Reports obtained by the British Humanist Association (BHA) following a Freedom of Information request have revealed that a strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish school in north London has been allowed to operate illegally for years, despite the Government having been repeatedly alerted to it failings. In the three consecutive years from 2012-2014, Ofsted produced pre-registration inspection reports, each prompted by the school seeking registration as a private school and designed to assess whether or not it met the minimum standards required of all such schools in order to be allowed to operate. The reports detailed significant failings at the unregistered Talmud Torah Tashbar, operating in Stamford Hill for boys aged 3-13 since 1976, including a curriculum which ‘does not provide lessons in written or spoken English’ and which ‘encourages cultural and ethnic insularity’.
Despite the school failing to meet the minimum standards three times, action was only taken just two weeks ago, when the Department for Education (DfE) ordered it to be shut down. The BHA, which has repeatedly warned the DfE about the need to tackle unregistered ‘faith’ schools, has welcomed the Government’s move to shut down the school, and called on similar action to be taken in the many others like it, ensuring that suitable alternative provision is found for all pupils.
The pre-inspection reports expose a system in which the school is visited by Ofsted inspectors, found to fall short of the standards required for it to be a registered school, told to improve but allowed to continuing operating nonetheless, and then inspected again a year later as this process is repeated. Despite having actively sought registration, the school states that ‘as a matter of religious principle’ it does not allow pupils to learn English, nor provide for any secular education at all.
Given this, Tashbar could never feasibly qualify to be a legal, registered independent school, meaning it has almost certainly been using the registration process as a pretext to continue operating without having to meet the standards, delaying threats of closure. This kind of practice was recently highlighted by Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw in a letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, during which he claimed that Government officials were providing ‘confusing and unhelpful advice’ to the proprietors of illegal schools, leading them to believe they could continue operating while their applications were being considered. The letter also detailed plans to prosecute those involved in the running of illegal schools.
In addition to teaching a curriculum ‘which encourages cultural and ethnic insularity because it is so narrow and almost exclusively rooted in the study of the Torah’, the school was found to ‘severely restrict the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils’ and prevent them from ‘developing a wider, deeper understanding of different faiths, communities, cultures and lifestyles, including those of England’. Conditions at the school were also revealed to be inadequate.
As of October last year, 221 pupils are enrolled at Tashbar, which has been operating unregistered for forty years, and has been given until February to close its doors. A former pupil of the school, who has been in contact with the BHA and has asked to remain anonymous, described his time there as ‘to all intents and purposes a form of child neglect or child abuse’, saying he ‘grew up without very basic skills, basic English, basic maths.’ Another former pupil said ‘the whole system works like a trap. They just trap you from when you’re born to when you die.’
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner, Jay Harman, commented: ‘We’re glad that the Government has now moved to shut this particular school down, which after all this time is an incredibly welcome move. However, there are clearly many more out there just like it. The situation revealed by these reports is simply outrageous and those in government who have failed to act in the past ought to be ashamed of themselves for standing idly by while thousands of children have their childhoods stolen from them. Every year, every month, every week that these places are allowed to stay open, a huge number of children remain isolated, indoctrinated, and very likely abused, so we will certainly be writing to the Government to ask that action is taken far more swiftly in the case of other schools than it has been here.’
For further comment or information, please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools and Education Campaigner Jay Harman on 07970 393 680 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the full Ofsted pre-registration inspection reports from 2012, 2013, and 2014: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Talmud-Torah-Tashbar-pre-registration-inspection-reports-2012-14.pdf
Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Ofsted seeks prosecutions as more illegal “faith” schools are identified’: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/12/11/ofsted-seeks-prosecutions-as-more-illegal-faith-schools-are-identified/
Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter to the Education Secretary: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/484458/151211_HMCI_to_Secretary_of_State_advice_note_on_3_unregistered.pdf
Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s previous letter to the Education Secretary: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unregistered-schools-ofsted-advice-note
Watch the BHA’s exposé on BBC London on unregistered Jewish schools in North London: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hICjMR7Tj1w
Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://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.