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Lubavitch parents protest to Department for Education

They say their community's voice has been 'undermined and silenced' in running of Lubavitch schools

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Parents of pupils at schools run by the Lubavitch Multi-Academy Trust have written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to express fears that its religious ethos is being diluted.

They say there is an apparent policy of appointing majority of trustees from outside the Lubavitch community, which has led to “a disinclination” to take proper account of community representatives and parental interests.

The letter was triggered by the appointment of newly installed chief executive, Geoff Hadlow, who comes from outside the Jewish community, as does the chair of the MAT trustees Fiona Bulmer.

The letter warned, “Unfortunately, we feel that our community’s voice has been undermined and silenced and this can only serve to weaken the schools, making it harder to attract pupils and staff, which will have a further weakening effect.

“Once the MAT loses the confidence of the community it is meant to serve, it will be nigh on impossible to win it back.”

One parent said the letter had gained “almost 100 signatures in less than 24 hours”.

Another said, “We come as a united parent body to express our concerns and to insist that our ethos and values be well represented and be given due respect in all areas.”

The Lubavitch Multi-Academy Trust was set up two years ago after the state-aided Lubavitch junior boys school in Stamford Hill was ranked inadequate by Ofsted and put into special measures. Schools placed in special measures are required to become part of a MAT.

The Lubavitch MAT is also responsible for the junior and senior Lubavitch girls’ schools.

Earlier this year the MAT received a warning notice from the Education and Skills Funding Agency, which is sponsored by the DfE, about its weak finances and told it must record a surplus for the 2020/21 academic year. In 2019 the trust had a deficit of £1.5 million.

But the letter to Mr Williamson said “in an effort to address these issues, the well-intentioned steps that have been taken seem to be diluting the ethos of the schools and the ability of those from our community, whether as trustees, members, or parents to preserve the very values that make the schools places we wish to send our children.”

It went on, “Whilst we welcome the expertise and practical contributions made by DfE appointed trustees, there seems to be a concerted policy of maintaining a majority of trustees and senior leadership from outside of the Chabad Lubavitch community and with that majority, a disinclination to take any proper account of those representing the community and the interests and concerns of the parents.”

Ms Bulmer, who was sent a copy of the letter, said since the trust’s creation, “trustees have worked tirelessly to improve standards in the schools and to secure their long term future while taking great care to respect the Lubavitch ethos.

“The schools have the benefit of skilled and experienced trustees who remain committed to working with parents and the wider community to continue to work to strengthen and develop both the secular and kodesh {Jewish studies] education.”

But a spokesman for Chabad Lubavitch UK, which is the schools’ religious authority, said, “We share the concerns raised by the parents. It is essential that there is a genuine and meaningful partnership between the parent body, the trustees and the senior leadership of the MAT, which was established in accordance with the traditions and values of Chabad Lubavitch.”

The DfE said it was working closely with the trust "to deliver school improvement and strengthen leadership and governance following their financial notice to improve".

Parents of children in the trust and the local community could be "assured that we are committed to respecting and protecting the religious character of the trust’s schools," the DfE said.

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