U.K. Jewish Schools Downgraded for 'Lacking British Values'

State schools supervisor denies that it is looking to undermine children's religious traditions or disproportionately targeting Jewish schools.

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School chairs.
School chairs. Credit: Dreamstime.com

Three state-aided Orthodox schools in the United Kingdom have been downgraded by educational inspectors in recent months for failing to meet government guidelines on British values and tolerance, according to the Jewish Chronicle and the Guardian.

The guidelines were introduced in the wake of the so-called Trojan Horse Affair, an organized attempt to introduce Islamist values into schools, that was uncovered in Birmingham earlier this year.

Enforced by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), the guidelines are aimed at strengthening the teaching of "fundamental British values" in schools and fostering "tolerance and respect for people of all faiths (or those of no faith), cultures and lifestyles."

One of the downgraded schools, Beis Yaakov, a girls' secondary school in Salford, is understood to have formally complained to Ofsted, the Guardian reports, although neither party would confirm it.

The inspection report on Beis Yaakov said there were “major gaps in students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Students are not provided with sufficient opportunities to learn about or understand people of other faiths or cultures.

View of JFS Jewish school in North London.Credit: Screenshot

“The school does not promote adequately students’ awareness and tolerance of communities which are different to their own. As a result, the school does not prepare students adequately for life in modern Britain.”

Another school, JFS in Kenton, North London, was downgraded from outstanding to one that "requires improvement." JFS had a 99.9% matric pass rate in the last academic year, with 16 of its student gaining entrance to Oxford or Cambridge universities.

Both the U.K. Jewish Board of Deputies and the National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools (Najos) criticized the unannounced inspections and their findings. The board said that it didn't see any contradiction between Jewish and British values and accused Ofed of overstepping the mark in its interpretation of the guidelines.

The board also said it “expected [Ofsted] to take into account religious and cultural sensibilities when conducting inspections.”

Najos accused the inspectors of bullying pupils with insensitive and anti-religious questions. It said that Orthodox girls were asked if they knew about gay marriages, had boyfriends or used social media, while even primary school students were reportedly asked if they knew any gay people and how babies were made.

In the face of the criticism, an Ofsted spokeswoman said that it was not looking to undermine children's own religious traditions but that it does expect them to display views "neither intolerant nor discriminatory towards others."

The spokeswoman denied the inspectorate was disproportionately targeting Jewish schools, saying that, “Inspectors must, however, ask questions that probe the extent to which pupils are prepared for the next stage in their education or for employment and for life in modern Britain.”

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