A letter has been circulating from Shraga Stern, a Stamford Hill Charedi man, urging Mayor Sadiq Khan to boycott the Board of Deputies “Board” dinner at which he will be speaking. Stern claims that the Board, which has delegates from Synagogues and other organisations across the Jewish community is “a group of fringe noise makers”, and he asserts that if Khan attends the dinner it will be a “slap in the face of the Charedi community.”
Several thoughts come to mind. Firstly, Stern’s main objection is that he feels that the Board have colluded with Ofsted. It’s not clear what he is referring to, but those who have been following the so called “Chinuch Crisis” – the Charedi community’s outrage at being asked to teach British values in all schools – will guess that he is objecting to the BOD’s compromise position. To be clear, even if Stern is writing this letter only on behalf of himself, this issue has galvanised the Charedi community into organising mass rallies in both Stamford Hill and North West London. It’s not clear whether the BOD’s proposed compromise was discussed with Ofsted rather than the Department for Education, but either way, it was clear that the Board’s intention was to help the Charedi schools rather than make things more difficult.
Secondly Stern feels that that Ofsted (or the UK government since Ofsted only have the role of monitoring schools against the government legislation) would like to destroy the Charedi community. This belief is likely linked to the inadequate ratings of many of the Stamford Hill schools, some of which are at risk of being shut down. Stern even claims to have a QC’s letter in his possession confirming this. It’s not clear what the letter relates to, but my guess is that it’s in connection with the view – now accepted by the DFE – that the Chassidic yeshivahs are not schools as they don’t provide education suitable for school age children. Accordingly they can’t be inspected by Ofsted. Ofsted are pushing for new legislation to fix this anomaly.
But let’s be clear about what’s going on. For over a thousand Chassidic boys in London, secular education starts at age 7, ends at age 11, and comprises a mere 4-5 hours a week or secular tuition by unqualified teachers, most of whom are not fluent in English.
It could be argued that the government could focus its efforts on ensuring that every single Charedi child, receives an adequate secular education, including the opportunity to study towards 3 A levels rather than focusing on citizenship-related concerns, including those relating to LGBT issues. The greatest crisis within Charedi communities is the lack of the opportunity to access further education outside the Charedi community. Only by remedying this default can we ensure that the next generation are not trapped in the existing cycle of benefit dependency.
Most remarkably, whilst Stern is sure that the BOD does not represent the whole Jewish community, he boldly asserts that he represents the whole Charedi community. This is a truly audacious statement, and it is quite remarkable that he cannot see the bizarre irony in making such a claim.