BHA reveals worrying inconsistencies in Ofsted inspections of Charedi schools

New analysis conducted by ex-Charedi Jews with support from the British Humanist Association (BHA) has revealed a concerning level of inconsistency in the inspection outcomes of some Charedi Jewish schools. Looking at Ofsted reports of independent Charedi boys schools during the period 2007-2014, it was found that Charedi schools were rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ 71% of the time when inspected by a member of the Jewish community, but only 22% of the time when inspected by a non-Charedi inspector. The findings reinforce concerns voiced by the BHA last year after a former pupil of a Charedi school told the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) that Ofsted inspectors have not always been independent from the schools they are inspecting.

Charedi schools have been the subject of controversy for many reasons in recent years, not simply for their inspections. At the same APPHG meeting in 2014 the former Charedi Jew, from Stamford Hill in Hackney, described how he grew up speaking almost no English and received just thirty minutes of ‘normal’, non-religious curriculum time each day. His school was one of many similar institutions in Hackney that is not registered with the Department for Education (DfE), a situation which is illegal but which Ofsted, Hackney Council, and the DfE have been aware of for some time.

Most recently, it was revealed last month that leaders of the Belz sect in north London wrote to parents of two schools stating that children would be barred from school if they had been driven in by their mothers. The letter claimed that women drivers went against ‘the traditional rules of modesty in our camp’. Both schools, Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass (Boys’) School and Beis Malka Girls’ School, were rated ‘good’ by a Charedi inspector in their most recent Ofsted inspections.

However, Ofsted’s inspection of legally registered Charedi schools has been receiving interest for some time prior to this. For instance, in October 2014 the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School, a state-maintained Charedi Jewish secondary school in Hackney, was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted despite evidence that the school advised its pupils to ignore exam questions on evolution and considered evolution, homosexual relationships and social media to be against its ethos. The BHA complained to Ofsted about the decision at the time, but the inspectorate also received criticism and accusations of bias from the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools (NAJOS) because the school had previously been rated as ‘outstanding’. Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has defended the impartiality of his inspectors on each occasion.

Speaking to the BHA, a former pupil of a Charedi Jewish school said, ‘Charedi inspectors have consistently given Good and Outstanding ratings to schools where its curricula is almost entirely focused on studying religious scriptures. Hundreds of children leave these schools every year barely able to speak a word of English or calculate basic arithmetic. Such schools should not be receiving Good/Outstandings solely on the basis of a biased inspector.’

Lord Warner, who was at the APPHG meeting last year to hear from the former Charedi pupil, said, ‘I was shocked, as were other parliamentarians, to hear the description of his education. It cast considerable doubt on the effectiveness of Ofsted inspections of these schools, particularly whether they were conducted in an impartial way.’

Commenting on the findings, BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman said, ‘Such a stark difference in the outcomes of these inspections raises questions not only of consistency, but also of partiality. It cannot be right that inspection grades vary depending upon who inspects the school. We will be writing to Ofsted to bring these inconsistencies to their attention, and we hope they will take them seriously.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 078155 89 636

Please note: the analysis only includes Charedi boys’ schools. This is because religious rules dictate much stricter observance for men and as a result, less time is allocated for non-scriptural studies and the quality of secular education is lower. Charedi boys’ schools therefore tend to fare worse in Ofsted inspections across the board.Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.