Jewish Primary School at Odds With U.K. Education Office Over Refusal to Teach LGBT Issues

Although Vishnitz Girls School in London received high marks in other areas, it could face closure over exclusion of gender reassignment, sexual orientation from its curriculum

A file photo of British policemen holding rainbow umbrellas at in the London gay pride parade, June 30, 2007.
REUTERS

A girls' Orthodox Jewish day school in London is in trouble with Britain's educations standards office for failing to teach its students about LGBT issues.

The Vishnitz Girls School, attended by some 200 girls ages three to 11, is at risk of closure for failing a third inspection by the Office of Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (known as Ofsted).

Ofsted says the school refuses to teach students about homosexuality and gender reassignment.

In its report, Ofsted noted that while the school's culture "clearly focused on teaching pupils to respect everybody, regardless of beliefs and lifestyle," the students are "shielded from learning about certain differences between people, such as sexual orientation."

Vishnitz's curriculum does not satisfy the conditions of the U.K.'s 2010 Equality Act, which protects people from discrimination both at their place of work and in society at large.

The school's leadership "acknowledge that they do not teach pupils about all the protected characteristics, particularly those relating to gender re-assignment and sexual orientation," the report said.

It added that the girls studying at the school "have a limited understanding of the different lifestyles and partnerships that individuals may choose in present-day society."

Inspectors visiting the school last October told administrators that it did not meet the criteria of the Equality Act.

At the time, the report noted that the school's decision to exclude LGBT issues from the curriculum was "in accordance with the precepts of their faith."

The inspectors' latest report, published earlier this month, noted that while the school revised its curriculum, it couldn't show that "pupils are taught explicitly about issues such as sexual orientation.

"This restricts pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and does not promote equality of opportunity in ways that take account of differing lifestyles," the inspectors said. "As a result, pupils are not able to gain a full understanding of fundamental British values."

According to the Ofsted report, most of the girls at Vishnitz speak Yiddish as their first language but are also familiar with English. 

The school's curriculum is split 50-50 between secular subjects in English and Jewish studies in Yiddish.

Vishnitz received praise for its teachers' good subject knowledge and "high-quality classroom resources [that] inspire pupils with enthusiasm for learning and to achieve well."

In a blog post titled "A very unequal equality," Gill Robins of the Christians in Education group criticized the move and the Equality Act.

"It’s now been made crystal clear by Ofsted that the Equality Act is actually hierarchical, with sexual orientation and gender reassignment at the apex of the Act," wrote Robins. "All equalities are equal, but some equalities are more equal than others."