Last month it was reported here that dozens of schoolchildren trapped on a beach at Dover by the rising tide had to be rescued by helicopter and lifeboats.
The 34 teenagers were plucked from a hazardous stretch of the coast, often beset by falling rocks, after getting lost, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said after the incident.
The report said the hiking party was from the Ahavas Yisroel Community Centre in London, which included two adults. They has become disorientated as they followed a coastal path between St Margaret’s Bay and Dover Harbour.
The story took a new turn at the weekend when The Independent reported that the hikers were ultra-Orthodox Jewish students who were taken to Dover by unqualified teachers working at:
An illegal faith school that the Government has known about for five years but has failed to shut down.
The paper showed a video of the rescue operation, a still from which is reproduced above.
The group had walked past a number of danger signs in English warning the cliff was impassable, and were wearing ultra-Orthodox Jewish traditional dress rather than appropriate hiking gear. They had ignored the danger signs because they could not read English.
The Independent said it understands 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.
The school is understood to be one of dozens which an investigation by The Independent revealed in April are operating illegally in the Stamford Hill area of Hackney. More than 1,000 children are believed to be taught at the ultra-orthodox Jewish schools which follow only a strict religious education as they belong to very devout orthodox Jewish families.
The adults in the group are said to have told authorities they were from a community centre in Stamford Hill, while the boys reportedly told authorities that they were:
Just friends [who decided] to group together and go for a day out.
However, concerned members of the local community have told The Independent that the boys were recognised as being pupils of the illegal Stamford Hill school out on a school trip with untrained and unregistered teachers. This has also been reiterated by a news report in Israeli media which describes the children as belonging to an illegal ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Stamford Hill.
It is understood that the men lacked the basic awareness of child protection and safety issues involved due to lack of training.
An Independent reporter visited the school site following the events and multiple members of the public confirmed that the illegal school was operating and was involved in the incident.
Furthermore, internal documents from local authority Hackney council seen by The Independent show that they were first warned that the school was operating illegally in 2011 yet have not taken adequate action to close the school. Campaigners and former pupils say the authorities are turning a blind eye to the schools and failing to protect children.
In response to the allegations, a spokesperson for the group told The Independent that they are not an illegal school but a community centre:
We take the concerns of health and safety and well-being of children in our care very seriously. We believe that as a result of the incident there are a lot of lessons that need to be learnt.
We have therefore asked a foundation to carry out an independent internal investigation and make recommendations for the future. It is our [intention to] learn lessons for the future and to fully implement all recommendations. In the interim we have suspended all outside activity.
This is not the first time children’s lives have been put in danger by, apparently, incompetent staff. Next time we could be seeing mothers wailing at the funerals of their sons or daughters unless ministers, the Department for Education and Hackney listen to our call for these settings to be properly monitored, for them to employ properly trained staff, and to ensure that these children are given the skills and secular education they will require to have choices and contribute to society when they are older.
Both the Department for Education and Hackney continually say that they are liaising with each other, and nothing seems to happen. We know that the legislation relating to the monitoring, safeguarding and education standards in independent schools, unregistered settings and for home-educated children, is confusing and that it is inadequate when fundamentalist religious bodies are set on following their own narrow curriculum. We urge them to go to the ministers responsible to push through urgent changes to the legislation to give them the powers to make real change.
A spokesperson for the British Humanist Association said:
Unfortunately this school is far too typical of the illegal schools in Stamford Hill, in that both the Department for Education and Hackney Council have known about it for a long time, and yet in spite of repeated scandals involving the lack of any education the boys receive and the dire health and safety breaches, neither body has managed to take any concrete steps in shutting it down.
As if it isn’t controversial enough that these boys are denied any education, we now have an incident like this. What will it take for the Government to actually close the schools down? We will continue to put pressure on the Government to ensure that closure happens.
In response to the allegations, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said:
Nothing is more important than keeping children safe. Where there are safeguarding issues local authorities must take immediate action to protect children and we are in contact with Hackney council to ensure they make this happen.
A spokesperson for Hackney council told The Independent that they believed the children were from a school rather than the community centre but stated 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.
Hat tip: Angela_K