What’s the story?
A school which bans sex education, and cuts passages which offend its religious beliefs from books, has been given an ‘Inadequate’ status by Ofsted.
The majority of faith-based schools in the UK are affiliated to the Christian church, and in recent years concerns have been raised that these schools may be forced to compromise on some of their religiously-motivated teaching or policies. In recent days however, a Jewish school has become the focus of national attention, after it was rated ‘Inadequate’ by the inspection body Ofsted.
The agency evaluates the standard of teaching at every school in England, including faith-based schools, even though they are separately inspected by their own dedicated bodies. Ratings range from Outstanding (Level 1) through to Inadequate (Level 4), at which point a school can be sent into ‘special measures’, which means they are provided with additional outside help to make improvements.
The report for Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School in Stamford Hill, London said that the education provided there did not adequately prepare pupils for life in modern society. It reported that pupils were not allowed to study reproductive biology, even in animals, and that various textbooks were edited or ‘redacted’ in order to remove references to global warming and other subjects which are contentious for the Orthodox Jewish community. Images showing bare skin on ankles, wrists and necks had been edited, in line with the school’s religious beliefs.
The Ofsted report, based on a March inspection, said that the quality of teaching at the school was not good enough, and that pupils’ knowledge of other communities was limited. Pupils were not given opportunities to spend time with boys, or to meet people from other religious, cultural or socio-economic backgrounds. Safeguarding at the school was also judged to be a failing area, after inspectors discovered that helpline numbers were blanked out of books.
Ofsted did praise the well-being, safety and overall happiness of girls at the school, but said that the standard of teaching did not meet the required levels.
The chair of governors, Theo Bibelman, said that Ofsted had ‘downplayed our successes and academic achievements’ and demonstrated ‘a clear disrespect for the Orthodox Jewish community.’ He added ‘This inspection was never about us; it is about Ofsted using their unfettered powers to try to force faith schools to comply with their agenda or fail.’
What have others been saying?
A growing sense of discontent appears to be mounting about faith schools. The Times Educational Supplement reported that Humanists UK have produced a report which claims faith schools ‘discriminate against non-religious pupils.’
The Guardian wrote that a growing number of independent faith-based schools are being failed by Ofsted due to concerns over the teaching of British values and quality of provision.
#1 – RAISING CHILDREN IN FAITH
The Bible speaks directly about the importance of educating children in a faith-rich environment. In Proverbs 22:6 the author famously writes ‘train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it,’ and the Jewish people throughout the Old Testament would have seen faith as an integral part of their children’s education. In part this was an expression of their freedom from enslavement (in Egypt) and exile (in Babylon) and was also vitally linked with the passing on of faith through the generations. In more recent history, Christian involvement in education was a major contributing factor to the free availability of schooling for all, and it’s only more recently that the religious aspect of that education has caused concern for some.
#2 – PARTICIPATING IN THE WORLD
The classic evangelical Christian mantra to be ‘in the world but not of it’ isn’t actually in the Bible in so many words, but the idea certainly rings true. In Matthew 5:13-16, right in the middle of his most important sermon, Jesus says that we are a ‘light’ to the world, but also ‘the salt of the earth’; called to be both beacons of hope to people around us, and also participants in their world. At the same time, he warns his followers not to lose ‘saltiness’ or distinctiveness by simply becoming complicit in the way the world works.
Points for prayer
- Pray for all faith schools, they would be enabled to provide high-quality education for all their students which is uncompromised by religious beliefs.
- Pray for Ofsted, that they would be without prejudice toward faith schools, but their inspectors would also root out those schools which do not serve their children well.
- Pray for Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School, and particularly for their students, that their education would be improved as a result, without the school feeling that they have betrayed their faith or God.
- Pray for policy-makers in the Department of Education, that they would recognise the significant contribution made by faith schools, and that they would not be swayed against them by vocal lobbyists.
Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor of Youthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.