An investigation carried out by the British Humanist Association (BHA) has revealed that a number of unregistered strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish schools in north London – which the Government is aware are operating illegally – are nonetheless officially registered as charities. Working with former members of the Charedi community, all of whom were pupils at illegal schools themselves, the BHA cross-referenced a list of names of suspected unregistered schools, obtained through FOI from the Department for Education (DfE), with the Charity Commission’s database, finding that a significant proportion are not only on both lists, but are registered with charitable objects that make it clear they are providing education. The BHA, which has frequently raised concerns about unregistered religious schools in the past, has called on the DfE to shut these schools down immediately, and on the Charity Commission to investigate the registrations.
In total, eight illegal Charedi schools were identified during the investigation as being registered as charities. The education provided at these ‘yeshivas’ is essentially entirely scripture-based, and the incredibly limited teaching of any other subjects often leaves pupils unable to speak English and unprepared to exist in the outside world. Indeed, the education is explicitly designed to maintain segregation with the rest of society, and any teaching that does take place about other religions or cultures aims to encourage a negative opinion of those outside the immediate community.
The findings lead to a number of new concerns about these institutions, not least of which is how the yeshivas could be deemed by the Charity Commission to merit charitable status despite operating illegally and below these minimum standards. The BHA has also questioned how these schools have been allowed to continue operating for so long, despite being known to a variety of government bodies. Indeed, in almost all cases, the listed activities of the charities, which are written by the charity trustees themselves, explicitly state that they are providing education, variously describing their purpose as ‘the provision of Orthodox Jewish education’, ’to provide education facilities’, and for ‘the furtherance of authentic Jewish religious education’.
One of the eight schools is Talmud Torah Tashbar, which the BHA revealed earlier this year had been allowed to remain open for 40 years whilst teaching a ‘culturally and ethnically insular’ curriculum, despite repeated Ofsted inspections identifying these failings and deeming that Tashbar does not meet the minimum standards for private schools. It therefore comes as a fresh shock that the school had also been enjoying charitable status, but perhaps more alarmingly, it has also been reported that Tashbar continues to remain fully open despite the DfE announcing that it had ordered it to close following the BHA’s exposé.
The BHA has repeatedly met with the Department for Education to bring their attention to problems within the illegal schools serving the Jewish community, and has been working with former members of that community to highlight both the plight of the children trapped in these institutions, and the long-standing failure to resolve the issue.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘It is simply unacceptable that institutions that exclusively operate to indoctrinate, isolate, and control children are availing themselves of all the benefits that charitable status brings. There is nothing charitable about these places, and the inaction of successive Governments in allowing them to stay open for decades, never seen more clearly than in their face-saving, half-measure approach to closing down Tashbar, is a scandal.
‘We have written to both the Department for Education and the Charity Commission to demand that these schools’ charitable status is investigated, the schools are shut down, and the people responsible for running them are prosecuted. The children in these yeshivas are entitled both to a broad and balanced education and the opportunity to engage with the society that exists outside their closed communities, and the closure of these schools is an important first step in achieving that.’