Jewish school in UK criticised for redacting 'bare wrists' from books

Ofsted rates Yesodey Hatorah inadequate for censoring texts including Sherlock Holmes

A state-funded Jewish faith school has been classed as inadequate after Ofsted inspectors found teachers and school governors heavily censoring books and pictures, deleting references to reproduction and child protection helpline contact details.

The inspection of Yesodey Hatorah senior girls’ school, a voluntary-aided school catering to the Orthodox Chasidic Jewish community in north London, revealed that the “vast majority of texts” in the school library had been censored or redacted, while inspectors were told by staff that the school would not allow pupils to visit the Tate Modern.

The report said large sections of GCSE English textbooks had been deemed as inappropriate by staff and removed or redacted.

“In addition, texts such as Sherlock Holmes have had sections of text redacted. In science, pupils are not permitted to study animal or human reproduction, and other areas such as global warming are restricted. Leaders do not fulfil their statutory duty to provide sex and relationships education,” the inspectors reported.

In the library, “staff had systematically gone through every book to blank out any bare skin on ankles, wrists or necks”, the inspectors found.

The school’s leaders “were unable to explain the origin of the detailed policy on redaction, or who decides what is redacted in texts across the school”.

The report’s conclusions, which came despite findings that pupils were happy and safe at the school, drew an angry response from the chair of governors, who accused Ofsted of having a “secularist agenda” that put faith schools in an impossible position.

Jewish leaders have previously complained that Ofsted has targeted Jewish faith schools, with a number of independent Orthodox Jewish schools being described as inadequate or deregulated, resulting in their probable closure.

Although inspectors found the school’s policies were supported by parents, Ofsted was highly critical of the lack of careers advice provided for pupils and for potential safeguarding issues.

“Leaders deliberately restrict pupils’ access to advice and guidance about how to keep safe in the world, including the redaction of helpline numbers from books. This prevents pupils protecting themselves, because they are unable to seek independent, confidential advice if required,” the report said.

During the inspection the school agreed to display NSPCC helpline numbers in the pupils’ toilets.

Inspectors noted that “pupils have no opportunity to compete in inter-school sport, participate in events or visit universities”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) said: “This report raises significant concerns. The regional schools commissioner will work with Yesodey Hatorah and its governors to find an appropriate solution to ensure rapid improvement. This includes the potential academisation of the school.”

Yesodey Hatorah is the latest state faith school to fall foul of new regulations requiring pupils to be prepared for life in Britain, including respect for other faiths and ethnic groups, introduced after the 2014 panic over majority-Muslim state schools in Birmingham.

The Ofsted visit was sparked after Humanists UK, a secular campaigning group, published details of the school’s censored textbooks this year, including removing a reference to homosexuality from a section on Nazi beliefs.

A private Chasidic boys school in Stamford Hill, Getters Talmud Torah, was deregistered by the DfE this year, after inspectors found the school failed to teach any secular subjects other than maths and English.

Yesodey Hatorah’s leadership had previously dismissed the redactions as part of a long-established policy to “protect our girls from sexualisation in line with our parents’ wishes and religious beliefs”.

But after the latest report, Theo Bibelman, Yesodey Hatorah’s chair of governors, said: “We were appalled at the way the Ofsted inspectors treated our staff and students and we have made that clear. It seems that unless we agree with the secularist agenda of Ofsted [in] London we cannot comply with their inspection criteria,” Bibelman said.

“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.”

A spokesperson for Ofsted said: “Faith schools are entirely at liberty to teach the tenets of their faith on social issues. However, they must also comply with the law and ensure that pupils are properly prepared for life in modern Britain. The vast majority of faith schools see no tension in doing this.”

The school was also unhappy that Ofsted appeared sceptical of Yesodey Hatorah’s record of above-average results in GCSE exams.

Inspectors noted that “the majority of teachers are unqualified and many are inexperienced” and said that for some year groups “restricted curriculum, redaction of texts and pupils’ limited access to information hinder their learning and progress”.

Inspectors also criticised poor handwriting and incomplete work, as well as a lack of progress in spelling, punctuation and grammar. “Examination results reflect higher standards than those seen in books,” the report stated.


Richard Adams Education editor

The GuardianTramp

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