Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has said that relations between Ofsted and the strictly Orthodox community “urgently” need to be repaired, after meeting Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman on Tuesday.
In a speech hours earlier, the head of Ofsted denied that the schools inspectorate had an anti-faith bias or was part of a “secular plot,” but said those giving children conflicting views outside school leave youngsters feeling “torn between identities”.
In a tweet following his meeting with Spielman, after the latest Orthodox school was downgraded, the Chief Rabbi said: “It is essential that we urgently make real progress in repairing the relationship between Ofsted and the Charedi community.”
Addressing the Policy Exchange think-tank, Spielman appeared to point the blame at parents who teach their children different values to the ‘British values’ taught through the national curriculum in school.
She said one of the problems “is that schools with the job of promoting British values and equalities are sometimes teaching young people who get conflicting or even downright contradictory messages outside school”.
Specifically, she said: “The acceptance of the equal rights of women or of gay rights may not fit with the views a child hears at home. No wonder, therefore, that some young people feel torn between different identities.”
Addressing integration, Spielman said a second problem for schools was that “history, culture and experience can lead to a strong identification by a child with their family’s cultural group, to the exclusion of all else”.
She said that if done well, religious education could help children “understand the tensions that can arise between faith and other legally established rights, such as the rights of women and rights relating to sexuality”.
She added: “This is not about indoctrination, rather about making sure that young people have the knowledge to make their own informed choices.”
Last month Ofsted downgraded Yesodeh Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Stamford Hill, a leading Orthodox Jewish school, lamblasting it for not teaching “key information” such as the basics of reproduction and for redacting Helpline numbers from books which “prevents pupils protecting themselves”.
Inspectors also said the school’s leaders “do not prepare pupils well for life in British society,” adding that the redaction of books like ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Elizabethan England’ was “detrimental to pupils’ learning… pupils do not have equal opportunities for learning compared to pupils elsewhere”.
Governors at Yesodeh Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Stamford Hill said Ofsted was part of a “secularist plot” but Spielman said this was simply not the case, noting that Muslim state schools were almost three times as likely to be outstanding than the national average, while Jewish and Christian state schools were more likely to be good or outstanding than their secular counterparts.
“The suggestion that Ofsted has an anti-faith school bias is simply not true and does not fit the profile of our judgements,” she said. “It is possible to adhere to a faith while respecting the requirements of equalities law.”
Ofsted works with Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS) to run information sessions helping Jewish school leaders comply with requirements around equalities and British values “in a way that is in line with schools’ religious teachings”.
A PaJeS spokeswoman acknowledged that Jewish schools were currently working with Ofsted to find “a pathway for schools to be compliant without compromising their religious ethos,” but said: “We had hoped that the ability to do this would have been more strongly emphasised by Amanda in her speech.”
The spokeswoman added: “The British values referred to in her speech supported our belief that there is no need for children to have ‘torn identities’ and can adhere to their faith whilst still respecting the law.”