David Brown’s Jewish News article last week does not reflect the ethos of Jewish schools or how the ‘British values’ agenda has been enforced. As Orthodox Jews, our community is proud to demonstrate two fundamental values: respect and tolerance. These are fundamental British values and it is a shame Ofsted has failed to show these values towards many of London’s Orthodox Jewish schools.
If there was a problem with homophobic or gender-based bullying in Orthodox Jewish schools, this would undoubtedly be a serious issue that would need to be addressed. However, it is wrong to suggest Ofsted has been threatening schools with closure because of evidence of bullying or intolerance.
Jewish schools with excellent standards, both academically and in terms of pupils’ well-being and development, are now being deemed unsatisfactory only because of a failure to teach ideas which contravene traditional Jewish values. The message to schools is clear – teach a secular, non-Jewish world view or face closure. Mr Brown has got it the wrong way around – Ofsted are the fundamentalists, accepting no deviation from their doctrine, and those of us who care about the continuity of Jewish education have been given every reason to be fearful.
It is no wonder parents increasingly view Ofsted inspections as little to do with safeguarding, but rather as a thinly-veiled exercise in social engineering.
The breakdown in the relationship between Ofsted and many of our schools has been rapid and distressing. Schools recently praised for promoting learning and nurturing honest, diligent, respectful pupils have now been branded as failing schools.
The fact these judgements are being made by an organisation set up to promote educational excellence is baffling. Perhaps the most upsetting aspect of this deteriorating relationship is the implication that Orthodox schools, and by extension our community, are somehow un-British because we oppose Ofsted’s new definition of ‘British values’. Anyone with a basic grasp of Jewish history can see a resemblance to that most pernicious of anti-Semitic tropes: that we Jews are essentially alien and our loyalty to our faith and identity somehow opposes or undermines the countries we live in.
The manner in which Ofsted has cast Orthodox Jewish education as an un-British exercise is a sad indictment that their doctrinaire interpretation of ‘British values’ falls short of the real meaning of the term. As Rabbi Frand said at a recent gathering of 7,000 members of the community voicing concerns about Ofsted, ‘We thank God that we are privileged to live in a tolerant country’.
The definition of tolerance in a democracy is a willingness to accept there are a variety of different viewpoints and we do not have a right to impose our viewpoint on others, especially on peaceful, law-abiding minorities. How ironic then, that Ofsted defines ‘tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs’ as a fundamental value, but seems completely unable to grasp what this means in practice.
There is always room for improvement and all our schools are constantly striving to be better. However, the Orthodox community is proud of its values and remains committed to teaching its children about the central importance of having respect for all and, at the same time, maintaining a firm loyalty to Jewish principles and faith. The merits of this approach are successive generations of proud religious Jews contributing to British society.
- Shimon’s community clients include the Torah Education Committee, Beis Ruchel D’Satmar and Yesoday HaTorah School.