London risks 'another Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal without action on missing children in Hackney'

An investigation by The Independent found more than 1,000 boys in the borough are currently missing from registered schools

Dina Rickman
Tuesday 10 January 2017 17:54 GMT

A central London council has been warned it risks "another Rotherham" sexual abuse scandal if it does not deal with the thousands of children thought to be taught at illegal schools.

Hackney Council is at the centre of a child protection scandal after an investigation by The Independent found more than 1,000 boys in the borough are currently missing from registered schools and are instead thought to be educated in illegal ultra-Orthodox Jewish yeshivas.

At a meeting of Hackney Council's Children and Young People Scrutiny Board, which is holding an inquiry into unregistered Jewish schools, Chair Councillor Christopher Kennedy said: "We worried there might be another Rotherham situation in Hackney if we didn't take action when we were told there were all these missing children on the school register."

His comments came as religious leaders told Hackney council they felt being pressured to teach a particular agenda by Ofsted. Jospeh Stauber, headteacher of the registered Talmud Torah Yetev Lev primary school for children in Hackney, warned councillors: "Don't try to tell us what to learn with the children when it's against our religion. That's why we keep on hiding."

Hackney is home to a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish Charedi community, which is regarded as insular and practices a strict 19th-century interpretation of the faith. Engagement with the secular world is for many deeply taboo and boys over the age of 13 are expected to learn the Old Testament in Yeshivas where they are taught in Yiddish rather than go to secondary schools and gain GCSEs. One former pupil at an illegal school in Hackney told The Independent they went to "extreme lengths" to stop him learning English. "Education is all about preparing people to make their own choices. The very ethos of these schools is to do the exact opposite and to isolate people from secular society," he said.

The huge risks facing children attending unregistered schools were further outlined by evidence from Rory MacCallum, Senior Professional Advisor to the City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Board. Mr MacCallum said paedophiles were present in "every community" which is why teachers need to be vetted and subject to regulation, adding: "I can sit here and reel off a list of names of loads of individuals in positions of trust who have subsequently been found out as having a deviant sexual interest in children. That is worst-case scenario. That type of stuff happens everywhere."

Speaking after the committee to The Independent, Mr MacCallum denied that the Charedi community was "complacent" about child abuse but said some individuals could do more. "I'm not getting the sense that the whole community is complacent. As with every other community there will be people there who are complacent, and there will be people who aren't."

As well as sexual abuse, children in unregistered schools identified by Hackney council are at risk from physical harm, with Hackney London Fire Brigade Commander Steve Dudeney telling the committee there had been fires at five of 32 suspected illegal schools identified by the council, a figure he described as "high". Separately, the fire brigade found evidence children may be sleeping at three of the illegal schools.

But after being presented with evidence from Mr MacCallum, Rabbi Judah Baumgarten of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew congregations said safeguarding would be enacted if Jewish schools were not told to teach a particular curriculum by Ofsted. "If safeguarding was a standalone requirement I don't think we would have a problem."

He added: "Any safeguarding is as important and maybe even possibly -- I venture to say -- more important than other communities."

The Rabbi was told by Hackney Councillor Margaret Gordon: "Any organisation before the question of regulation of education comes up ought to be taking the issues of child protection seriously and ought to be happy to demonstrate that. To say 'we're not prepared to do that while it's linked to Ofsted' is disingenuous."

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