Family & Education

Charedi schools should be able to comply with same-sex guidelines, minister says

Schools Minister Nick Gibb cites the example of Strictly Orthodox schools that have received good Ofsted reports


Charedi schools which have attained good Ofsted reports show it is possible to comply with requirements to tell pupils about same-sex relations, the School Standards Minister Nick Gibb has said.

In a letter to a senior Stamford Hill rabbi in April which emerged this week, Mr Gibb cited the example of the local Vishnitz Girls School.

Standards for independent schools were written so that “any school should be able to meet” them, he told Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, following an earlier meeting between them.

Over the past three years, many Charedi schools have been pulled up by Ofsted for refusing to teach pupils about LGBT issues.

But Mr Gibb tried to reassure Rabbi Schlesinger that the Department for Education had given careful thought on how to teach “protected characteristics” - the categories including sexual orientation and gender reassignment that are protected by equality law.

“We hope that schools will find it possible to follow the example set by Vishnitz and other schools,” he said.

The letter was published in this week’s Kol Hachinuch, the newsletter launched by Shraga Stern, a Stamford Hill activist who has been at the forefront of efforts to exempt religious schools from having to talk about same-sex relations.

Vishnitz, which teaches girls from two to 13, was rated inadequate in 2017 when inspectors found, among other things, that it paid too little attention to the “protected characteristics”.

But earlier this year a fresh inspection upgraded it to a “good” school. Although the second report made no mention of protected characteristics, it commented that girls had “an awareness of the different ways people live within Stamford Hill and beyond, and what constitutes inappropriate behaviour towards others, including some of the different forms of bullying”.

According to Ofsted, pupils are not expected to be taught “in detail about different lifestyles, gender reassignment or sexual orientation”.  But they should be encouraged to show respect for other people, taking account of the protected characteristics.

Last year, Ofsted reported that the headteacher of another Stamford Hill school, Beis Aharon for boys, was developing understanding of the “full range” of protected characteristics.

“For example, an assembly led by a Holocaust survivor explained about all the other groups of people with protected characteristics who were persecuted by the Nazis,” the inspectorate said.

The Department for Education’s latest guidance for independent schools and its new relationships and sex education policy both give schools discretion at what age they believe it appropriate to introduce certain topics.

In an article in The Times on Thursday, Mr Gibb condemned protests outside state primary schools by parents opposed to their children learning about families with same-sex parents.

“Children growing up in modern Britain need to be taught about the diverse society that they live in and the different types of loving, healthy relationships that exist,” he wrote.

“This is what lies at the heart of the new relationship education subject that will be compulsory in schools from September next year.

“Schools will be required to consult parents on the content of what is taught and what is taught must be age appropriate, taking into account the religious background of their pupils, but ultimately it is for the head teacher and the school to decide on the curriculum.”

Mr Stern has donated £500 to a campaign to challenge an injunction which Birmingham City Council obtained last week to stop protests outside schools.



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