Ofsted is heading for a clash with a group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools that is planning to refuse to allow inspectors to speak to pupils about LGBT issues.
A statement from religious education body Chinuch UK last week, described as “in response to the Department for Education” (DfE), said its member schools should “not describe to pupils lifestyles forbidden by the Torah”. It is signed by nine rabbis.
It went on the say that if inspectors asked about these matters, school staff should “state clearly and respectfully that they do not cover these subjects”.
It told school staff to “ensure that inspectors do not speak to pupils about these matters at all”.
But an Ofsted source has told Tes that any school that fails to teach pupils about such "protected characteristics", as proscribed under the Equality Act 2010, would be in breach of the law and would therefore be rated "inadequate".
The source said talking to pupils was essential and that if a school prevents such conversations about LGBT+ issues they would have to assume they are not being properly taught.
The Chinuch statement did, however, call on the schools to “demonstrate that pupils are taught to act respectfully to all people regardless of difference”. The rabbis said they would issue further detailed advice to schools.
The DfE has said its guidance states that all pupils should receive teaching on LGBT+ relationships during their time at school.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Irrespective of the type of school they attend, it is important all children leave school with an understanding of the world they are growing up in, having learned how to live alongside and show respect for a diverse range of people.
“When we inspect schools, we assess how well they equip children to do this. Speaking to pupils is an important part of the inspection process, and it is unlikely inspectors will be able to conclude that schools are fulfilling their requirements if they cannot.”
Ofsted last year raised concerns about the Beis Ruchel D’Satmar independent Jewish girls’ school in Hackney, which it said refused to let inspectors speak to pupils about their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.
The DfE is working with Chinuch UK to support Orthodox Jewish schools in meeting standards and said guidance made it clear what would happen should these be breached.
Statutory guidance states that secondary pupils should receive teaching on LGBT+ relationships and primary schools were strongly encouraged to teach about families with same-sex parents.