A leading figure in the Charedi community has protested to Education Secretary Damian Hinds at the “aggressive” attitude of Ofsted inspectors.
Berish Berger, chairman of the Torah Education Committee, which represents a number of strictly Orthodox schools, wrote following a letter from the Department for Education to independent schools heads last week, which warned that pupils must be allowed to talk to inspectors.
Parents at a number of Charedi schools over the past year have refused permission for their children to speak to inspectors.
But Mr Berger said that this was “ not the catalyst for poor relations with Ofsted, but rather a desperate response from disgruntled parents to Ofsted’s inflexible, disrespectful and uncompromising approach to Orthodox Jewish schools”.
Accusing Ofsted of a “blatant absence of cultural sensitivity and respect” towards the Orthodox way of life, he said inspectors had used “inappropriate language and aggressive tones” and asked questions about relationships, sexuality and social media that “conflict with Torah”.
Mr Berger suggested appointing a “community mediator” to accompany children when questioned could ensure that inspectors did not give offence, while being able to gather the information they sought.
This would support staff, who had “made it overtly clear that they are ill-equipped to deal with the adversarial and hostile atmosphere fostered by Ofsted inspections”, while reassuring parents.
But such as step would only be “a sticking plaster to remedy what is a deep fracture in the relationship between Ofsted and the Orthodox Jewish community”, he said.
Mr Berger has also written to MP Meg Hillier, chair of the parliamentary public accounts committee, to challenge evidence given last week by Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman.
Independent school guidelines say schools should teach respect and tolerance for other people by “paying regard” to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act.
Mrs Spielman told MPs “all the protected characteristics” should be considered (which would include same-sex orientation and gender reassignment).
But Mr Berger contended the law was not clear cut, he said, and Mrs Spielman’s interpretation “undermines our religious beliefs”.
Inspectors had consistently asked children at TEC schools questions “pertaining to intimate relationships and sexuality,” he complained.
TEC schools followed legal advice which ran contrary to the Ofsted head’s interpretation, he said. “On this basis, we clearly understand that paying regard to the protected characteristics does not have to entail our schools adopting an aggressively secular approach to personal ethics or relationships.”