Chasidic school loses appeal against ban on new pupils


A Chasidic boys’ school in north London which has covered up images of women in short sleeves and refuses to teach about same-sex relationships has lost an appeal against an order not to admit new pupils until it makes changes.

The Beis Aharon Trust, which runs an independent school for 342 boys from three to 13 in Stamford Hill, had also been criticised by Ofsted for shortcomings in its secular education.

The Care Standards tribunal ruled that the Department for Education’s restriction against taking new pupils was “proportionate and necessary” until the school met the required standards for independent schools.

The ruling will have significant implications for the independent Charedi educational sector in the wake of a tougher Ofsted inspection regime that has operated over the past two years.

While the school planned to increase the teaching of secular subjects from an hour to one and a half hour a day, few of the planned improvements had been “shown to have been implemented”, Judge Hugh Brayne wrote in his decision.

Beis Aharon failed to “encourage respect for women and girls” because it had obscured images of parts of the bodies of women in books.

“Although the particular books have been withdrawn,” the judge said, “the evidence that pupils learn in a school that women showing bare arms and legs are impure remains a concern.”

The failure to allow pupils to see unedited images of women and girls in everyday situations did not prepare pupils for adult life in Britain, he said.

He also observed that independent schools were required to inform pupils about people in same-sex relationships or who have reassigned gender.

This “prevents the school from encouraging respect for people who have such characteristics,” the judge said.
It was “no defence to say that it is incompatible with the faith of the institution, nor to argue that there are matters of sex education and no sex education is required in the standards,” he wrote.

In its evidence, the school had submitted a letter from Dayan Shalom Friedman of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations which stated that “religions other than authentic Judaism, beliefs, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, are forbidden in the Jewish faith.”

Dayan Friedman had written that if something was forbidden by the Torah, “we are not allowed to put our minds to it, to understand what is done… nor broaden our knowledge of it.”

But Judge Brayne said that pupils would not be equipped “to enter modern British society, which accepts as part of its diversity civil partnerships, gay marriage, families with same-sex parents and acceptance of transgender persons”.

He also said the school needed to do more than simply acknowledge the existence of other faiths in order to promote “fundamental British values” of respect and tolerance towards other people.

Pupils needed to know that “members of different faiths have different beliefs, customs and values, and something about those matters”.

Although Beis Aharon was rated as satisfactory by Ofsted six years ago, it was judged inadequate by inspectors in 2014 and has received two follow-up visits.

The school, which has introduced the teaching of English to children in years one to four, said that it needed more time to implement other improvements to its secular curriculum.

But Judge Brayne said the tribunal panel felt that “the extent of failure to meet standards is serious and we believe only with the pressure of the sanction will the school’s leaders prioritise the work needed”.

He added that the failures were enough to warrant a "more severe decision" from the department.

Chasidic children had the "same right to an education which meets the standards set for independent schools" as any other child, he commented.

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