Here are four things that could happen next in the Ofsted Charedi standoff

After interviewing Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman, Simon Rocker is none the wiser how the confrontation will be resolved

July 26, 2018 17:47

Anyone who meets Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, will quickly come round to the view she is no secular crusader on a mission to do down faith schools. But she is firmly convinced that the inspectorate’s interpretation of equality law - which has put it on a collision course with the Charedi community - is a fair and correct one.

Having interviewed her this week, I confess I am none the wiser how the crisis over Charedi school inspections will be resolved. True, there was positive mood music when senior Ofsted officials met leaders of Chinuch UK, the new Charedi education representative group, last week. But if there are compromise proposals under negotiation, these have so far been kept under wraps.

When I suggested various alternatives to Mrs Spielman, she gently batted them away.

But here are some possible next steps:

  1. It is the Department for Education, not Ofsted, that makes policy. So the key figure is Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, who took office only at the start of the year and has a record of support for faith schools. Could he be persuaded to grant exemption to faith schools who do not want to talk about issues such as sexual orientation? After all, faith groups enjoy some exemptions in law eg they are not required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Mr Hinds, however, may be wary of exposing himself to accusations of selling out LGBT people to religious conservatism. And the government has enough on its Brexit-filled plate to want to avoid getting into scraps over other policies.
  2. Ofsted may reach agreement with the Charedi community that a Strictly Orthodox school will not fail an inspection if its education is generally considered good and the only sticking-point is that it avoids talking about same-sex relations. That may still require tweaking the inspection handbook for independent schools at least, since if a school falls short of any of the specified standards, inspectors can keep knocking on its door until it does put that right.
  3. The rabbis who have so far insisted that any reference to same-sex relations is an uncrossable red line may be brought round to accept their fears are misplaced. Schools are not required to promote “alternative lifestyles”. All schools have to do is to explain that under British law, two men or two women can marry, and even if that does not accord with Torah law,  you must respect other people’s civic rights. Children are not expected to know about what goes on in people’s bedroom.
  4. Charedi activists mount a challenge in the courts to Ofsted’s application of equality law, arguing it does not take account of guidelines which state that British values should be taught according to the aims and ethos of the school. If they win, problem solved. If they lose, the rabbis can argue they did what they could but reluctantly they must bow to the law of the land. But taking the legal route costs money.
July 26, 2018 17:47

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