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Education minister warns Charedi leaders over failing schools

Lord Agnew said schools need to prepare 'children for life in modern British society'

    The minister responsible for faith schools has urged Charedi leaders in Hackney to act over the failings of local Jewish independent schools.

    In a letter this week, Lord Agnew suggested Stamford Hill follow the example of strictly Orthodox independent schools in Salford and Gateshead which have passed inspections.

    He warned that otherwise, “the department will not delay indefinitely action on specific schools which are not meeting the standards”.

    Although enforcement action had been taken against three Charedi schools in Hackney, many others had “problems with meeting the standards”.

    Highlighting the teaching of English, the amount of time reserved for secular subjects and the need to prepare “children for life in modern British society”, he concluded: “Clearly this situation is not satisfactory.”

    He also referred to requirements to teach respect and tolerance for groups protected under equality law — which include those of same-sex orientation and transgender status, although he did not specify these.

    The Department for Education was “well aware, however, that Charedi schools in Gateshead, and increasingly also in Greater Manchester, have been moving to a position where they are able to meet the standards through changes in their curriculum, teaching practices and policies”.

    While recognising that Charedi schools were not all the same, “we would like to feel that the commonality of the schools is greater than their differences”.

    London schools might advance their cause if they reviewed how “other Charedi schools have been able to address these issues”.

    Earlier this week, the DfE confirmed that 15 independent Jewish schools received notices in 2017 warning of ultimate closure if steps to improve were not taken.

    Two registered independent Chasidic schools in Hackney, Beis Aharon and Beis Ruchel d’Satmar, are barred from taking new pupils. Getters Talmud Torah is in the process of being deregistered by the DfE, although the JC understands the school has appealed.

    Lord Agnew contrasted Beis Aharon with Kerem Shloime, a Manchester Charedi boys school, which had been threatened with deregistration but was now meeting independent school standards – “an excellent outcome for all”.

    Beis Aharon had failed to make the necessary improvements. “It clearly cannot be right for us to leave it to ‘wither on the vine’ year by year as pupils leave and no new pupils join, so if this state of affairs continues, there must come a point when we shall have to move to deregistration.”

    Lord Agnew said he would be happy to meet representatives of schools and organisations to discuss possible solutions.

    Last month, Charedi rabbis from across the country met in Nottingham to try to agree a common front against pressure on schools from the education authorities.

    In particular, they are concerned about demands from inspectors to refer to same-sex orientation, a topic Stamford Hill leaders have previously rejected as a “red line”.

    The Gateshead Rav, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, recently described the threat to Orthodox education as an “emergency”.

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