`We don't deal with sexuality in any form'

14th November 2014 at 00:00
Rabbi will tell his pupils to skip `inappropriate' exam questions

A state-funded, Orthodox Jewish school has admitted that it will encourage students not to answer GCSE exam questions on "inappropriate" topics such as evolution, homosexuality and "street culture".

Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls' School, which last year attracted national attention for censoring GCSE science questions on evolution, will advise pupils to skip questions that contradict its strict ethos, principal Rabbi Avraham Pinter told TES.

The voluntary-aided, all-girls school in North London was one of three Jewish schools visited by Ofsted in a wave of no-notice inspections in September. Its overall rating fell from outstanding to good.

Rabbi Pinter said Yesodey Hatorah would no longer redact questions after exams regulator Ofqual insisted that schools "should not be permitted to tamper with question papers prior to a student sitting an exam". However, he added: "We would say [to students], `This is the ethos of the school, you would be avoiding that question.' Not instruction but advice.

"The school has an ethos. This is what the parents want. This is the education they want for our children. We would not do anything to undermine parents' choice. There are some areas students would have minimal knowledge of.

"You're expected to have a lot of knowledge of things like The X Factor.Facebook. It's trivia. Sometimes exam bodies aim for the lowest common denominator when this is not a way of life we would encourage.We don't deal with sexuality in any form."

An Ofqual spokesman said it would be for exam boards to decide whether the school's actions constituted "malpractice".

In guidance published earlier this year, after revelations that Yesodey Hatorah had blacked out questions on creationism in a GCSE paper, Ofqual said: "Denying learners access to all the questions on a paper prevents the candidate achieving their full potential and therefore disadvantages them."

But Rabbi Pinter said students were prepared to lose marks. "This is part of education," he said. "Sometimes you pay a price for what you believe in, sometimes there are consequences. You proudly give up these marks; that's how [students] feel."

Stephen Evans, campaigns manager for the National Secular Society, said this was an "intellectual betrayal" of the school's pupils. "Advising young people not to answer exam questions is clearly not in the students' best interests," he added.

Jonathan Rabson, executive director of the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools (Najos), said some of his members advised students not to answer certain questions.

"Our parents trust us to ensure that our pupils are protected from elements that they do not wish them to be exposed to," he added. "We have to tread very carefully: we do not want to do anything illegal and we want our pupils to have the opportunity for broad education and choice."

Rabbi Pinter said his school's no-notice inspection was a result of unspecified complaints made to Ofsted that were subsequently proven to be "completely unfounded". Two other Jewish schools were included in the wave of around 40 unannounced inspections carried out in September.

The overall grade of London's JFS, the largest Jewish school in Europe, fell from outstanding to requires improvement. This prompted complaints from Najos that its schools were being unfairly targeted, with inspectors asking students inappropriate questions about sex and creating a "climate of hostility".

But Rabbi Pinter voiced support for the no-notice approach. "There has been some criticism in other schools, but.[the inspectors] were very respectful, understood the school's ethos and we didn't have any issues."

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