Ofsted: Strictly-Orthodox want ‘group opt-out from the law’

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Ofsted: Strictly-Orthodox want ‘group opt-out from the law’

'Nothing more I can do to be flexible on same-sex education', says Amanda Spielman in a rare direct exchange between two parties.

Screenshot from preview video with Amanda Spielman and Eli Spitzer
Screenshot from preview video with Amanda Spielman and Eli Spitzer

The head of the national schools inspectorate has told Britain’s strictly Orthodox community that there is nothing more she can do to be flexible, in a rare direct exchange between two parties at loggerheads over sex and relationship education.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman was speaking to Charedi educator headteacher of Tiferes Shlomo Boys’ School Eli Spitzer about issues such as the new curriculum requirement on his new podcast.

Earlier this month Charedi schools umbrella group Chinuch UK welcomed Ofsted’s new guidance both around speaking to pupils during inspections and about teaching protected characteristics, including gender and sexuality, “a subject that has greatly stressed the relationship between Ofsted and the Charedi community”.

Spielman said the Charedi community wanted a “group opt-out from the law” on issues such as teaching children what characteristics are legally protected in the UK, which she could not grant.

“I absolutely do recognise the depths of discomfort around this, yet at the same time there is literally nothing more that I could do to be flexible,” she said. “I do not have the discretion to instruct inspectors not to notice this or that, it’s simply not there.”

Spitzer said: “If tomorrow I decided to do an assembly on LGBT lifestyles or sex education, one of two things would happen. Either parents would stop sending their children to the school, or I’d be given my sandwiches and a roadmap.”

Amanda Spielman

On their refusal to comply with new legal requirements, Spitzer said there was “an assumption that schools are complicit” but acknowledged that some of the language used towards inspectors at Charedi schools had been “confrontational”.

Spielman said Charedi educators’ demands amounted to “a fundamental change in the minimum expectation of schools” at state-level, adding: “For me it’s a deeply intractable problem. I wish it weren’t.”

I absolutely do recognise the depths of discomfort around this, yet at the same time there is literally nothing more that I could do to be flexible. I do not have the discretion to instruct inspectors not to notice this or that, it’s simply not there.

Spitzer said forcing Charedi schools to teach sex education and LGBT+ lifestyles could lead to “more extreme” options such as home-schooling, saying: “We’re going round in circles. There has to be a way to break out of this.”

Spielman replied: “It’s genuinely hard to see. I don’t agree with every law that sits on the statute books but I have to accept the ones I don’t like. We are at the level of a very deep disagreement of what the state is, and the extent to which there should be opt-outs on the grounds of religion or anything else.

She addressed the accusation that Ofsted was “secularist”, saying: “We put so much effort into trying to balance these different things that the law requires us to do.”

Referring to “the hideous language of protected characteristics, this awful legalese,” she said: “Interest groups including faith groups tend to be very strongly concerned with one [characteristic], and very little with the others.

Eli Spitzer

“In the eyes of each lobby group we do not nearly enough to satisfy them that we are taking equality seriously, so we’re beaten up on all sides, seen of ‘protectors of the others’ and not of them, but the reality is that they [protected characteristics] are bound to bump up against each other.”

Spitzer added that Ofsted’s ire should not be directed at Charedi schools, saying: “Your beef is with parents,” he said. “Why don’t you take it up with them? Go into a synagogue and have it out with them and let us do our job.”

Both Spielman and Spitzer used the podcast to welcome the recognition in The Queen’s Birthday Honours this month for Partnerships for Jewish Schools head Rabbi David Meyer and Rabbi Avrohom Sugarman at Haskel School in Gateshead.

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