Rabbis representing Britain’s main Strictly Orthodox communities have issued a defiant challenge to the government by insisting their schools cannot discuss LGBT-related issues with pupils.
The rabbinate of Chinuch UK, the umbrella group set up two years ago to defend the Charedi education system, have made it clear that schools cannot comply with the latest directives from the state.
In a statement, they said that schools should not “not describe to pupils lifestyles prohibited by the Torah” and “ensure that inspectors do not speak to pupils about these matters at all”.
They said schools, when asked by inspectors, should “state clearly and respectfully that they do not cover these subjects”.
But schools were directed “to demonstrate that pupils are taught to act respectfully to all people regardless of difference”.
After extensive negotiations with the educational authorities, Chinuch UK believed it had reached a modus vivendi which would at least protect schools from threats of closure or other sanctions.
But recent inspections by Ofsted, particularly of primary schools, have led to new alarm.
The chairman of Chinuch UK David Landau told the JC las month that they had felt “let down” by the school inspectorate.
The unprecedented declaration from Chinuch UK’s rabbis has been provoked by what it said was “recent correspondence” to some schools from the Department for Education.
Independent schools are required as part of their teaching of respect for other people to cover groups listed in Equality Law which include those of same-sex orientation or who have reassigned their gender.
Schools are also required to acknowledge the existence of LGBT people as part of relationships and sex education which comes into force this September.
But the government had given Charedi groups hope there would be some flexibility by leaving it up to schools at what age it would be appropriate to cover such topics.
It had widely been assumed that primary schools, at least, would be exempt from having to talk about LGBT equality.
But a number of Ofsted inspections of Strictly Orthodox primary schools left no doubt that the inspection service thought otherwise.
The statement issued by the rabbis on Thursday represents the London-based Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), the Federation of Synagogues and the Gateshead and Manchester Charedi communities.
Its signatories include the former head of the London Beth Din, Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu: the new rabbinic head of the Federation, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, who was formerly the Gateshead Rav: Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, head of the UOHC's rabbinate; the influential head of the Gateshead Yeshivah, Rabbi Avrohom Gurwicz and leader of Manchester's Satmar community Rabbi Yisroel Chaim Horowitz.
They said schools would receive further advice.