Faith schools’ admissions criteria found in breach of regulations

The admissions arrangements for two state-funded faith schools are unclear, unreasonable, and unobjective, the schools adjudicator has ruled.

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA), which oversees admission arrangements for state schools in England, partially upheld an objection raised against the admissions policies of Yesoiday Hatorah Multi Academy Trust in Manchester.

The Trust manages two schools, Yesoiday Hatorah Girls’ Academy and Yesoiday Hatorah Boys’ Academy. Both are state funded Jewish faith schools and describe themselves as catering to families who are “Charedi”, that is, those who conduct their lives “in accordance with strictly Orthodox Jewish Practice”. The schools share the same admissions policies.

In a ruling published last month, OSA found that several of the oversubscription criteria failed to meet the requirements of the Schools Admissions Code, which specifies that all criteria must be “reasonable, clear, objective, procedurally fair, and comply with all relevant legislation, including equalities legislation”.

Both schools were featured in the National Secular Society’s 2023 report on how faith based admissions at state schools enable coercive control in religious communities.

Examples of such behaviour include isolating individuals from wider society and relationships, and imposing strict codes on what clothing may be worn.

Coercive and controlling behaviour is often maintained by close monitoring and surveillance of members of the community.

Schools warn against pupils “developing into a bridge into the outside world”

Both Yesoiday Hatorah Boys and Girls Academies impose strict dress requirements via their admissions policies, with detailed rules on how “mothers and daughters” must “dress modestly”.

This includes rules that hair must be covered, skirts must be of a certain length below the knee, and no clothing “out of the norm” may be worn. Adherence to these dress codes is required at all times, including during families’ private lives.

The OSA said terms such as “eye-catching” and “refined” utilised by the Trust to set out what clothing may and may not be worn by families was not compliant with the code, due to being subjective and unclear. However, it did not consider the imposition of a particular dress code for women to constitute sex discrimination.

The OSA has frequently ruled that sex-based ‘modesty’ rules in admissions arrangements do not breach the Schools Admissions Code.

The admissions policies also warn against “fashions from the outside world”.

The schools’ policies effectively separate pupils from the world outside their community by prohibiting access to “television or unsupervised access to the internet or other unacceptable ‘entertainment'”. They also warn against children’s participation in sport “developing into a bridge into the outside world”. The OSA said the Trust’s requirement for a rabbi to confirm that applicant families live in compliance with these rules was neither reasonable or objective due to this being “essentially private behaviour”.

The OSA also found the Trust’s requirement that parents deny their children access to “unacceptable ‘entertainment'” or “unacceptable films” was unclear and “clearly” failed to be objective.

The OSA added that the Trust’s use of Hebrew script and vocabulary in its admissions policy documents was unlikely to be understood by most parents, and therefore not in compliance with the admissions code.

It also said the prioritisation of “Charedi” children was not compliant with the code, as schools may only prioritise children belonging to the same designated religious character as the school. Both schools are officially designated “Jewish” rather than “Charedi”.

NSS: ‘Admissions code’s requirement of ‘reasonable’ must be strengthened’

Jack Rivington, campaigns officer at the NSS, said: “Although we welcome the OSA’s decision to partially uphold the objection to these schools’ outrageous policies, the OSA’s inability to tackle other troubling aspects of faith school admissions codes needs to be urgently addressed.

“The imposition of patriarchal dress requirements on women should not be facilitated within our state education system. Neither should deliberately limiting pupils’ experiences of life and culture outside their community. The definition of what amounts to a ‘reasonable’ oversubscription criteria must be made more robust to properly uphold fundamental individual rights and principles.

“We have long highlighted how admissions policies allow faith schools to impose fundamentalist and coercive dogma – all at the public expense. The time is long overdue for such legal loopholes to be firmly closed.”

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