Thursday, June 18, 2015
Hundreds of strictly Orthodox boys in north London appear to be missing from the official education system despite attempts by the authorities to register the yeshivot where many are believed to be studying.
New figures issued by the Department for Education reveal the startling statistic that there are roughly seven times as many teenage girls as boys in Charedi schools in the borough of Hackney, home to the largest strictly Orthodox community in the country.
There are just 104 boys aged 14 to 16 in Charedi schools — compared with 721 girls in the same age bracket, according to figures from the 2015 School Census.
Whereas there are 275 girls aged 13 in Charedi schools in Hackney, the number of boys is only 49.
That leaves a difference of more than 800 — compared with the DfE estimates that surfaced three years ago of possibly as many as 1,000 so-called "missing boys".
The DfE also said, in a response to a Freedom of Information request from the JC, that it had registered no new yeshivot in the past two years and none were currently in the process of registering.
But a spokesman for the department emphasised this week that it was "a criminal offence to run an unregistered independent school — alongside the police we take action against any that do not comply".
He added: "We are working with Hackney Council to ensure that all children are safe and receive suitable education."
The DfE has a list of 23 institutions it suspects are unregistered yeshivot where boys receive little, if any, secular education. But the policy has so far been to try to encourage registration rather than take stronger enforcement action.
One former pupil of a Hackney Charedi school said that "all that is happening is passing the buck between the DfE and Hackney Council. Their response has been that they are engaging with the community, but it's been many years now and there's little progress".
He added that hundreds of children were "losing out. When others take GCSEs at 16, they are barely able to write or read English and do basic maths. That leaves them with little opportunity when it comes to employment and many Charedi families end up living in desperate poverty because of it".
According to one Charedi source, the community is divided over how to respond.
The JC has also learned that the department's view that yeshivot should be registered has come under legal challenge.
In a memo submitted a year ago on behalf of the Satmar Yeshivah, lawyer Daniel Greenberg argued that yeshivot provide specialised religious education which fell outside of the remit of the relevant education act.
He said that "only a small proportion of time" was spent in actual lessons, with the rest devoted to prayer, study and contemplation.
The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations declined to comment.
If yeshivot were registered, they would have to undergo Ofsted inspections as independent schools.
But one Charedi source said that the tougher inspection regime employed by Ofsted, which has resulted in highly critical reports on several strictly Orthodox schools over the past year, was discouraging those outside the system from registering.
Compared with Hackney, there is little difference within strictly Orthodox schools in Manchester, Salford and Bury, where there are 393 boys aged from 13 to 16 in registered establishments and 386 girls.
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