‘Government inaction on illegal faith schools very nearly killed these children’

“Sadly, to those of us who have been through the illegal Charedi education system, none of this is at all surprising”

dover‘When they were plucked to safety, the schoolchildren were still in high spirits apparently unaware of the danger they’ve been in’ noted the ITV reporter who sounded rather perplexed.

This story which has been widely reported over the last few weeks, understandably caused some bafflement among reporters. How did a class of 34 school-children from London along with their two teachers walk past ‘nine warning signs’ on their way to the bottom of the cliff? None of whom ‘were dressed in any attire that you would associate with clambering over rocks’.

Sadly, to those of us who have been through the illegal Charedi education system, none of this is at all surprising.

The lack of basic teaching in English meant that neither the students nor the teachers (born and brought up in the UK by the way) had any of the grasp of what the words on the warning signs meant. Moreover, the notion of rising tides would be an alien concept to these boys because the teaching on science or geography is considered ‘evil’ for the role it plays in causing these pupils to question the sanctity of ancient religious scriptures.

So where are the authorities in all this?

The initial response by a PR firm hired by the school, was that they were a trip organised by an unknown community centre, which has no registered records anywhere and seems to have popped into existence only after this tragic incident.

A subsequent investigation by The Independent and British Humanist Association (BHA) found that these pupils and their teachers were in fact from an illegal unregistered school and had simply lied about the community centre. The full report can be found here:


Particularly shocking is the finding that ‘the teachers put the children’s lives in further danger because, once they realised they were at risk of drowning, they initially contacted community leaders in Stamford Hill, north London, instead of contacting authorities for fear of the illegal school being discovered.’

This illegal school has been known to the authorities for many years and yet no concrete action had yet been taken to shut it down.

The most disturbing outcome of this incident is highlighted in the final paragraph of the report:

‘A spokesperson for Hackney Council told The Independent they do not have any legal powers to close the schools and are conducting an investigation into the incident. They stated that they believed the children were from a school rather than the community centre but said that the school is not an illegal secondary school but a nearby legally run private primary school. After it was highlighted that this was not possible as the children in the incident were not of primary school age and sources outside the school site had confirmed it was the illegal school involved, Hackney Council declined to comment further.’

An anonymous former pupil of an illegal Charedi school being interviewed by the BBC last year

The primary school in question is a registered religious school about half a mile away from the location from the illegal secondary school who took these boys on the treacherous trip.

It is astonishing that Hackney thought it realistic to make such a claim. According to the latest 2016 Department for Education census, the primary school which Hackney tried to claim these boys belonged to has no pupil above the age of 11 and isn’t registered to take anyone older than 11 anyway.

If these 34 pupils were indeed from the above school, they would have all been aged 10 or 11. Yet all the boys on this trip (as seen in the reported images) were clearly older and were dressed in the traditional Charedi clothing worn only post Bar Mitzvah (above the age of 13).

There are serious questions which must be asked, not only about the lack of action to shut down this illegal school for so many years (which would undoubtedly have been responsible for the deaths of these children were they less fortunate), but also why Hackney Council originally made a fictitious claim about the alleged school to which these boys belong?

This is why the work of the BHA is all the more critical in continuing to apply the pressure and hold authorities to account so that the well-being and rights of the children trapped in these schools, as I once was, can be protected.


My life in a Charedi school: ‘Physical punishment was commonplace and the atmosphere was one of perpetual fear’

“this was a school (and there are many like it), which crippled its students by denying them the education which they had a right to receive”

Glasses-and-Torah-Jewish-schools1-1068x801The primary school I attended didn’t have any regular classrooms or playgrounds. None of the teachers had any form of training, and most of them were unable to speak English properly. Physical punishment was commonplace and the atmosphere was one of perpetual fear. Religious studies were the core focus, and any form of dissent, even something as slight as not concentrating during daily prayers, was harshly penalized. You may by now be assuming that I was educated many decades ago, or under some fundamentalist regime. But this was in London in the 21st century, and my school was far from unique.

This was a Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish boys school; one of many similar institutions in the area. I was sent there in good faith (pun not intended) by my religious, but by no means extremist parents, who wanted their son to gain a Jewish education alongside a secular one, and to do so within an acceptable distance from home. What they were unaware of was that behind closed doors this institution was run in manner more akin to Dickens’ Dotheboys Hall than a modern school under Tony Blair’s government.

I emerged relatively unscathed from this experience (I was naturally compliant), but I know of several others who were not as fortunate. Contemporaries of mine suffered extreme physical abuse at the hands of some of the teaching staff, with one boy getting his finger broken for speaking out of turn, and consequently requiring medical care. Others suffered severe beatings, and some even had soap or chalk put in their mouths for uttering so-called profanities.

Yet, horrendous as these incidents were, the school’s real crime was providing its pupils with an abysmally poor education. I was lucky enough to supplement my inadequate lessons by devouring our home library and by learning from my parents, both of whom had received a regular education. Had I not been able to do this, my literacy and numeracy skills would be of a debilitating standard. The school’s mission was to prepare its pupils for a life of religious study – all other considerations were ignored. Conversation and teaching took place exclusively in Yiddish. Having an understanding of the English language may, God-forbid, lure our young minds to secular literature. We never felt the need for any secular education. The “supposedly” great minds of secular scientists believed we came from monkeys, so we were told, and it took them thousands of years to discover that objects fall to the ground; giving it the fancy name of “Gravity”. This, of course, was used as evidence of the stupidity of secular education. We all knew that babies came from human mothers, and any Charedi child could tell you that objects fell to the ground.

You may be wondering why Ofsted did nothing to prevent this. Well for a start, the inspections were scheduled well in advance, giving the school enough time to clean up its act, hire a fake teacher and instruct the pupils on how to respond if questioned. Students were warned to be wary of giving the school a bad name, as this would in turn desecrate God’s name. Not to mention the physical beating that would follow the day after the inspectors left. Additionally, the inspectors were often practising ultra-Orthodox Jews themselves, and thus believed that ancient scriptures provided a more solid form of education to prepare the pupils for the afterlife.

Ultimately, even if the school had been given a damning report, Ofsted has little will to enact any changes. Any form of improvement simply meant compiling an additional policy and procedure file, locked away to collect dusk and mould with all the other non-Jewish material.

I don’t wish to paint a wholly condemnatory portrait, as there were some good teachers in the mix, and the standard of religious education was as high as you might expect. But this was a school (and there are many like it), which crippled its students by denying them the education which they had a right to receive and preventing them from flourishing into active members of society.