Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Stamford Hill

A Jewish faith school in Stamford Hill has hit back at Ofsted after the education watchdog this week downgraded its rating to ‘Inadequate’ in a damning assessment of its methods.

An inspection of Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, which has previously hit the headlines for censoring textbooks and exam questions, found it “restricts pupils’ knowledge and prevents them from learning about themselves, others and the world around them”.

The school’s chair of governors says the report has “led to us feeling like part of a secularist plot” and accused Ofsted of “using its unfettered powers to try to force faith schools to comply with its agenda or fail”.

But national charity Humanists UK says the findings show “what happens when religion is given almost untrammelled influence over the education of children” and reiterated its call for the government to close down faith schools.

Blacked out: a section in a textbook on the legal history of abortion. Photograph: Humanists UK

Ofsted’s report states: “Governors and the principal have enforced a policy of redacting texts, which limits pupils’ knowledge and understanding.”

It goes on: “Whole chapters in some texts had been stuck together. For instance, in a text on Elizabethan England, leaders had redacted sections relating to the queen’s supremacy and the Puritan challenge.

“Staff had systematically gone through every book to blank out any bare skin on ankles, wrists or necks.”

Inspectors, who visited the school in March, also found that staff “deliberately restrict pupils’ access to advice and guidance about how to keep safe in the world, including the redaction of helpline numbers from books”.

They subsequently gave the school an overall rating of ‘Inadequate’, downgraded from ‘Good’ following the last regular inspection in 2014 – a decision that angered secularists.

Theo Bibelman, chairman of governors at Yesodey Hatorah, said: “This report says more about Ofsted than it does about our school. Just a few months ago the Hackney Learning Trust judged the school to be outstanding and praised us for many of the aspects now deemed by Ofsted to be below standard.

“Even a cursory reading of the report shows that Ofsted has downplayed our successes and academic achievements whilst showing a clear disrespect for the Orthodox Jewish community.

“We were appalled at the way the Ofsted Inspectors treated our staff and students and we have made that clear to the relevant government authorities.

“It seems that unless we agree with secularist agenda of Ofsted London then we cannot comply with their inspection criteria.

“We are always striving to improve our school, and we continue to do so, but the nature of this inspection and the resulting report has led to us feeling part of a secularist plot.

“This inspection was never about us – it is about Ofsted using their unfettered powers to try to force faith schools to comply with their agenda or fail.”

Censored: black marker is used to cover up images of women. Photograph: Humanists UK

But Jay Harman of Humanists UK, a charity for non-religious people which exposed the school’s practice of redacting textbooks after being contacted by members of the Charedi community, said: “This is what happens when religion is given almost untrammelled influence over the education of children.

“The purpose of a school is to educate its pupils, promote their development and wellbeing, and ensure that when they leave the school gates, they are prepared for life in a modern, diverse society.

“The purpose of this school – and there are others like it – appears to be the entrenchment of a homophobic, misogynistic, intolerant, and isolationist ethos, designed to limit its pupils rather than allow them to flourish.”

In 2014, Humanists UK also brought to light Yesodey Hatorah’s censoring of exam papers.

Harman added: “It is a tragedy that so many children have been and are being subjected to schools of this kind. The government must start closing them down.”

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