'Ofsted is unfair to Jewish schools'

By Charlotte Oliver, January 28, 2015
Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw. The organisation rejects claims it is targeting Jewish schools

Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw. The organisation rejects claims it is targeting Jewish schools

Ofsted is unfairly targeting Jewish schools, according to one of its own inspectors.

Rabbi Nessanel Lieberman, a registered inspector since 2009, told a meeting of Jewish primary teachers that the education watchdog had “an agenda to knock down our schools, starting with JFS last summer. We are now in the situation where Ofsted is looking for a pretext for inspectors just to turn up.”

Rabbi Lieberman, who is also head of Bnos Beis Yaakov School in Kingsbury, described Ofsted’s aims as a “hodge-podge of left-wing ideals” that were designed to clamp down on institutions “that don’t conform to their ideology”.

He said the watchdog was reluctant to send Jewish inspectors into Jewish schools, leading to Kodesh studies being largely ignored in reports.

“Non-Jewish inspectors go into Jewish schools with an interpreter,” he said. “They write a report that doesn’t reflect Kodesh studies, even though they may take up to 50 per cent of the school day.”

Jeffrey Leader, the new director of the Orthodox inspection service Pikuach, was present when Rabbi Lieberman spoke at the National Jewish Education Conference for Primary School Teachers, at the London School of Jewish Studies last week.

He agreed there was an inherent hypocrisy in Ofsted’s practices.

“In a meeting with Ofsted, we were talking about British values,” he said. “One member of the Board of Deputies told an inspector that some of the schools required women to dress modestly. The inspector replied that the school should adapt and show respect to visiting inspectors. We are now accusing them of double standards.”

The past year has seen growing concern about a possible backlash against faith schools following the “Trojan Horse” allegations of Islamist indoctrination in a number of state schools in Birmingham.

In the summer, Ofsted announced it would be increasing its unannounced inspections, one of which led to JFS being downgraded from an “outstanding” school to one “requiring improvement”.

Responding to Rabbi Lieberman’s comments, an Ofsted spokesperson told the JC: “Ofsted is not systematically targeting Jewish faith schools. Maintained schools and academies with a religious character are inspected under the same framework, criteria and timeframe as all other maintained schools and academies."

The spokesperson added: "The content of collective worship and denominational education in schools with a religious character is inspected separately under section 48 of the Education Act 2005.

“Therefore, Ofsted inspectors cannot comment on the content of religious worship or on denominational religious education in maintained schools and academies with a religious character.

“However, they can comment on the contribution of assemblies and teaching (in any subject with the exception of RE) to pupils’ personal and spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, and their behaviour and safety.”

Last updated: 11:46am, January 29 2015