The admissions policy of a Charedi Jewish girls high school forbidding pupils and their mothers from wearing ‘very straight or figure hugging dresses [or] skirts’ breaches the School Admissions Code because it is not objective, the admissions tribunal has found. The policy was also found to be racially discriminatory and to be requiring parents to make financial contributions to synagogues.
The Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) – which is responsible for making sure schools stick to admissions rules in England – ruled that a number of provisions relating to modest dress (Tznius) in the admissions policy of Beis Yaakov Jewish High School in Salford failed to meet the requirement that ‘the practices and criteria used to decide the allocation of school places are fair, clear, and objective’.
The policy – designed to ‘conform to the ideas of modesty and the true dignity of a Charedi Jewish girl’ – forbids both pupils and their mothers from wearing ‘very straight or figure hugging dresses’ as well as ‘very long skirts and dresses’ and ‘casual garments and footwear’. It goes on to say that ‘clothing made from… “trendy” fabrics e.g. leather and lycra, are related to the casual free way of life of the street culture and as such are not permitted’. However, in common with previous rulings on similar admissions policies in other Charedi schools, the adjudicator did not conclude that applying a modesty code to parents was, in itself, unlawful. Instead, the decision turned on the fact that terms such as ‘very straight’, ‘figure hugging’, and ‘casual’ could be ‘interpreted differently by different people’.
The adjudicator also found that a stipulation in the policy saying fathers ‘must belong to a Charedi synagogue’ was racially discriminatory because membership of such a synagogue is normally tied to being ‘halachically Jewish’. As the report notes, ‘those who are halachically Jewish are those whose mothers are Jewish’. However, in 2009, ‘the Supreme Court… ruled that school admission arrangements that make this a condition of eligibility for a school place are in breach of the Race Relations Act 1976’. Charedi synagogues also expect members to ‘make regular voluntary [financial] contributions’ and thus a criterion requiring such membership also breached the Admissions Code requirement that admissions authorities ‘must not give priority to children on the basis of any practical or financial support parents may give to the school or any associated organisation, including any religious authority.’
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:
‘We are pleased the Office of the Schools Adjudicator has identified the multiple ways in which this school has broken the School Admissions Code, including with respect to its poorly defined “modesty code”. However, it is outrageous that, as long as the standards are deemed “objective”, current admissions law turns a blind eye to admissions policies that seek to control parents by denying children school places on the basis of compliance with archaic dress codes and other religious activities.
‘Every child should be able to attend a good local state school regardless of the religion or belief of their parents. Places certainly shouldn’t be allocated on the basis of absurd rules pertaining to modesty or membership of a specific religious organisation. We urge the Government to tackle this discrimination head on by scraping religiously selective admissions altogether.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at email@example.com or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.