Two leading secularist organisations have questioned Ofsted about their inspection process at a Stamford Hill school rated ‘good’, after its head told the Hackney Citizen he would continue to advise students against answering religiously sensitive exam questions.
The National Secular Society (NSS) and the British Humanist Association (BHA) have separately questioned the schools inspector over its visit to Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, following revelations that the school would continue to instruct pupils to avoid “halaichically questionable” topics in exams, including evolution, homosexual relationships and social media.
As a state-maintained school, the Charedi Jewish secondary in Stamford Hill is required to follow the National Curriculum.
The school attracted national attention last year when it came to light that it had redacted exam questions in a science GCSE paper that weren’t in line with the school’s Orthodox teachings. The school was subsequently warned against the “malpractice”.
But in an recent interview with the Citizen following its latest inspection, headteacher Rabbi Avraham Pinter said of future exams: “Our children will be aware of which questions they should be answering and which ones they shouldn’t be”.
Asked whether the Darwinian theory of evolution, 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.”
These fresh complaints from the NSS and the BHA put the spotlight on Ofsted, which rated the school ‘good’ in its latest report published on 7 October, but did not explicitly address the well-documented concerns previously raised about the school’s treatment of “sensitive” topics.
The BHA has criticised Ofsted for failing to mention sex education, creationism or evolution in this latest report, despite an Ofqual investigation last year into the school’s redaction of exam questions on subjects known to be at odds with the school’s ethos.
In its letter to Ofsted last week, the BHA asked Ofsted to clarify whether the teaching of sex education and creationism had been addressed at the no-notice inspection in September.
“If the school is not teaching evolution or sex education then this is unlawful,” wrote Richy Thompson, the BHA’s Faith Schools and Education Campaigns Officer.
“If it is teaching creationism as scientifically valid then this, in the government’s view, would be failing to teach a sufficiently broad and balanced curriculum.
“I was wondering if Ofsted could clarify whether these three areas were looked at; if so, what was found; and if not, why not. If the areas were looked at and it was found that the school was teaching creationism as science or failing to properly teach evolution or sex education, then why was this not mentioned in the report?”
The NSS, in a similar complaint to Ofsted and the Department for Education, raised concerns that children’s “sexual and reproductive health rights are being impeded by the refusal to teach such key areas of the National Curriculum as human reproduction”.
The letter warns that “children are entitled to be taught about these issues in preparation for life, and it is likely that the parents who send children to these schools are materially less likely than other parents to be teaching them this vital information at home.”
The NSS has called for the schools regulator to investigate comments made by Rabbi Pinter which indicate that he regards homosexuality to be incompatible with the school’s religious ethos.
In response to the complaints, a spokesperson for Ofsted told the Citizen that they “will be responding in due course”.