The Executive Council of Australian Jewry responds to misleading claims involving the Vishnitz Jewish Girls School and marriage equality.
In the continuing debate concerning the legal recognition of same sex marriages, verbal abuse should be condemned and factual inaccuracies corrected.
One claim relating to the Jewish community is that the ultra-Orthodox Vishnitz Girls School in north London in the UK lost its accreditation as a school because it would not cease teaching its version of sexuality and marriage after same-sex marriages became legal in March 2014.
In point of fact the school found itself in difficulties with Ofsted (the UK school regulatory authority) well before March 2014 because it was said to have failed various other legal standards arising under earlier legislation. For example, the school was found to have failed to have policies in place that would require it to report incidents of abuse and neglect.
Provisions of the UK Equality Act 2010, under which sexual orientation became a protected characteristic, and which predates the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, explicitly provide that the school has the right to teach its own beliefs about sexuality and marriage in a way that does not disrespect LGBTQI people.
Aleph Melbourne has detailed this situation in our post Lyle Shelton exposed for falsely blaming marriage equality for the failings of a London Jewish school.
Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton is using a story about a Jewish private school in London to exemplify a so-called “consequence” of allowing same-sex couples the right to get married.
On Sky News (Sep 3 2017; 8:27) Lyle Shelton said:
The school in London, the Jewish school which doesn’t want to teach their children these radical concepts, lost those rights. They failed three Ofsted tests. That’s the authority that regulates schools there.
On ABC Radio National Drive (Sep 7 2017; 2:09) Lyle Shelton said:
In the UK the Jewish school was fine to teach their children what they believe the Jewish religion teaches about marriage. After same-sex marriage change, that school has failed 3 Ofsted tests – this is the government regulating authority – because it won’t teach this sort of material.
This story was reported on June 26 2017 by the Independent:
A private faith school in London has failed its third Ofsted inspection for refusing to teach its pupils about homosexuality.
Inspectors visiting Vishnitz Girls School in north London last month said the Orthodox school does not give pupils “a full understanding of fundamental British values”, The Telegraph reported.
Pupils were not taught about LGBT issues such as “sexual orientation”, which are in breach of equality laws.
The story continued:
Ofsted makes clear that schools are not expected to “promote” ideas about sexual orientation or gender reassignment, but they are expected to “encourage pupils’ respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the 2010 Equalities Act”.
Shelton incorrectly asserts that the school was not able to teach their version of sexuality and marriage after same-sex marriages became legal in March 2014. Provisions in the Equality Act 2010, under which sexual orientation became a protected characteristic, and which predates the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, in fact explicitly states that the school has this right.
The school can’t get away with ignoring the law of the land, as if it doesn’t exist. They failed to meet the standards because they refused to teach about sexuality. A review of the audit reports, available on the Ofsted website, shows that the issue of teaching sexuality is only one of numerous standards that the school failed to meet.
In fact, the school had also failed to put in place the correct procedures for the safety of children. That is, there was no system in place for reporting neglect or abuse of the students. This is something that should be of great concern to all, and certainly an urgent need to be addressed as religious schools struggle with child sexual abuse. Shelton makes no mention of these failures, nor does he mention any of the other many failures of the report.
With this in mind it is difficult to understand how the circumstances of this Jewish school in London are a direct or indirect consequence of changes to marriage laws.
These reports highlight the issues that the school was facing. More important than the fact that they aren’t covering their responsibilities regarding equality and gender education is that the school has failed to meet the criteria for providing a safe environment for the children. They fail to have policies in place that require the school to report incidents of abuse and neglect.
The safety of the children we would hope is paramount in any school, for it to fail in the basic understanding that they need protection should surely be the rally call, not whether or not they’re taught about sexuality.
The Equality Act was put into place in 2010 and schools in the UK received advice regarding the implications of the Act in the document called “Equality Act 2010: advice for schools”. That advice was published in 2013, and more importantly the advice notes:
As far as schools are concerned, for the most part, the effect of the current law is the same as it has been in the past – meaning that schools cannot unlawfully discriminate against pupils because of their sex, race, disability, religion or belief or sexual orientation.
This is important. It is clear that the laws already made it illegal for schools to discriminate on the basis of sexuality. To connect the Equality Act of 2010 with Marriage Equality coming about in 2014 is mischievous at best and disingenuous to say the least.
The advice goes on to make this very generous concession to religious schools in regard to their view on human sexuality:
Schools with a religious character, like all schools, have a responsibility for the welfare of the children in their care and to adhere to curriculum guidance. It is not the intention of the Equality Act to undermine their position as long as they continue to uphold their responsibilities in these areas. If their beliefs are explained in an appropriate way in an educational context that takes into account existing guidance on the delivery of Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) and Religious Education (RE), then schools should not be acting unlawfully.
It goes on to state:
However, if a school conveyed its belief in a way that involved haranguing, harassing or berating a particular pupil or group of pupils then this would be unacceptable in any circumstances and is likely to constitute unlawful discrimination.
In other words, the school is required to teach the full range of human sexuality, but on top of this it can also teach what its beliefs are regarding the moral position of its faith.
In summary, Lyle Shelton has deliberately twisted and distorted the facts in an attempt to mislead people to believe this Jewish school failed its three Ofsted tests as a direct consequence of allowing same-sex marriage. His tactic of misusing news stories to substantiate his own homophobic agenda demonstrates the lengths the Australian Christian Lobby will go to to make the grotesque claim that allowing same-sex couples to get married will lead to the destruction of society.
 http://lgbt.foundation/Your-rights/the-equality-act-2010 https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/ELS/138516