UK Chinuch Crisis Continues

LONDON -

 

The crisis for chareidi chinuch in the U.K. continues, as last week, a London school received an “Inadequate” grade on its most recent government inspection, a judgement based, to a large extent, on the secularist agenda of the inspectors.

The Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) inspection report for Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Stamford Hill was published last week. Yesodey Hatorah School is widely considered to be the jewel in the crown of the chareidi education system in London, with a beautiful modern building and Voluntary Aided Status. (In the U.K. faith schools can receive government funding for the infrastructure and limudei chol, with limudei kodesh funded by voluntary contributions from the parent body. This is known as Voluntary Aided Status.) The school has been progressively downgraded from “Outstanding” in 2006, to “Good” in 2014 and now to “Inadequate,” the lowest grade.

While admittedly, some of the inspectors’ criticisms were based on management structure and other issues, the majority of their complaints were that the school did not meet the requirements of the national curriculum, specifically in certain areas, and that it does not “prepare the pupils adequately for life in British society.”

The “Inadequate” rating was given, despite the fact that the pupils consistently perform well in public examinations, far above the national average in progress achieved, and second in its local area. The inspectors acknowledged that the girls were happy at school and that the parents are very satisfied with it.

However, in keeping with the disproportionate emphasis currently placed on teaching about other religions and lifestyles, in detail, in a way which is not possible within a Torah framework, none of this was considered good enough by the inspectors. Over the last few years, the situation in this regard has steadily deteriorated.

While a few years ago, it was adequate for a school to teach its pupils that they must respect everyone, regardless of religion, race, gender, disability or other so-called “protected characteristic,” now the government insists that schools must teach all pupils exactly what these entail, offering them all as equally valid options, with no guidance or commentary.

Last month, the government ran a consultation regarding the regulation of independent (private) schools. Until now, if an independent school (such as most of the chareidi schools) did not fulfill its mission of preparing pupils for life in modern Britain according to the government guidelines, it would be given time to improve and it was very rare for a school to be closed down.

Now, if the proposal becomes law, following an unsatisfactory inspection, a school could be forced to shut within a matter of weeks, and its pupils will be dispersed between local state schools.

This consultation triggered a huge response from the kehillah, which protested at the proposal, and was the catalyst for the various tefillah gatherings which have taken place around the country.

There are ongoing discussions between various askanim and organizations and the government departments responsible for schools and education. Many people within the kehillah are devoting hours of time and great efforts in trying to resolve the situation and there are glimmers of hope, such as the stay of a tribunal process against Beis Ruchel d’Satmar in Stamford Hill, pending further discussions. In the meantime, what we can do is daven and hope for rachamei Shamayim.