Yesodey Hatorah is a Jewish girls school in London’s Stamford Hill neighborhood. Founded during World War II, Yesodey Hatorah became a voluntary-aided school a few years ago, meaning it is funded partly by the state and partly by a religious foundation. Tony Blair attended the opening of its new building in 2005, and the school has maintained its reputation for excellence ever since. More recently, however, regulators have singled out the school for intense scrutiny and opprobrium.
The reason: Yesodey Hatorah is determined to preserve its Orthodox Jewish values and to impart them to students.
This week, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, known as Ofsted, denounced Yesodey Hatorah as “inadequate” and took the school to task for failing to “prepare pupils well for life in modern British society,” as a BBC report put it. No parent wants to hear that about her children’s school, and a few of the concerns about Yesodey Hatorah were legitimate; teachers had blacked out all questions related to the theory of evolution in one exam, for example. But most of the complaints had to do with ideological rather than academic shortcomings.
In keeping with Orthodox religious precepts, “staff had systematically gone through every book to blank out any bare skin on ankles, wrists or necks,” the Ofsted report said. Likewise, “the majority of pictures in books on major artists such as Picasso had been blanked out.”
Yesodey Hatorah was also deemed insufficiently woke by the standards of British secular progressivism and the sexual revolution. The curriculum de-emphasized global warming. Students didn’t learn much by way of sex education and especially about homosexuality, which, according to an earlier report, deprived them of “a full understanding of fundamental British values” and limited their “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and [did] not promote equality of opportunity in ways that take account of differing lifestyles.” Finally, Ofsted rapped the school’s knuckles for failing to expose the girls to the opposite sex.
Yet, as Giles Fraser wrote in March for UnHerd, “modesty is an important virtue for the Haredim, and that is reflected in their dress–no trousers for women, white shirts and black coats for the men–and also in their desire to protect their children from what they see as early sexualization.” Parents send their daughters to Yesodey Hatorah, precisely because they seek a school that shields them from the vulgarity and sexual coarseness of secular Britain.
The inspection reflected some of that coarseness. Fraser reported:
The Ofsted inspectors obviously came with a fixed agenda, they wanted to talk to the girls about sex. And those who told me about it were obviously made to feel extremely uncomfortable by the questions. Three girls complained to the Principal and he told them to explain that to the inspectors. They did–but that only made matters worse, and invited further interrogation. They were very upset by the whole process. ‘This felt like an attack,’ one of them said, ‘because under no circumstances did we want to discuss things that we were brought up our entire lives not to discuss.’
Talk about a #MeToo moment.
The attack on Yesodey Hatorah is part of a larger campaign against religious education in the U.K. Faithful Jews, Catholics, and Muslims are all targets. Former Education Secretary Justine Greening laid bare the agenda last year in an interview with Sky News. “We have allowed same-sex marriage,” she said. “That’s a massive step forward for the better. And for me, I think people do want to see our major faiths keep up with modern attitudes.” Senior government adviser Louise Casey expressed similar sentiments at the House of Commons: “It is not OK for Catholic schools to be . . . anti-gay marriage. I have a problem with the expression of religious conservatism because I think often it can be anti-equalities.”
If and when totalitarianism arrives in the West, it will carry the grammatically appalling banner of “equalities.”