Family & Education

Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman challenged over 'untrue' comment on Orthodox school

Claims that a school had 'airbushed' Queen Elizabeth I from history were disputed at the education select committee


Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman was accused of misrepresenting a strictly Orthodox Jewish school in saying it had airbrushed Queen Elizabeth I out of history.

Robert Halfon, the chairman of the parliamentary education select committee, challenged Mrs Spielman over her comments about the state-aided Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’  School in Hackney when she appeared before it on Monday.

The school felt the accusation – which she made earlier this year - was “incredibly untrue,” he said. It had blanked out a picture - "which was wrong," he said – because it felt it was "immodest.”

But Yesodeh Hatorah girls had seen pictures of the Queen when learning about her as well as of other female leaders, he said.

The school – whose founding principal Rabbi Avrohom Pinter died of coronavirus earlier this month – was downgraded to inadequate by Ofsted two years ago when it criticised censorship of textbooks.

Mrs Spielman said she stood by her inspectors’ report and was confident what it said was “justified, fair and representative”.

She said a whole chapter of a textbook had been glued together or redacted. “It wasn’t a question of an image, this was an entire chunk of history.”

Pages from the textbook used by the school - which were seen by the JC -  showed that it had screened out a picture of the Queen dancing with her favourite, Robert Dudley, as well as a passage on her father King Henry VIII’s complicated marital life and a reference to the accusation of adultery against Anne Boleyn.

Yesodey Hatorah was found to be meeting the requirements of the national history curriculum after a follow-up inspection earlier this year.

Faith communities, Mr Halfon argued, felt that Ofsted had been “going in with a very heavy hand and without understanding the needs and beliefs of those faith communities”.

Mrs Spielman had earlier defended her inspectors, saying they worked “carefully and sensitively in often very difficult circumstances”.

She was also tackled by another committe member over whether inspectors were departing from government guidance on relationships and sex education.

“We clearly have never set out to depart and to my knowledge, we haven’t,” she said.

Primary schools are encouraged - but not required - to mention families with same-sex parents, according to the government. Schools have leeway on deciding at what age certain topics are appropriate to introduce.

However, some Charedi primaries have complained they have been penalised by Ofsted inspectors for not talking about LGBT people.

Mrs Spielman told the committee, “Age-appropriate is one of the greatest difficulties in this and that is why I am on record as saying it would be helpful if the RSE guidance had extended to year-by-year specifics.

“That isn’t the case. So it does leave a greater degree of subjectivity in applying the guidance.”


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