An Orthodox Jewish school has written to Meg Hillier MP, who also serves as Chair of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, questioning the motives of the head of Ofsted. They were joined by representatives of other major religions in the country in condemning comments by Amanda Spielman to the PAC, which were perceived as a direct affront to their sensitivities.
The letter was penned in the wake of unprovoked comments made at a Public Accounts Committee meeting, during which two of the major religions in the country were attacked. She was responding to a question by Shabana Mahmoud MP regarding Ofsted inspectors inquiring of Muslim girls in her constituency as to why they are wearing hijabs. This was as per the policy change introduced by Ms. Spielman in 2017 in which inspectors were guided to question students regarding this. She was defending her opinion that Muslim children not automatically be given the right to dress like their mothers by wearing a headscarf.
Towards the end of her response to a follow-up question as to the precise meaning of the term she coined “muscular liberalism,” Ms. Spielman abruptly expanded her criticism to include the Orthodox Jewish community, saying that the girls’ educational experience has been “shut down significantly.” She singled out Yesoday HaTorah for its “extremely limited education” and its “drastic redaction” of books in the school library. This, despite a “significant step forward” the school has taken since the inspection last year, as per a more recent Ofsted observation.
In sharp contrast to her claims a couple of months ago — in which the head of Ofsted insisted that accusations of her bias against faith schools are unfounded — her comments, which were perceived as marginalizing the chareidi community, were particularly troubling, given last week’s confirmation that the majority of Jewish children in Jewish schools are part of the chareidi kehillah. By ignoring the sensitivities of a large portion of the Jewish community, she chose to go on the offensive without the discussion leading up to it.
It should be remembered that the target of her attack, Yesoday HaTorah Girls’ School, ranked 21 out of 6,300 state schools in England for progress made by its pupils from entry to GCSE. Specifically, it was found to be in the top 2 percent of schools in England in math and 10 percent in English.
Regarding the guidance being promoted by the Ofsted head, The Christian Institute has said that [it] “confuses respect for people (which is always right) with respect for beliefs or behavior,” and added, “The Department of Education must respect the religious liberty of parents and the schools they choose to teach about moral issues in accordance with their faith, and not impose secular humanist values.”
Responding directly to Mrs. Spielman’s comments, a spokesman for the Orthodox Jewish community said, “One must really question what has become a very worrying trend. Is it merely anti-faith or is it something more sinister than that?”