State school warns mothers: Do not show off your knees if you want your children to get in

Exclusive: Mother tells The Independent it is 'very strongly implied that if you or your child breaches the rules your child will be expelled'

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The Independent Online

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish state school in London has denied allegations from parents it would expel children if their mothers break a strict dress code which instructs them to dress modestly at all times.

The voluntarily-aided Yesodey Hatorah secondary school asks parents to "refrain from following trends which contradict the spirit of modesty", advising women "the wearing of flashy or very brightly coloured clothing is forbidden".

Its admissions policy adds "blouses, jumpers or dresses must fit closely around the neck. The shoulders, the top of the spine and downwards must be covered".  The application requires parents to sign to say they "meet the criteria" it sets out.

An application pack for the Yesodey Hatorah’s private primary school in north London, which caters for children aged 4-11, goes further explicitly asking parents to "adhere to the strict laws of modesty… at all times".  It states "dress code guidelines" form "a part of our application", adding: "If you do not meet the set of guidelines enclosed please ensure you take the necessary steps to change and adapt".

A concerned parent, who passed a copy of the rules to The Independent, claimed any dissent would be met with expulsion: "They control how people behave - outside just when you come to pick your kids up from school. If a mother was seen walking down the street with her hair uncovered she wouldn’t last a day and nor would her child."

The parent added the rules were the same for the primary and secondary school.  “By making the parent sign the papers [agreeing to keep to an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle] and implying this is the only way you can get into the school, it is very strongly implied that if you or your child breaches the rules your child will be expelled,” they added.

Yesodey Hatorah’s admissions policy for primary and secondary school students urges mothers to:

-          Wear wigs that do not “fall below the base of the neck”

-          "Dresses and skirts may not be shorter than 4 inches below the knees… a slit in a skirt or dress is absolutely forbidden even if it is completely below the knee”

-          Finally, it advises mothers that "denim or other clothing made from similarly 'trendy' fabrics e.g. leather and lyrca are related to the casual, free, way of life of non-Jews and as such are not permitted"

-          They also ask state that internet access is "forbidden" as is other "unsuitable home entertainment"

But a spokesperson for Yesoday Hatorah told The Independent that while the school has "a strict dress code" no mother "has ever been told that their children would be expelled if it is not adhered to”, adding: "These allegations are mischief making and totally without foundation." 

Asked if mothers were expected to adhere to the dress code at all times, and what happened if they dissented, the spokesperson said: “Yesodey HaTorah Senior Girls’ School is a Charedi [ultra-Orthodox Jewish] school and there is an expectation that the ethos is respected.”

Emily Green, who chairs Gesher EU, an organisation which supports ultra-Orthodox Jews who leave the community, said the dress code “is another way of keeping people in line". "They can control this by putting these restrictions on parents especially when threatened with exclusion or non-acceptance of their children at school," she added.

A spokesperson for the British Humanist Association also raised concerns over the policy telling The Independent "draconian and narrow requirements put upon both children and parents point to a worryingly restrictive cultural environment".

The Department for Education said "all schools, including faith schools, must comply with the school admissions code. Anyone who has concerns that a school’s admission arrangements are unfair or unlawful can object to the independent Schools Adjudicator".

They declined to comment further when asked if Yesoday Hatorah complied with the admissions code.