Family & Education

Chasidic girls’ school Yesodey Hatorah accuses Ofsted of 'secularist plot' over scathing report

School censored pictures of Picasso, history books and did not teach human reproduction or sex education, Ofsted said


The chair of governors at a state-aided Chasidic girls’ school in Stamford Hill has called Ofsted's a scathing report on the school a "secularist plot" by the education watchdog.

Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School was deemed inadequate and Ofsted accuses it of censoring textbooks, failing to teach about reproduction in science and doing too little to encourage respect for other groups of people.

Ofsted said the school “blanked out” pictures in books about major artists such as Picasso, redacted passages in Sherlock Holmes and would not allow girls to visit a gallery such as Tate Modern.

The school’s principal, Rabbi Avraham Pinter, had an “over-generous” view of its educational quality and governors did not hold him to account.

The Ofsted report highlights the clash of values between the secular education authorities and the Charedi establishment.

Theo Bibelman, Yesodey Hatorah's chairman of governors, said the report had left the school "feeling part of a secularist plot". 

He said the report "says more about Ofsted than it does about our school", adding the education watchdog "has downplayed our successes and academic achievements, whilst showing a clear disrespect for the Orthodox Jewish community".

"Just a few months ago the Hackney Learning Trust, judged the school to be outstanding and praised us for many of the aspects now deemed by Ofsted to be below standard," he said.

"We were appalled at the way the Ofsted Inspectors treated our staff and students and we have made that clear to the relevant government authorities.

"It seems that unless we agree with secularist agenda of Ofsted London, then we cannot comply with their inspection criteria.

“We are always striving to improve our school, and we continue to do so, but the nature of this inspection and the resulting report has led to us feeling part of a secularist plot.

"This inspection was never about us; it is about Ofsted using their unfettered powers to try to force faith schools to comply with their agenda or fail.”

The inspection proved controversial before the report following a complaint from Humanists UK that the school had blotted out reference to homosexuals in a history textbook on the Nazis.

When inspectors, having carried out a routine visit, returned to the school a few days later to make further enquiries, Rabbi Pinter wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May saying that Charedi schools were being hounded by the government.

In its report published on Tuesday, Ofsted said: “Some pupils’ study of history in Year Nine this year has been restricted to the Second World War, which is just one aspect of the key stage three history programme of study.

“In English at key stage four, large sections of the GCSE course text book have been deemed as inappropriate and have been redacted.

“ In addition, texts such as ‘Sherlock Holmes’ have had sections of text redacted. In science, pupils are not permitted to study animal or human reproduction and other areas such as global warming are restricted. Leaders do not fulfil their statutory duty to provide sex and relationships education.”

According to Ofsted, “photographs portraying men and women on the same page, for instance in a crowd, had been redacted. Paragraphs in English comprehension passages had been redacted. Whole chapters in some texts had been stuck together. For instance, in a text on Elizabethan England, leaders had redacted sections relating to the queen’s supremacy and the Puritan challenge.”

The principal and governors did not adequately promote equality of opportunity or diversity, Ofsted said.

“They do not encourage pupils’ respect for all other people, because they do not provide sufficient opportunities for pupils to learn about different faiths, experiences, cultures or perspectives.

“Consequently, while there is an ethos of respect and tolerance for each other within the school environment, pupils have few opportunities to explore how these would extend to those who do not share their beliefs or faith.”

While the school’s policy on respecting other people included those of different faiths or with a disability, “it does not encourage respect for all citizens living in modern Britain, because it does not acknowledge the existence of all groups of people with protected characteristics”.

Protected characteristics under equality law include same-sex orientation and transgender status.

Pupils were not given opportunities to “socialise with pupils from different communities, religions, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds or with boys. For example, pupils have no opportunity to compete in inter-school sport, participate in events or visit universities.”

Safeguarding was judged ineffective partly because girls were not given information about how to stay safe online. 

Ofsted noted: "While leaders claim that pupils do not have access to social technology, there was evidence that parents and teachers at the school use phones."

Inpsectors also said girls did not have access to independent and confidential safeguarding advice, should they require it. "For example, information about safeguarding helplines has been redacted from some books."

Girls demonstrated well the values of being righteous, honest and law-abiding which they were taught, Ofsted said.

They were keen to do well and their exam results reflected higher standards than seen in their books.

But the inspection service observed the majority of teachers were "unqualified" and many were inexperienced, with enormous variations in subject knowledge.

As a state-aided school teaching the national curriculum, Yesodey Hatorah was seen as more modern-looking than much of Stamford Hill’s Charedi education system.

At one time, Ofsted ranked Yesodey Hatorah outstanding.

Ofsted's approach has also been criticised outside the Charedi community.

The Reverend Giles Fraser, the Anglican priest and religious commentator, who visited the school in spring, commented in a blog: "The very point about tolerance is that we accept a variety of different viewpoints on life, including those to which we do not ourselves subscribe.

"And that is precisely the ideological generosity that Ofsted is not affording to the much-abused Haredim. And Ofsted should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves."

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