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What to be done about unregistered yeshivot?

For years the authorities have known that hundreds of boys in Stamford Hill have been taught in unregistered institutions. Now a new report calls for action to be taken

    Education Secretary Justine Greening - her department told Hackney it had no immediate plans to legislate on unregistered schools
    Education Secretary Justine Greening - her department told Hackney it had no immediate plans to legislate on unregistered schools

    Hackney Council’s report into unregistered yeshivot is a fair-minded response to what it recognises is a “complex and sensitive” issue. Whether it will result in positive action is another matter.

    The commission that published the report is right to take the government to task for dragging its feet. David Cameron’s government was supposed to be introducing new powers to regulate part-time schools or educational institutions which fall outside the definition of a school. 

    Now the Department of Education admits there are no plans for legislation on this for at least the next two years. In its defence, the government can plead bigger and more immediate problems such as negotiating Brexit and trying to find money for state-aided schools.

    Unless the legal loopholes are closed, the various agencies will continue to operate with one hand tied behind their backs. But, irrespective of the need for new powers, it is still better to reach voluntary agreement than use legal enforcement.

    There is no dispute over the need to comply with safeguarding requirements. The question is how best to do so. At the moment, inspecting safeguarding and educational standards lies in the hands of Ofsted — and Ofsted’s recent approach to Charedi independent schools has placed it at odds with the strictly Orthodox Jewish community. So it might be sensible to entrust responsibility for ensuring the welfare of pupils to a different body.

    If the government wants to win the goodwill of the Charedi community, another thing it could do is relax the requirements for teaching “British values” in schools to make it easier for the Orthodox sector. 

    It should be possible to teach the broad principle of respecting fellow-citizens whose lifestyle we may disapprove of — without having to touch specifically, for example, on same-sex relationships.

    It should also be possible for teenagers to pursue an intensive religious education in yeshivot while receiving at least GCSE-level tuition in English and maths. But here the government might need legislative muscle to change entrenched views.

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