The BBC is reporting concerns that as many as 1,000 boys from strictly Orthodox Jewish families may be pupils at a network of between 12 and 20 illegal private schools in east London.
These schools are not registered with the authorities, which makes them illegal, and they offer a narrow, religious syllabus.
The Department for Education is working with Ofsted to find and shut them.
Some of the illegal schools, however, are registered as charities, gaining them an advantaged tax status.
These private schools serve the small so-called Charedi community – a grouping that contains within it a wide variety of strictly Orthodox Jewish traditions. Hackney council estimates there are around 30,000 Charedi Jews in the borough.
Charedi parents are more likely to want a relatively mainstream education for their girls. There is demand, however, from parts of the community for a narrow education for boys, one that is largely focused on religious education and delivered in the Yiddish language.
While there are registered Charedi schools, many are unregistered because they fear being shut or made to follow a broader syllabus.
Officials from schools watchdog Ofsted and the DfE believe many of these schools offer an insufficiently broad education. Former pupils have complained of not being equipped by them to leave the Charedi community…
One ex-student of illegal Charedi schools, now in his 20s and outside the community, told Newsnight: “I’m starting to study for my GCSEs. I’m maybe like an eight-year-old, nine-year-old. That’s my level of education.”
Men who stayed in the community, however, told Newsnight that they supported the schools – even if they wish the schools were registered with the authorities. Eli Spitzer, now a head teacher at a registered Charedi primary school, says that his education at an unregistered school was “overwhelmingly positive”…
Ofsted says it has inspected and closed seven illegal schools across the country since last November – including a Charedi school.
Even though the institutions are currently on high alert, however, Newsnight established the location of four unregistered Charedi schools with relative ease.
We also established that whistleblowers had alerted the DfE to all four. Newsnight has been asked not to publish the locations of the schools by anti-semitism experts…
Does it seem in any way odd that parents can choose not to send their children to school, and basically teach them whatever they want, but they cannot choose a private school that aligns with their values unless it also meets very strict criteria for registration?
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