Let’s be clear about what the school was actually found to be doing. Ofsted found that school leaders: redact texts to remove references or images of men and women socialising together, detail on the persecution of LGBT people during the Holocaust, and images of women that show any bare skin on ankles, wrists, or necks; limit career advice in order to ‘deliberately [my emphasis] restrict the options available to pupils’ when they leave school; provide a ‘narrow curriculum’, focussing ‘narrowly on their own faith’, which fails to ‘prepare pupils adequately for life in modern Britain’; fail to fulfil their ‘statutory duty to provide sex and relationships education’; and ‘deliberately restrict pupils’ access to advice and guidance about how to keep safe in the world, including the redaction of helpline numbers from books.’
No doubt everyone will have their own views about which of these is worse, but surely we can agree that they all detract from the core purpose of a school – namely, to educate its pupils, promote their individual development and wellbeing, and ensure that when they leave the school gates, they are better equipped to make their way through life than when they went in.
On these grounds, Ofsted’s criticism of the school is entirely warranted. So why has the reaction been characterised more by conspiracy theory than concern for the children?
The answer is simple. Those who criticise the narrow, doctrinaire education provided by schools like Yesodey Hatorah do so because they believe that children have rights, and that these rights are inviolable regardless of where children are from or which religious community they were born into. Those who criticise Ofsted believe that religions have rights, and that it is reasonable to relegate the rights of individuals (children or otherwise) in order to accommodate them.
This difference of perspective is at the heart of the ongoing debate about the place of faith schools in society....