Time to clamp down on unsafe and failing yeshivahs, says report

Strictly Orthodox institutions that operate'like a school' must be registered and inspected, paper advises


Strictly Orthodox yeshivahs and other religious institutions that operate “like a school” must be registered and inspected, according to a new report for the government.

The independent report by Colin Bloom, appointed to examine the relationship between faith groups and the state, says: “If something looks like a school, sounds like a school and behaves like a school — it’s a school and should be regulated like one.

“Otherwise, the increased risk to children through potentially poor safeguarding practice, unchecked health and safety compliance, and narrow educational focus will continue.”

The finding comes after reports suggested hundreds of strictly-Orthodox Jewish boys aged 16 were left barely able to read or write English because they were taught in unregistered religious schools with no English spoken.

Bloom’s review, published this week by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, praises the “profound” contribution made by faith communities to British society and describes the UK as a “successful multi-faith country”.

However, it also covers subjects such as forced marriage, religious extremism and radicalisation in prisons and warns "there are some issues which government has been reluctant to fully tackle".

While yeshivahs could play “an important role in the upbringing of Jewish children”, the report says, many currently “operate as out-of-school settings and yet some provide nearly full-time education centred on religious instruction, starting in the early morning and continuing late into the evening.”

It adds that some children spent “most of their time in yeshivah class, which in the opinion of this reviewer amounts to replacing a suitably broad full-time education with an unsuitably narrow one.

“Such a limited form of education can leave young people with very little career choice outside of the scholarly path determined by the yeshivah.”

The report says it is a “cause of deep regret” that the government’s concerns about religious schools are mainly seen “through the lens of counter-terrorism without also looking at them from a safeguarding perspective”.

It adds: “For the mental and physical safety of our children, it is important that government formalises its approach to these institutions.”

Bloom suggests the creation of a national body to oversee safeguarding and hopes that proposals to regulate out of school settings — which were contained in last year’s discarded Schools Bill — will be reintroduced at the earliest opportunity.

Among its 22 recommendations the report calls for “faith literacy training” for all public sector workers, lamenting the "woeful inadequacy" of faith literacy among civic leaders and policy-makers.

From the evidence gathered during widespread consultations over three years, civil servants and public servants were noted "as often having a very poor or superficial knowledge of the basic beliefs that differentiate religions".

The report says that policy-makers have "perhaps understandably" focused on Islamist extremism - which is "still the largest threat by volume" - and welcomes "the renewed pursuit of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and a growing response to the significant and ugly rise of antisemitism".

However, Bloom believes that other faith-based extremist groups have been allowed to grow "under the noses of the UK authorities", including "those with links to pro-Khalistan extremist groups, black nationalists and Hindu nationalists".

He highlights "one burning injustice that this government should not shrink from, which is the issue of forced and coercive marriages".

It should be made a criminal offence for faith leaders to officiate at weddings without ensuring that both partners had willingly entered into the marriage, the report says.

Lack of official data means that “potential pockets of victims” among groups, including within the Charedi community, have “not received enough attention”.

The Pinter Trust, which represents Charedi community leaders, welcomed the “overriding sentiment” but added it needed to work to ensure the government, “has an accurate and reliable understanding of how our community lives and its part in modern Britain.”

The trust added, "Despite the depth of the report, some of the more detailed evidence and recommendations are not sufficiently well-informed, and more work is needed to fill the gaps when this is carried forward. 

"For example, the report refers to forced marriages in the Charedi community and does not appear aware that marriages where either party feels under duress are not permitted in Jewish law and rabbis officiating must ensure that both parties fully consent to the marriage."

It would continue to engage with government on various issues including out-of-school settings, it said.

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