State-funded UK Jewish schools face ‘unacceptable’ new curriculum

All faith schools will be required teach students to be tolerant toward other religions and respect and understand lesbian, gay and transgender relationships.

November 6, 2014 04:54
3 minute read.
British parliament

A woman holds a Union flag umbrella in front of the Big Ben clock tower (R) and the Houses of Parliament in London. (photo credit: REUTERS)

LONDON – State-assisted Jewish secondary schools are preparing for a battle with recently appointed Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who has unilaterally decided to impose controversial curriculum changes affecting religious and sex-related issues.

All faith schools, including Christian, Catholic and Muslim, will be required to ensure not only that their students are taught the basics of faiths other than their own, but that they be tolerant toward other religions and respect and understand lesbian, gay and transgender relationships.

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The schools have been warned that failure to agree to the new rules could lead to their being judged “inadequate” and subsequently threatened with closure.

Snap inspections by the education standards agency OFSTED on schools of various faiths, including several Jewish schools, have already led to a string of complaints.

Typical was an Orthodox girls school whose pupils were asked about their relationships with boys.

At Beis Yaacov High School in Manchester, where girls are required to sign a pledge concerning their Internet use outside school hours, board members and staff found that while previously having been given a “good” rating by OFSTED, it suddenly had been downgraded to “inadequate.”

Numerous other schools subjected to no-notice inspections during September found that they, too, had been downgraded because of a strict interpretation of the new rules, but Morgan told The Sunday Times that she was adamant not to alter her stance.

The education secretary acted following the discovery that several Muslim schools in and around Birmingham had not been following the national curriculum.

They also had enforced strict Muslim dress codes and sex segregation, especially for girls.

The new rules were issued to all privately funded schools this week, and the state sector has been notified that its schools, too, will be obliged to observe the rules, with OFSTED inspectors being given new powers to implement the recently enacted Equality Act. That legislation, originally supposed to govern employment rights, encourages respect for lesbian, gay and transgender people as well as those of other religions and races.

As a result, schools that teach pupils to be intolerant of same-sex relationships or where girls are segregated from boys will face penalties. Establishments found to be indoctrinating or alienating children by teaching or practicing any policies deemed to be in contravention of the Equalities Act could face closure.

Morgan told The Sunday Times she was backing OFSTED’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, who had made clear that any school not teaching a “broad and balanced curriculum,” not preparing students for life in “modern Britain” or whose standards were judged to be rapidly falling would be subject to further snap inspections.

Several schools visited unexpectedly during September complained that they had been penalized for not sufficiently celebrating festivals of other faiths, not teaching sex education or tolerance of homosexuality, or not inviting faith leaders from other religions to speak at school assemblies.

Morgan told the paper it was “crucial” that Christian and Jewish schools followed the new rules, which require them to “actively promote” fundamental British values such as tolerance of other faiths and lifestyles, democracy and the rule of law. A committed Christian who previously had voted against gay marriage but now supports it, she said: “Schools should broaden horizons, not close minds, and should encourage pupils to respect other people even if they do not agree with them.”

Colin Hart, director of the religious liberty charity Christian Institute, which opposes the new rules, told The Sunday Times that OFSTED had recently gone into Orthodox Jewish schools asking children: “Do you have smart phones, do you know about gay marriage and do you have a boyfriend?”

“It is like a bull in a china shop, totally divisive and nothing to do with education at all,” Hart said. “How will forcing schools to celebrate even more religious festivals in assembly combat jihadism? It is absurd.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews told The Jerusalem Post that the umbrella organization gave qualified support for the education secretary’s move even though it was understood that those involved in the Orthodox school sector were concerned.

“British children need to be taught British values,” the spokesman said. “We support this initiative... but the way in which this is done needs to be culturally sensitive and specific. Faith groups, in particular, often have strict moral and behavioral codes and we need to work within the framework of their norms if the values, which we all want to pass on to our children, are to be properly heard and assimilated.”

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