YHSGS; he said a state school which does not teach evolution and sex and relationships is “breaking the law”.
“We want all students to grow up in an environment with balanced education which includes human evolution and sexual health and well-being so that they can understand the world.”
The school is a state-funded and voluntary-aided comprehensive which serves the Orthodox, Charedi Jewish community in Hackney and has over 300 students aged 11 to 16 years-old. YHSGS is part of Yesodey Hatorah School, which teaches junior boys and girls and senior boys, but is the only part to be state funded.
YHSGS has a history of controversy involving its curriculum, including when teachers redacted GCSE science exam questions on evolution, and the school’s strict behaviour policy. Students are forbidden from accessing the internet, having social media accounts and using electronic devices.
The rules also extend to when the students are at home. Girls may only visit public libraries if accompanied by a parent; parties or watching DVDs as a group must have prior permission from the school; and activities “not in line with” the school ethos such as ice skating, bowling and sleepovers are not permitted. An Ofsted report last year on a crèche in the Yesodey Hatorah junior girls’ school rated it as “satisfactory” but said teaching should be improved to give an understanding of technology to children not given access to technological equipment such as torches.
The latest Ofsted report last month gave YHSGS an overall rating of “good”, the second highest out of the four inspection grades. It said that students “thrive very well and attain above average standards”. However, it did not make reference to concerns about teaching evolution or sexual education.
The BHA attacked the report: “If a school advises pupils to ignore exam questions on evolution and considers evolution, homosexual relationships and social media to go against its ethos, does this school sound like a ‘good’ school?”
Referring to the recent Ofsted inspections of schools in Tower Hamlets, Stephen Evans, campaigns manager of the NSS, told ELL: “Here, in the east of London, we have one school [Sir John Cass’s Foundation and Red Coat School] allowing segregation between boys and girls in the playground and failing to safeguard its pupils from extremism, and another school [YHSGS] putting its own narrow religious agenda before the best interests of its pupils.”
“In both cases we see the damaging effect that religion is having on our schools. A secular, inclusive education system would better serve young people and give us a far greater chance of achieving the cohesive and integrated society most of us want.” Both the BHA and NSS have raised concerns that science subjects in particular may not be being taught correctly because of the school’s religious ethos.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Rabbi Avrohom Pinter who is the principal of YHSGS said: “The law is that you have to provide sex education. But parents can choose to opt out. 100 per cent of our parents opt out. Sex education is something we deal with on our own terms through the Jewish curriculum, based on very strong family values.”
Ofsted, which has not yet responded to the official complaints or to requests for comment.
Rabbi Pinter told ELL: “The inspection was professional and thorough and I respect [Ofsted’s] judgement…it is a fair reflection of the school. We teach the full national curriculum but we are also a religious school. You’ll find that [the secular organisations] make the same comments about private schools. They do not understand what it is that we want to preserve: to live and let live.” He said it was ”unacceptable” for outside bodies to impose their views.
YHSGS, which has a strong reputation for academic achievement, was given state school status in 2005. Their mission statement says they provide students with “national curriculum studies imbued with Torah values”. However, they exclude certain aspects of the national curriculum which as a state school they are legally required to follow.
The students continue to do well in science subjects, although the most recent inspection found that the rate of girls who were entered for English Baccalaureate science exams had fallen from 93 per cent in 2013 to 78 per cent the following year.
The Department of Education says all state schools must teach the theory of evolution and provide sex and relationship education for pupils in secondary school.
In addition to existing guidelines, new education regulations for teaching “British values” and tolerance in schools have been introduced by the Government in the wake of the “Trojan Horse” controversy in Birmingham.
The concerns over curriculum were mirrored in the inspections of Islamic faith schools in Tower Hamlets where it was found that the schools were failing to provide an “appropriately broad and balanced curriculum”.
One of the private Muslim schools is Mazahirul Uloom School whose curriculum was found to be “too narrow” and “focus solely on Islamic themes” meaning that “students are not being prepared for life in a diverse British society.”
In these cases Ofsted said: “it is clear that these schools are failing children and this is unacceptable”.