Strictly Orthodox Jewish leaders have told an education minister that there will be “no compromise” with requirements to teach children about gender and sexuality.
The high-level delegation, including school principals and advisers, as well as the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), met Lord Theodore Agnew, Minister of State at the Department of Education, to press home their concerns.
Among the delegation was Chaya Spitz, chief executive of Charedi charity Interlink Foundation, who earlier this month said schools inspectorate Ofsted was “leading a state offensive on religious freedom”.
During last week’s meeting with Agnew, set up by Hendon MP Matthew Offord, the Orthodox leaders expressed the “deep concerns of the Charedi community regarding the over-intrusive regulation of faith schools”.
The focus centres on the relatively new requirement that all schools teach pupils about the protected characteristics, which includes non-heterosexual relations and people who identify as a different gender to their gender at birth.
UOHC executive member Cllr Brian Gordon said Orthodox schools were recognised as high achievers but were “now expected to teach matters of gender and personal relationships contrary to Jewish law and in conflict with the schools’ ethos”.
He described this as “unprecedented external pressure under the grand pretext of community cohesion and diversity,” adding that it was “a form of religious discrimination” and “inconsistent with freedom of educational choice”.
Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, principal of Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School and chairman of the Union’s external affairs committee, urged Agnew to “appreciate Judaism’s strict religious rules governing relationships issues, that certain very personal matters could not be taught or discussed in the classroom”.
Rabbi Yehuda Baumgarten, chairman of the Union’s education committee, said there could be “no compromise when it came to the protected characteristics relating to alternative lifestyles and recently-legitimised forms of marriage which could not be accommodated within any orthodox educational framework”.
Likewise Spitz said Ofsted inspectors had become “obsessed with making demands about personal relationships, marking Orthodox schools down on those subjects, even though they complied glowingly in nearly every other area”.
According to those present, Agnew “appeared very sympathetic to the concerns expressed” and “agreed that it made no sense to expect Orthodox schools to teach concepts totally beyond the comprehension of children raised in a protected religious environment, without access to social media”. Agnew further agreed to help facilitate a meeting between Orthodox leaders and Ofsted.