At an acrimonious meeting in the London borough of Hackney this week, Rabbi Avraham Pinter, above, attacked Ofsted inspectors, saying that it was “offensive and very patronising” to suggest ultra-Orthodox children attending illegal schools were not getting ‘the best’.
In response to concerns about the physical safety of children in illegal schools voiced at a Hackney council meeting, he said:
I believe that there is an agenda and all this talk about safety is really about social engineering.
According to the The Independent, the number of ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools believed to be operating illegally in the east London borough Hackney now outstrips those which are legal, the council has suggested for the first time.
The admission by a senior education official at a bad-tempered council meeting on Wednesday night has intensified concerns for the safety and welfare of hundreds of children who are being taught in often isolated conditions with little contact for the secular world.
Andrew Lee, Assistant Director of Education Services at Hackney’s education authority the Hackney Learning Trust, said his team had now identified “possibly 35” unregistered ultra-Orthodox schools in the borough, compared with 33 that are legal.
His comments were met with anger from Councillor Abraham Jacobson, a committee member and Orthodox Jew. He said:
I’m streetwise. I know what goes on. I think we’re talking possibly about 12 – maximum. They tend to move from place to place.
Hackney is home to a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish Charedi community, which is regarded as insular and practices a strict 19th-century interpretation of the faith.
Engagement with the secular world is for many deeply taboo.
Those forced to attend illegal schools have reported that they are not taught English or anything secular so they can instead focus on studying the Torah.
One former pupil at an illegal school in Hackney told The Independent he was regularly subject to:
Physical and psychological abuse. They went to extreme length to stop us learning English. Education is all about preparing people to make their own choices. The very ethos of these schools is to do the exact opposite and to isolate people from secular society.
An investigation by The Independent found that the Hackney Learning Trust, Hackney’s education authority, destroyed evidence of children being educated in illegal faith schools at the request of religious institutions.
In a tense exchange, Pinter, a spokesperson for the London Jewish community, accused Ofsted of “targeting the Jewish community” and ignoring the “end result” after pupils had been through the illegal school system.
Ofsted’s deputy director for unregistered schools Victor Shafiee said:
We are asking them to work within the law.
Shafiee also revealed inspectors had worked to help prepare a case to prosecute an unnamed illegal school in Hackney for repeatedly failing to register with authorities.
Sometimes schools don’t close, they defy that, we pursue that [with prosecution]. The evidence needed to pursue that through the courts is high. We have to work incredibly hard and carefully to make sure the evidence does stack up.
He also hinted the Government would bring forward new legislation to deal with unregistered schools more effectively.
The Department for Education is working hard to strengthen our legal powers so we can close the settings [illegal schools] immediately rather than go through the courts. We’re hoping to sort that out very soon.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn