In the United Kingdom, most ultra-Orthodox schools operate as public institutions and are therefore subjected to frequent scrutiny by the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED). Recently this has caused particular friction because these schools refuse to comply with requirements that they teach elementary-school students about homosexuality, transgenderism, and so forth. Ḥaredi schools have received frequent surprise inspections during which students were asked invasive questions about sex and “lifestyle choices,” to the consternation of teachers, parents, and administrators. Thus British Ḥaredim are understandably relieved that OFSTED ruled last month that their elementary schools would no longer be under pressure to teach about same-sex marriage. Eli Spitzer argues, however, that these schools now face a reckoning:
[OFSTED’s] move finally frees good ḥaredi primary schools from being punished for complying with the wishes of their parent bodies. Of course, the updated guidance leaves secondary-schools stuck in the same bind, but it is nevertheless a welcome step forward and long-overdue relief for school leaders.
The most important thing about this policy change, however, is not that it puts an end to the persecution of good primary schools. Even more crucially, it removes the fig leaf used by the bad ones, which, let us not forget, represent the majority of ḥaredi boys’ schools. For the last seven years, school leaders presiding over chaotic and ineffective Chol [secular-studies] departments have used the specter of a secularist campaign to sexualize children as a smokescreen for their failure to teach children how to read and write. Now that schools will be judged solely on criteria that are important to ordinary ḥaredi parents, they have no legitimate excuses left.
This has the potential to be a real turning point for our community. When I first became involved in secular education [at Orthodox schools], I found a culture of apathy, [but since then] the whole tone of the conversation about secular studies has been transformed. There are, of course, still extremists in the community who regard English literacy as intrinsically evil, but the consensus in most elementary schools is that secular studies are important, they are here to stay, and they need to be fixed.
Read more on Eli Spitzer: https://elispitzer.com/2020/09/23/the-way-forward/