Family & Education

New schools bill introduces move to regulate yeshivot

Law change seeks to remove inspection exemption from institutions that were previously not classed as schools


It’s been a long time coming but the government has finally set the wheels in motion for the regulation of yeshivot.

More than a thousand Charedi boys aged 13 and above in Stamford Hill are estimated to be currently learning in institutions which are beyond the reach of state scrutiny.

But in a response to a consultation published last week — which had been delayed because of the pandemic — the Department for Education reaffirmed its commitment to change the law.

Yeshivot, it must be said, are not operating illegally. Institutions that offer a narrow religious curriculum simply do not count as schools under the present definition of the law. As a result, they are exempt from registration with the DfE and they are not subject to Ofsted visits.

That loophole will now be closed, enabling them to be inspected in the same way that independent schools are.

And that is likely to increase tensions with parts of the Charedi community that already regards Ofsted as over-intrusive and often unsympathetic to its way of life.

According to the consultation response, the Secretary of State for Education will also be looking to take on new powers to suspend independent schools where there are serious safeguarding failures.

Meanwhile, one measure announced in the Queen’s Speech this week will start to extend the legislative net: unregistered yeshivot will in future to have register children of school age with the local authority, which will enable councils to keep track of their whereabouts.

It is four years since Hackney Council, which is home to most of the growing Stamford Hill Strictly Orthodox population, issued a report calling on the government to do something about the yeshivot, which taught little or no secular education. The council estimated that there could be more than 30 or more such institutions locally, although Jewish community sources put the number lower.

But Charedi representatives opposed any intervention, arguing there were “irreconcilable differences between what was required to be taught in independent schools and what the Orthodox Jewish community would consider acceptable”.

In its assessment of the impact on equality on the proposed changes, the government argues there is a benefit in ensuring that children can receive a “broad education”.

But that is not a gift Charedi leaders are about to welcome. Forcing yeshivot to become registered will mean they will have to introduce some modicum of secular education for children aged 16 and under —- as long as they remain full-time institutions. Not only that, they will also become subject to the same requirement that has led to a protracted dispute between Charedi independent schools and the state: to teach respect for LGBT people.

The government has indicated that it will propose a broader definition than currently used for a school — ie teaching 18 or more hours a week — in an attempt to stop some institutions circumventing the new rules. Hence, the regulatory regime will cover places which intend “to provide, or does provide, all, or substantially all, of a child’s education”.

How effective that will be remains to be seen, as will be the extent of Charedi opposition. The centenarian yeshivah head, Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, who is one of the leading conservative voices in Stamford Hill, made it clear this week: “No power in the world shall compel us to abolish or change the form of the holy yeshivahs and the current manner how the studies are being conducted.”

READ MORE. New figures highlight missing boys

Unregistered yeshivot face government crackdown

Charedi concern at yeshivot crackdown

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