‘One of the biggest scandals in Ofsted’s history’

“If inspectors are not independent from the schools they are inspecting, the welfare and education of children will always be at significant risk.”

A year and a half ago the British Humanist Association published an exposé revealing that since 2007 two Ofsted inspectors from the strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish community had consistently given favourable reports to the Charedi schools they were inspecting, leading to doubts over their impartiality and independence. The two inspectors were subsequently dropped by Ofsted.

Since then, more or less all of the schools involved have been re-inspected by Ofsted, and the reports from those inspections reveal both the enormity of the scandal and the scale of the impact that it is likely to have had on the pupils whose education went without the oversight it so badly needed.

In 2009, one of the two inspectors, Chanan Tomlin, rated Gateshead Jewish Boarding School as ‘good’ in almost all areas – apart from in pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, for which he graded the school ‘outstanding’. In July 2016, however, when the school was re-inspected, inspectors found that ‘leaders and managers do not ensure that pupils are effectively prepared for life in British society’, that there was not sufficient ‘time during the school day to learn secular subjects’, and that pupils proficiency in English was under-developed. The school was deemed ‘inadequate’.

‘There were no formal mathematics or English lessons timetabled beyond year 9.’

In 2010, Chanan Tomlin also inspected Beis Hatalmud School in Manchester, rating it in exactly the same way as he had Gateshead Jewish Boarding School. However, when the school was re-inspected in 2015 it was deemed to ‘require improvement’, and a year after that the school was told that it hadn’t met the independent school standards. The reports note that ‘there were no formal mathematics or English lessons timetabled beyond year 9.’

In 2011, Talmud Torah Toldos Yakov Yosef was inspected by Chanan Tomlin too. It was awarded the same (and seemingly trademark) ‘good’ rating. The school has had four inspections since then, each of which has found that the school is failing to meet a variety of independent school standards.

A similar story is true of Talmud Torah Bobov Primary School, but in this case, both of the two inspectors involved in the scandal had previously inspected the school. In 2008, Chanan Tomlin rated the school as ‘good’, and in 2011 Jonathan Yodaiken (the other inspector) did the same. Fast forward to 2015 and the school is rated as ‘inadequate’ in every area. This included a failure to actively promote principles ‘which further tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions by enabling pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures’ and a failure to effectively prepare ‘pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life in British society.’

In 2012 Wiznitz Cheder School in Hackney was inspected by Jonathan Yodaiken who rated it as ‘good’ in most areas, ‘outstanding’ in some. In 2016, inspectors identified ‘unmet independent school standards’. Safeguarding was inadequate, health and safety was inadequate, and the school leaders were found to be failing to fulfil all their responsibilities effectively.

In 2013 Chanan Tomlin rated Talmud Torah D’Chasidei Gur ‘outstanding’ overall. The ‘teaching is outstanding’, the ‘curriculum is outstanding’, the ‘leadership and management are outstanding’, he noted. However, at its next inspection in late 2015, the school was rated ‘inadequate’ across the board. ‘Outcomes for pupils are inadequate’, ‘the arrangements for safeguarding are ineffective’, and ‘the curriculum does not provide pupils with a sufficient breadth or depth of learning’, the report noted. In June 2016, after a follow-up inspection, the independent school standards were still not met.

“Leaders are aware that this disregards the protected characteristic of sexual orientation within the 2010 Equality Act.”

In 2014, Jonathan Yodaiken inspected Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School in Clapton Common, London. He gave the school a ‘good’ rating, though it only narrowly missed out on an ‘outstanding’. Eight months later, in July 2015, the school received an emergency, no-notice inspection. The report stated that ‘the school does not promote pupils’ safety and well-being well enough’, that school leaders asserted that ‘English tuition beyond Key Stage 3 is provided at home’, and that ‘the school’s ethos identifies its founding principle as “unconditional adherence to the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law)”. Leaders are aware that this disregards the protected characteristic of sexual orientation within the 2010 Equality Act.’ The school has had two further inspections since then, the most recent just two months ago. It is still failing to meet all the necessary independent school standards.

Finally – you’ve probably got the message by now – Talmud Torah Yetev Lev in Salford was inspected by Jonathan Yodaiken in July 2013 and given ‘good’ ratings across the board. Unlike the schools above, however, it hasn’t been re-inspected since the BHA exposé. And this isn’t just despite all we know about the other schools. It’s also despite the fact that its sister school in Hackney, which shares the same name and the same proprietor, has been judged ‘inadequate’ and failed to meet the independent school standards on each of the last four occasions it has been inspected. Surely that’s cause for concern.

Unfortunately, Yetev Lev isn’t the only school that’s been neglected in this way. Tashbar of Manchester was rated good by Chanan Tomlin in 2012, but hasn’t been re-inspected since either. And there may well be others we don’t know about.

The relatively small amount of media attention that this story received when it broke 18 months ago – covered only in the education paper Schools Week – should not disguise the fact that this is one of the biggest scandals in Ofsted’s recent history. Ofsted is criticised constantly, of course, and a lot of that criticism fails to acknowledge how difficult a job it does. But if its inspectors are not independent from the schools they are inspecting, children are placed at significant risk. Its reaction to the BHA’s exposé has been largely positive, and they must be commended for that. But as our follow-up research demonstrates, they’ve still got work to do.

FSA team

Choosing a non-church school is often not enough to avoid religious proselytising

“It’s as if the school thinks it is perfectly acceptable for them to hand out Christian propaganda to my impressionable young child.”

My sons attend a non-religious, council-funded school.

I have been consistently surprised by the RE teaching in the school and the bias given to Christianity.  There have been numerous trips to places of worship, but all of these have been Christian.  To my knowledge, my oldest son, in year 2, has learned about Diwali and Eid el Fitr.  I’m quite sure these are always prefaced with “Hindus believe…” or “Muslims believe…”  I’m not sure it is always taught the same way with the Christian stories.

My youngest son comes home and tells me the stories in a way that makes me think he gives them the same credence as the other fact or evidence based lessons.  He has come home and said he wanted to die so he could go to heaven and be with his granddad, who passed away in 2012. He has never been taught about heaven at home. As a humanist I have talked about death as a natural part of life only. Although we have fantasised about fusing our consciousnesses with computers and living forever!

There are subtle ways in which the Christian point of view is enforced by the head teacher. For example she has stood up after the obligatory nativity show at the end of the year and said it heartens her to see the nativity story and remember the real meaning and message of Christmas.

My oldest son attended the local Baptist church for his nativity story with songs. During this production a video was displayed showing an updated version of the nativity story showing children dressed as wise men travelling on scooters and posting the birth of Jesus on social media. King Herod read about it on his tablet and was very angry.  Afterwards the preacher talked about the story as if it were fact and encouraged children to come to the special Christmas Day service where they show off their toys and fly drones around the room. A few of the children later tried to influence their parents to attend as the preacher was an incredibly charismatic speaker and they really wanted to join in the fun.

Each class does assemblies in rotation. At the end of each of these the children are asked to bow their heads and pray. I have said to both my children that this is not compulsory and that sitting quietly and respectfully is perfectly acceptable. If they wish to bow their heads in quiet contemplation it is up to them. Indeed if they wish to pray it is up to them as well. My youngest became very concerned and felt he would be in trouble and sent to the head teacher if he didn’t comply. Clearly it has not been promoted as optional.

I challenged his teacher about the booklet yesterday who defended their decision to invite a church in to talk about Easter as it is part of the story of Easter and we live in a majority Christian country.  It’s as if the school thinks it is perfectly acceptable for them to hand out Christian propaganda to my impressionable young child.

I have spoken to other mums about this and they agree with my point of view and observations.  One of their children was quite upset by the idea that a man could come back to life after being killed so brutally. Clearly it wasn’t taught to him as if it is the belief of Christians and a story.


Unequal and homophobic treatment at my old church school

‘The school simply would not have responded in this way had pupils of the opposite sex been involved.’

As the elder brother of a confused and upset pupil also educated at a moderate Church of England independent school in England, I feel compelled to address an incident occurring recently that made me question the core principles of the school.

The incident involved two fourteen year old boys reportedly found by an older pupil during a ‘moment of intimacy’ in their boarding house. One of the boys (a good friend of my brother) made the rare move a year prior to ‘come out’ at their previous school. This to my knowledge had never been done at the junior school, and I can count on one hand the number of pupils in my five years at the senior school who were openly gay.

Given that I had the pleasure of sharing my schooling with more than a thousand pupils during my time, and that gay rights charity Stonewall estimates that between 5-7% of the population is gay, this gives you some indication of how difficult an environment this is for LGBT people.

The incident was reported to the house master of the two boys in question, who faced a decision. If you consider that the housemaster was also privy to the knowledge that the other boy was suffering a difficult period at home and had not come out as gay (indeed he may well not be) the decision he made becomes all the more astounding.

The boys were suspended for four days, an announcement which was made to the rest of the boarding house in which they reside, and which obviously then made its way round the school. The two children had effectively been publicly shamed for an act of intimacy and curiosity, something that I and everyone else knows, staff included, had occurred on countless occasions between pupils of the opposite sex, and had gone unpunished. To be clear, the school simply would not have responded in this way had pupils of the opposite sex been involved.

This level of prejudice from a school known to foster a culture of homophobia  may not come as a complete shock to current or former pupils. However in the context of a 21st century society, it provides a further shameful footnote to the history of private schools blighted by the days of fagging, and much worse besides.

I wish for this piece to remain anonymous to protect the identities of the boys, however I hope that one day the school will be held to task for the discrimination it has actively delivered and the lasting harm it may well have caused.