Proposals to regulate unregistered yeshivot for young teenagers could leave some of them no better off, the government has acknowledged.
If some institutions are forced to close, students could end up being home-schooled and receiving a “relatively poor standard of education”.
While it is unlawful to run an unregistered school, yeshivot have slipped through the net by arguing they are not schools in the legal definition.
According to Hackney Council, home to the country’s largest Charedi population, there are believed to be 23 unregistered yeshivot in the North London borough attended by boys as young as 13.
Earlier this month the Department for Education launched a consultation on proposals to bring “unregistered educational settings” (UES’s) under state scrutiny.
One idea is to broaden the definition of a school to include institutions that currently fall outside it because they teach an exclusively religious curriculum.
Whereas the current definition of a school applies to places where children receive 18 or hours more “education” a week, the DfE plans to change this simply to attendance for 18 hours — a measure clearly aimed at yeshivot where children often “self-study”.
But even if the DfE proposals were to become law, yeshivot could escape inspection by reducing their hours of attendance.
In the government’s equality assessment of the impact of the proposals on different groups, it says these would mainly affect “persons of ultra-Orthodox faith”, and to a lesser extent Muslims and Christians.
If some yeshivah students ended up being home-schooled, they may “not get a suitable quality of education”, the DfE said.
But education in an unregistered setting was “likely to be worse or similarly no better”.
It believes the proposals should go ahead because it was “not acceptable to continue with a situation in which children of compulsory school age are attending full-time settings in which neither the quality of education nor the welfare of children is under any meaningful or regular scrutiny in order to ensure that proper and safe education is provided”.
A spokesman for the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, London’s main Charedi umbrella body, said yeshivot were looking “carefully” at the proposals.
“Our children are our future, and are the future of the Jewish people,” he said. “The safety, wellbeing and education of our children is of paramount importance.
“Individual families and our community collectively invest hugely and make great sacrifice to ensure our children’s education and welfare.”
The government promised to tackle unregistered settings in a Green Paper two years ago, shortly after Hackney Council published a report on yeshivot which expressed concern over the lack of safeguarding arrangements and secular education.
The previous year Rory McCallum, senior professional adviser to City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Board, said there was a “clear imperative” for the government to act.