A recent court decision rejecting an appeal by Beis Aharon School against the Department for Education may have long-term disastrous consequences for the future of chareidi chinuch in the United Kingdom, and for the sustainability of chareidi life in the country.
Following a series of unsatisfactory inspections carried out by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, from 2014 onward, the Department of Education issued an order in September 2015 requiring the school to cease admitting new pupils. Beis Aharon contested the order on a variety of grounds; the most significant point for the kehillah in general was that in 2010, Ofsted found the school satisfactory, and that since then, considerable efforts have been made to improve the standard of the chol curriculum and teaching.
At no point did Ofsted take issue with the quality of the kodesh curriculum or teaching, nor with the behavior of the pupils. In fact, the high level of parent satisfaction and the “very high standard” of the pupils’ behavior were mentioned approvingly, as was the fact that the school had “cooperated with the Tribunal and with Ofsted, despite … strong differences of opinion.”
It is important to distinguish between three distinct issues: poor management structure, staff suitability checks, safe and effective operation of the school; perceived inadequacies of teaching or curriculum in general chol studies; and teaching about other faiths or beliefs and Equality Act issues.
The school has addressed past deficiencies with the first two issues and is working to improve in these areas, which was acknowledged by the Tribunal, and to a lesser degree, by Ofsted. These issues are not controversial — all parents and mechanchim want their children and talmidim to learn in a safe environment and benefit from the best possible education b’derech Yisrael Sabba.
However, the third issue is far more problematic. It is not halachically possible for a chareidi school to comply with these requirements. Faced with an obligation to do so, schools would have to close, endangering the future of the Orthodox Jewish community in the United Kingdom. While there have undoubtedly been some secularist or anti-Semitic elements at play in formulating the problematic requirements, it is highly unlikely that this was the intent of the government. It is far more likely that in trying to address the genuine concerns of extremism and hate crime, the government panicked and responded with a knee jerk reaction in rushing in new legislation — for example, the promotion of British values — with a very wide remit, and not taken into account the broader consequences of doing so.
It has become increasingly obvious that Ofsted and the Department for Education do not understand or appreciate the unique qualities of a Yiddishe chinuch and Jewish family life. The chareidi kehillah is one of the very few in this country which shelters our children, preserving their innocence and allowing them to enjoy a proper childhood. One reads reports of children coming to school completely without basic social skills, such as knowing how to interact with other children, or with adults. When a child grows up in a large, nurturing family, as most chareidi children do, this is unheard of. Everyone knows how to take turns, how to share and how to relate to other people. This is because the chinuch in these areas comes from the home, not from the school. The remit of a chareidi school is different from that of a school in general society.
Schools such as Beis Aharon now face the challenge of improving their standards in all possible areas, and reaching an accommodation with the government, in order to secure the future of the kehillah in this country. Suggestions have been made to set up a specific charity to protect the chareidi way of life and ensure that we have future Jewish generations in this malchus shel chessed. The government must recognize that respect flows in two directions, and acknowledge the unique lifestyle of the chareidi community, which contributes to society in many ways. The Jewish community is often held up as an example of a flourishing, law-abiding immigrant community that has found its place in British society without compromising on its values and identity. There is now an opportunity to acknowledge this within the education system.
In the meantime, an asifah has been called for menahalim and Rabbanim, to take place later this week, to discuss what can be done to fight against this gezeirah. Hamodia spoke to one of the school’s askanim, who urged the kehillah to stand together and work in unity to resolve this crisis.