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Private Jewish school fails third Ofsted inspection for not teaching LGBT issues

Vishnitz Orthodox girls' school failed three inspections on the grounds it did not meet requirements set out in the Equalities Act

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Monday 26 June 2017 16:44 BST
Pupils were “shielded from learning about certain differences between people, such as sexual orientation," Ofsted reported
Pupils were “shielded from learning about certain differences between people, such as sexual orientation," Ofsted reported (Getty)

A private faith school in London has failed its third Ofsted inspection for refusing to teach its pupils about homosexuality.

Inspectors visiting Vishnitz Girls School in north London last month said the Orthodox school does not give pupils “a full understanding of fundamental British values”, The Telegraph reported.

Pupils were not taught about LGBT issues such as “sexual orientation”, which are in breach of equality laws.

“This restricts pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and does not promote equality of opportunity in ways that take account of differing lifestyles,” inspectors reported.

The school’s approach resulted in pupils being “shielded from learning about certain differences between people, such as sexual orientation,” the report went on. “The school’s culture is, however, clearly focused on teaching pupils to respect everybody, regardless of beliefs and lifestyle

While school leaders ”recognise the requirement to teach about the protected characteristics as set out in the Equality Act 2010… they acknowledge that they do not teach pupils about all the protected characteristics, particularly those relating to gender re-assignment and sexual orientation.

“This means that pupils have a limited understanding of the different lifestyles and partnerships that individuals may choose in present-day society.”

While fee-paying schools such as Vishnitz do not operate under the same curriculum as mainstream state schools, they are obliged to meet two separate sets of standards for sex and relationships education laid out by the Department for Education and Ofsted.

Ofsted makes clear that schools are not expected to "promote" ideas about sexual orientation or gender reassignment, but they are expected to "encourage pupils' respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the 2010 Equalities Act".

The school, which has 212 pupils, and charges annual fees of £5,200, was praised in other areas, including the fact teachers had “good subject knowledge and high-quality classroom resources”.

Just last week, the new Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman gave a speech on the importance of teaching “fundamental British values” within schools.

Sex education to be made compulsory in all schools in England

Private schools which do not meet Ofsted requirements – which include consideration of “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils” - must improve or face closure.

Gill Robins from the Christians in Education campaign group criticised the decision, writing in a blog post: “It’s now been made crystal clear by Ofsted that the Equality Act is actually hierarchical, with sexual orientation and gender reassignment at the apex of the Act.

“All equalities are equal but some equalities are more equal than others.

“Ofsted has revealed its true agenda. It doesn’t matter how good your school is in all other respects – simply refusing to teach very young children about gender reassignment will lead to your closure.”

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Justine Greening pushed through plans to make sex and relationships education compulsory in all schools.

LGBT campaigners warned the policy still left “loopholes” for religious schools in that they are allowed some flexibility in their teaching of SRE “in keeping with their faith”.

A spokesperson from the LGBT charity Stonewall said: "It’s vital all young people learn about LGBT issues. Inclusive, age-appropriate education ensures young people understand and celebrate difference. For those who might be questioning their gender identity it’s essential as it shows they’re not alone and that what they’re feeling isn’t wrong.

"We applaud schools that create an inclusive learning environment where all students of all backgrounds and identities feel welcome, safe and understood."

Vishnitz School has been contacted for a response.

The faith school is one of seven known to have failed Ofsted inspections within recent weeks.

And Ofsted spokesperson said DfE standards require schools to "actively promote fundamental British values such as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.

“Parents have the right, on behalf of their children, to expect an education that conforms to their religious beliefs and is in compliance with the law.

“Children living in England deserve the best - the law expects schools to demonstrate that they are encouraging pupils to take a respectful and tolerant stance towards those who hold values different from their own. Ofsted acts robustly and impartially to ensure children in England receive a good education.”

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