Illegal ultra-orthodox school that banned English now faces probe
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An investigation has been launched into claims that a school which does not allow students to learn English is still operating illegally despite being ordered to close.
Talmud Torah Tashbar, an ultra-orthodox Jewish school in Stamford Hill, has been operating unregistered for 40 years and was ordered to close by February 12.
However, neighbours said “there’s been no difference” and an investigation by the Evening Standard revealed that children with rucksacks continued to be dropped off and collected and a minibus had been seen outside.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “If Talmud Torah Tashbar is still found to be operating as a school, we will not hesitate to take action. We are investigating.”
Ofsted inspectors who visited the school said the curriculum, which is taught entirely in Hebrew, encouraged “cultural and ethnic insularity because it is so narrow and almost exclusively rooted in the study of the Torah”.
They found the school was not teaching English “as a matter of school ethos” and was not providing any secular education “as a matter of religious principle”.
Its documents state Tashbar had been running illegally since 1976 and inspectors found the school had a “highly unpleasant pervading smell”, broken windows, torn carpets, large holes in walls, no policies on health and safety and a blank admissions register.
It is a criminal offence to operate an unregistered school, with a maximum sentence of almost a year’s imprisonment, although no one has ever been prosecuted for the crime.
Despite the school being ordered to close, a 40-year-old woman who lives nearby told the Standard: “I didn’t know it had been told to close, kids are still going in and out at all times, there’s been no difference.”
A male neighbour said: “Last I heard it was a Jewish school and a community centre. There’s just as many boys round here as before, so I doubt it’s closed.”
A former pupil, who entered adulthood not speaking English, told the Standard: “What’s funny is, when I grew up, I didn’t have any other conception of education. I thought that childhood is meant to be a bitter, sad, torturous period in your life.”
Jay Harman, of the British Humanist Association, which has been campaigning on the issue, said: “The Government should ensure that any schools which are found to provide a woefully inadequate and insular education are closed and remain closed.
“Every year that these schools remain open, thousands of children continue to be subjected to indoctrination, and the denial of even the most basic learning beyond the study of scripture.”
The Department for Education spokeswoman added: “It is illegal to operate an unregistered school and we are being proactive in taking unprecedented and direct action against them across the board to protect children.
“We have announced an escalation of Ofsted investigations into unregistered schools, with additional inspectors dedicated to rooting them out, a new tougher approach to prosecuting them and a call to local authorities to help identify any settings of concern.
“Anyone who has evidence that an illegal school is operating should provide it to us or Ofsted immediately.” An Ofsted spokesman said: “While we cannot comment on individual schools, we do act on the intelligence we receive.”
Hackney council said it understood the children were being home-schooled and had been told the building was to be used as a community centre and called the Toireh Centre. However, it admitted it had not been able to track children at the school despite requesting their names and contact details.
Earlier this month, an advertisement — under a headline bearing the school’s name — in a local Hebrew-language newspaper congratulated the headmaster on the marriage of his daughter. Apparently published on behalf of the parents’ committee, teachers, management and students, it referred to forces trying to “silence” the head, who “puts in a lot of effort for the school”.
The company set up to handle the school’s funds, Talmud Torah Tashbar Ltd, was dissolved on January 26. A new body, Tashbar Toireh Centre, was registered at Companies House on February 18 as a charity set up for “broadcasting Jewish messages of an evangelical and teaching nature”.
A man who answered the phone at Tashbar said: “There is no one here with time to speak to a journalist.”