Our faith schools are undergoing an unprecedented crisis. Parliament is in the process of passing legislation compelling all schools to include Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in the syllabus. Regulations are also in place to force all schools to teach about LGBT + lifestyles.
Teaching RSE , under the banner of “safeguarding”, may be a perceived antidote to the malaise within general society, saturated as it is by pornography, abuse and promiscuity. LGBT+ instruction may indeed follow today’s political preoccupation with equalities and political correctness. But they are inappropriate in a Torah-orientated environment.
In our strictly orthodox schools it is unacceptable to be explicit about sexual relationships. It is also forbidden to teach same-gender lifestyles. These principles are absolute, non – negotiable red lines. They apply , broadly speaking, to other major religions too, notably Catholicism and Islam. Legislating to impose such teachings on schools founded on those faiths is an oppressive curtailment of freedom.
There is no desire within our community to deny children an appreciation of human relationships. Nevertheless, teaching the “facts of life” has no place in the orthodox classroom.
They are imparted sensitively in a technology- restricted environment by a combination of parental input , discussion among peers, and the subtle appreciation of Bible, Talmud and laws of modesty. The religious moral context excludes beyond question physical relationships before marriage. Many orthodox marriages take place at a very early age – unlike secular society . The overwhelming majority are stable and productive.
There is also no wish to discriminate against those choosing to live same-gender lifestyles – despite the same being forbidden in the Bible and , until quite recently, in civil law. Appreciation of tolerance and abhorrence of prejudice can be effectively conveyed without the study or promotion of the lifestyles themselves. Yet these are the dictatorial requirements now being forced on faith schools, to be arbitrarily enforced by DfE civil servants and officious Ofsted inspectors .
There are numerous politicians who strongly support faith schools, recognising their immense achievements, often well above secular schools. I know from my discussions with MPs and Council colleagues how horrified many are on being informed how such schools are being hounded and threatened over RSE and LGBT+ . Politicians can only appreciate the scale of the problem when they are properly lobbied and apprised of the volume of public anger , and the fact that the majority of UK Jewish children – tens of thousands – now attend strictly orthodox schools.
Unfortunately, our community has been decidedly weak in campaigning to protect our schools. The Board of Deputies and Partnerships for Jewish Schools cannot fulfil this task since there is virtually no charedi representation within them and, to be fair, they cannot advocate passionately for things they do not personally believe in. The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations , which should be in the forefront as the main Charedi representative body , has, unwisely in my view, chosen to shift the responsibility to Chinuch UK.
Chinuch UK , for all its good intentions and educationalist professionalism, possesses minimal expertise in active politics and campaigning. Save for some minor concessions, its procurement of change in Parliamentary policy has been negligible.
The Values Foundation – an excellent inter-faith lobbying group working within Parliament – has been launched, with strictly- Orthodox rabbinical backing. But what it can achieve at this late stage is limited. By now a massive political campaign, possibly including peaceful protests, ought to have been launched. Sadly, this has not happened.
That religion is a listed “protected characteristic” under the Equalities Act 2010 is a fact too frequently overlooked. In the opinion of senior legal experts, compelling faith schools to teach material contrary to their ethos is a violation of the Act and tantamount to anti-religious discrimination. Whether a concerted legal challenge would succeed in the courts may still be an academic question. If faith schools are in due course severely penalised or even closed down for refusing to yield to these intolerant regulations, such action may become a necessity. Indeed it could be a battle for survival.