Following no-notice inspection, Jewish school remains defiant over exam question redaction

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Surprise visit: Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, Egerton Road. Photograph: Jason Fidler

Following a no-notice Ofsted inspection, the head of an Orthodox Jewish state school in Stamford Hill who was warned against redacting exam questions has said he will continue to discourage his pupils from answering “halaichally questionable” exam questions.

Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Egerton Road, was subject to a no-notice inspection in September as part of a round of unannounced Ofsted visits to 40 schools across England. Three of the inspections, which tested schools’ promotion of ‘British values’ in the wake of the Trojan horse affair, were at Jewish schools, prompting complaints from the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools that their schools are being unfairly targeted.

According to Ofsted, the surprise inspections took place at schools where “there are concerns about rapidly declining standards; safeguarding… standards of leadership or governance; or the breadth and balance of the curriculum.”

Yesodey Hatorah was downgraded from ‘outstanding’ to ‘good’ in the inspection report published on 7 October; their previous inspection was in 2006.

In the same round of inspections, a high-profile Jewish academy in Salford was downgraded from ‘good’ to ‘inadequate’.

Speaking to the Hackney Citizen, Yesodey Hatorah’s principal Rabbi Avraham Pinter said the school was “particularly happy with the outcome,” and has praised the conduct of inspectors amid claims of bullying and inappropriate questioning at other no-notice inspections at
Jewish schools.

Nevertheless, the school’s Ofsted report cited several reasons the school had not maintained its ‘outstanding’ rating, noting that “the culture of best practice in teaching and learning is not at a consistently high enough level to enable the vast majority of learners to excel”.

As one of 10 state-aided Jewish schools in the country, Yesodey Hatorah is required to follow the national curriculum. 

Earlier this year, the Hackney Citizen reported that Yesodey Hatorah was being investigated for blacking-out exam questions in a GCSE science paper taken last October, which were considered by the school to be contrary to its religious teachings.

Exams regulator Ofqual subsequently warned the school against continuing the “malpractice”.

Regarding future exams, Pinter said, “If we can’t redact (questions), then we won’t redact them.”

Nevertheless, Pinter made clear that his pupils will continue to be advised against answering certain exam questions, and that this practice is supported by parents at the school.

“Our children will be aware of which questions they should be answering and which ones they shouldn’t be,”he said.

Asked whether the Darwinian theory of evolution, which is a compulsory part of the national curriculum, was among the topics that were at odds with the school’s ethos, Pinter replied: “Yes, it is.”

Questions about homosexual relationships and social media were also cited by Pinter as topics of concern to the school’s ethos.