Orthodox Jews walk along Whitehall in central London.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – While British school inspection authority Ofsted holds respect for minorities high on its agenda, it has set a meeting for independent London schools – including Jewish schools – on Rosh Hashana.
Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, has the authority to insist on changes in schools if common standards and regulations aren’t met, and in extreme cases can recommend the closure of schools. It has the power to descend on a school without notice, or minimal notice, to ensure the establishment is up to scratch. High on its agenda is ensuring schools teach pupils respect for minorities and other religions, an issue that has caused occasional friction with strictly Orthodox educational establishments that prefer a limited focus on non-Jewish topics.
The Rosh Hashana meeting, which is meant to brief schools on a new inspection framework, has angered and bewildered Jewish educational heads. A similar meeting in Salford, in the Manchester area, is scheduled to be held on the first day of Hol Hamoed Succot.
Rabbi Avroham Pinter, the principal of Yesodey Hatorah School in London’s Stamford Hill neighborhood, told The Jerusalem Post
that Ofsted had shown “a blatant disregard for our faith, which calls into question its suitability for inspecting and reporting on faith schools.”
“Ofsted have total disregard and are totally insensitive to our faith and culture by calling a meeting and inviting us to come on the Jewish New Year,” he added.
These views were echoed by Mordechai Halpern, chairman of governors of Yesodey Hatorah School in Manchester, who told the Hamodia newspaper that in his view, it was lamentable that Ofsted was not capable of at least apologizing for a major mistake.
“Surely they should be critical of their own lack of knowledge of the Jewish religion, or at least of their insensitivity to the sanctity of the Jewish High Holiday?” Ofsted was alerted to the clash by Hamodia, and confessed that it was unaware of the situation, with a spokesman adding that Jewish Orthodox schools were a valued section of the independent schools sector.
“We hope that representatives are able to attend events on days that do not fall within holidays or on religious days. If this is not possible, then we will work with them to find alternative dates,” he said.
Jewish educational representatives responded that Ofsted’s attitude was “typical,” and that it hadn’t offered any alternative dates. The organization’s behavior was hardly surprising, they added, seeing as last year Ofsted officials turned up for an unannounced school inspection on the eve of Rosh Hashana.