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Family & Education

Will return of inspectors reignite battle over values?

The long-running dispute between Charedi schools and Ofsted could resume with the return of inspections this term

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When schools shut in March, Ofsted suspended inspections. But now that pupils are back, inspectors will be out knocking on doors again — though not quite in the way they did before.

While it will be visiting schools this term, Ofsted says that instead of standard inspections, it will focus on how the school has managed the return of pupils. It will not award inspection grades but issue a short letter on its findings.

Even this has proved contentious with teaching unions arguing that publishing the letter will put too much pressure on schools at a time when they are still grappling with the pandemic.

Ofsted says it plans to visit all state schools that are currently graded inadequate before the end of 2020 — which include several Jewish schools.

In the independent sector, it will restrict the scope of inspections but these may cover schools currently under regulatory or enforcement action from the Department for Education.

That could bring a number of Charedi independent schools into the net and reignite the long-running battle between the Charedi community and the inspectorate over LGBT issues.

Some respite has come in that schools will not be expected to begin teaching the new relationships and sex education curriculum, due to have come into force this month, until the summer.

According to the new curriculum, pupils are expected to be told about same-sex relations at some stage during their time in school — though not necessarily at primary level

And although the official guidelines give schools some leeway in deciding at what age it is appropriate to introduce certain subjects, it is not clear how much room to manoeuvre they actually have.

But even without the new RSE policy, Charedi schools have been challenged by Ofsted on equality grounds for avoiding mention of LGBT people.

Last year, changes in enforcement policy suggested the education authorities might not come down as hard as before on Chaerdi schools where the only problem was their position on sexuality. But a longer-term solution to a clash of values has yet to be found.

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