Staff and pupils at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Stamford Hill, London, were left shocked and distressed following a second Ofsted inspection in two weeks, prompting a direct appeal by the school’s principal to the Prime Minister. Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, is responsible for inspecting and regulating services providing education for all ages.
Two weeks ago, Yesodey Hatorah, rated by Ofsted as ‘good,’ underwent a routine inspection, during which the staff were closely questioned about “every aspect” of the education provided. The inspectors also spent a great deal of time in the school’s library, checking books. Yesodey Hatorah is currently rated as being in the top ten percent of schools in England for results in English GCSE (country-wide exams taken at age 16) and the top two percent for Math.
A ‘good’ school is only inspected every few years. However, the following week, Ofsted announced that they would be inspecting the school again, and proceeded to do so in what appears to have been an aggressive and culturally insensitive manner.
Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, principal of the school, told Hamodia that Yesodey Hatorah had gone from being a flagship school to being targeted by those with a secularist agenda. He said that the school’s educational policies are well-known to the parent body, and conform to their expectations. Rabbi Pinter observed that it seemed too coincidental that the second inspection had occurred after a complaint about the school from Humanists UK and said, “It is hugely disappointing that a fringe pressure group can influence so-called independent bodies in this way.”
A spokesperson for Ofsted denied that the second inspection was related to the complaint from the Humanists. They said, “Ofsted inspects all schools against the same framework and standards. We are clear that all schools have a duty to actively promote fundamental British values, provide a rich and broad curriculum and ensure that pupils are kept safe. That is what parents expect and the law demands.
“Faith schools are entirely at liberty to teach the tenets of their faith on social issues. However, they must also comply with the law and ensure that pupils are properly prepared for life in modern Britain. The vast majority of faith schools see no tension in doing this.
“Ofsted returned to visit this school as the inspection the week before was deemed incomplete, due to new evidence coming to light, which included parental complaints. This decision was unrelated to any coverage from the humanists. We will publish our findings in due course.”
Rabbi Pinter has written to Prime Minister Theresa May to appeal for her support in this matter. Describing the current situation as “untenable,” he said, “our appeal to you is close to becoming our last resort.”
The Prime Minister has recently expressed her support for faith communities. She is a person of faith herself and the daughter of a Church of England clergyman.
Shimon Cohen, Public Relations expert and communal askan, said, “In her end-of-year message to the nation, Prime Minister May said, ‘Let us take pride in our [religious] heritage and the confidence it gives us to ensure that in Britain you can practice your faith free from question or fear…..let us reaffirm our determination to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to speak about and practice their beliefs in peace and safety.’
“But that is not happening on the ground. Ofsted should be implementing government policy, but they are consistently over-reaching and trying to implement their own agenda. It is Government who set down policy and Ofsted must follow it.
“This country has been built on traditions of tolerance and acceptance. Why has freedom now become available to us only as long as we meet a secularist definition? This is not tolerance, that is the Hellenism of the Greeks of old.
“If Government doesn’t take steps to flush out those with anti-faith agendas, we must stop believing and taking comfort from the idea that we still live in a “malchus shel chessed.” It’s deeds not words that matter.”
As reports of the inspection spread through the kehillah, individuals and organizations came forward with their support for the school. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said that he “does not believe that there should be any contradiction between the teaching of Fundamental British Values on one hand and protecting the Jewish ethos of our schools on the other.” The Chief Rabbi has “made clear, both in public and in private, that there is a danger that Fundamental British Values become a form of fundamentalism in and of themselves and we continue to raise this concern at all levels of Government.”
Rabbi David Meyer, Executive Director of PaJeS, an umbrella body for Jewish schools in the U.K., said, “Whilst we endeavor never to prejudge an inspection prior to the findings becoming public, we would nevertheless expect that all inspections be carried out in a fair and balanced manner and not unduly influenced by outside organizations.
“We do have concerns about the procedural process of the YHS inspection and have raised these concerns with Ofsted at the highest level.”
Gillian Merron, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Anglo-Jewry’s democratically elected representative body, commented, “We understand that Ofsted has a difficult job to do, but the repeated – and increasingly aggressive – targeting of chareidi schools is fast becoming counterproductive. While some Jewish schools have a good relationship with Ofsted, the chareidi sector is losing confidence in the inspectorate and in some cases now sees failing Ofsted inspections as a ‘badge of honor.’ This situation is in nobody’s interest.
“At a minimum, Ofsted inspectors should be fully aware of cultural sensitivities when they go into a school of whatever kind. The Board of Deputies is keen to advise inspectors and to offer training where that would be appropriate.”
When a school such as Yesodey Hatorah, which complies with all Health and Safety regulations and which excels academically, is targeted by Ofsted and its pupils treated in this way, it is hard to see this as anything other than a direct attack on the chareidi system of education.