The Missing?

By Eve Sacks

New data about the missing 1,500 Chassidic boys is available from the DFE. They aren’t missing in the normal sense of the word, though. What is missing is the boys’ education as required by Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, and the necessary legislation to get these boys into registered schools.

The locations of the yeshivas, where the missing boys can be found, are set out in the “Mosdos” or institution section of the Shomer Shabbos directory widely sold in Stamford Hill. Wander around Stamford Hill between 7am and 8am, and you’ll see the boys on their way there. As Etan Smallman has previously explained, the issue is that these yeshivas can’t be inspected by Ofsted or shut down by the DFE because they don’t count as schools; they teach no secular education whatsoever. Instead the boys study Gemara (Talmud) from dawn to dusk, and beyond. Many leave unable to speak English or to express themselves coherently on paper in any language at all. Should the authorities ever come knocking (which they rarely do) the parents will explain they are home schooling their sons; but due to the woeful inadequacy of the legislation in this area (which needs to be addressed) the authorities have to take the parent’s claims of home-schooling at face value.

Concerns have been raised about the rising number of children being home-schooled by Hackney council as well as Ofsted and the Children’s Commissioner:

“Some parents claim that they are home educating their children, when in reality they are sending them to unregistered and illegal schools (or “tuition centres”) where they receive a substandard education and welfare standards are dubious. Illegal schools operate under the radar and outside the statutory frameworks designed to keep children safe. The definition of them is hazy, allowing many ‘tuition centres’, madrassas and yeshivas to operate off grid. Since setting up a specialist taskforce in 2016, Ofsted has identified 439 schools which are possibly operating illegally.”

(Children’s Commissioner; Skipping School: Invisible Children 4 Feb 19 p14)

To put the scale of the issue into perspective, most of the chedorim (Chassidic boys’ primary schools) run until the end of the barmitzvah year (i.e. equivalent of year 8). The DFE data, referred to above, is the number of boys between the ages 11 to 15. This the “missing” 1,500 boys. They mostly belong to 2.5 age cohorts, year 9, year 10 and half of year 11. That’s around 500 boys per cohort. JFS has appropriately 150 boys per cohort and Hasmonean 100. Add another 90 for JCoSS and 75 for Yavneh. So 500 boys is roughly the same as the number of boys in one cohort at ALL the Jewish state secondary schools in London.

A whole generation of Jewish men being brought up without the skills for employment outside the community. The mainstream part of the community does not have a good record at publicly challenging the Chassidic community on this. In 2016, then President of the Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush was asked about this issue on Newsnight. He chose to defend the Chassidic parent’s rights to determine their children’s education, as well as reassuring viewers that these boys were well mannered and not extremists as they were unlikely to commit acts of violence. He also alleged that the number of charedi boys in the unregistered schools was small compared to the total number of charedi boys in registered schools. However, it seems unlikely that his assertion is correct given the numbers shown in the DFE data, and because there is only one charedi boys registered school in Hackney with around 20 boys per cohort. Even when the four charedi boys’ schools in NW London are added in, the total cohort between all 5 London registered charedi boys secondary schools is roughly 160 boys.

There need to be red lines on what the mainstream Jewish community will and will not defend in the media and to government agencies. In this context I think the ongoing discussions around LGBT or evolution are a red herring.  According to the prolific charedi tweeter “If You Tickle Us”, posters by a new charedi lobbying organisation called Matzav Hachinuch have been put up in shuls in Stamford Hill. The poster quotes an excerpt of Amanda Spielman’s recent speech at Stonewall, which includes the text:

“So it’s right that the values of tolerance and respect for these differences, are taught to children, just as explicitly as we teach them about arithmetic, or ancient Rome.”        (Amanda Spielman, speech at Stonewall, 5 July 19)

The issues highlighted by the posters are thus; firstly – look how stupid Ofsted are – they think we teach maths and history (Ancient Rome) – and further why (rhetorically) should we teach about the protected characteristics when we don’t even bother to give the boys secular education? This new organisation is not even embarrassed to admit that it is not just British values that mustn’t be taught, its maths and history as well.

The Charedi community, under the umbrella Chinuch UK, has been lobbying the charedi cause at the DFE, including against the requirement to teach about the Equality Act’s Protected Characteristics. Chinuch UK is headed by Dr David Landau, a consultant oncologist and the chair of governors of Menorah High School for Girls, a state funded school with outstanding results at GCSE and A levels. Landau presumably values the secular education he received himself and that is being given to the Menorah girls. But Chinuch UK is covering for those denying boys even a basic secular education. The systematic denial of a secular education (and consequentially an ability to obtain skilled employment) to an entire generation of boys to a is a human rights abuse, and it is time the wider Jewish community made it clear publicly to both the Chassidic leaders and to the UK government that such a position is not backed by Jewish law, and is not tenable.