Jewish state school ordered not to select children based on details of parents’ sex life

Following an objection submitted by the Fair Admissions Campaign, a Jewish state school in north London has been told by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator that it must remove from its admission policy the requirement that parents adhere to a strict set of rules relating to their sex life. Hasmonean High School in Barnet had been asking prospective parents whether or not they followed the ‘laws of family purity’, which forbid a husband and wife from engaging in sexual relations during the period of her menstruation, and for seven days afterwards. The Fair Admissions Campaign, which calls for an end to religious selection in all schools, has condemned the practice and welcomes the adjudicator’s decision.

Assessing whether or not the requirement, which appears as part of the Questionnaire for Rabbis, represented a fair, clear and objective criterion, as is required by the School Admissions Code, the adjudicator stated that ‘some parents applying for places at the school may find it embarrassing or intrusive’. He went on to conclude that it would not be possible for a Rabbi to objectively assess observance of the law, and therefore ordered the school to remove the requirement from its admission arrangements.

Speaking to the FAC, a member of the local Jewish community commented, ‘As a prospective parent applying to the school, I was shocked to see that they thought it either appropriate or relevant to ask about adherence to these rules, not simply due to their extremely intimate nature, but also because they don’t affect anyone apart from husband and wife. That of course is not to mention the fact that it would be impossible for the Rabbi to verify it, even if he was minded to. I’m pleased the form will now have to change for future years.’

This is the second year in a row that Hasmonean has been referred to the Adjudicator, and last year it was found to be directly discriminating on the basis of race, and possibly gender, under the Equality Act 2010.

This most recent case is the latest in a long line of examples of religiously selective schools making unreasonable demands as part of their admission arrangements, including prioritising children on the basis of activities such as bell ringing and flower arranging and seeking a commitment from parents that there would be no TV or internet in the home. It also comes just a few weeks after the FAC, together with the British Humanist Association (BHA), published a report revealing that almost every religiously selective secondary school in England was breaching the School Admissions Code in a variety of ways. This included failing to give the correct priority to children in care, asking for parents’ countries of origin or if English was their second language and even discriminating on the basis of race and gender.

Commenting on the ruling, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Jonathan Romain, said ‘School should be about children and developing their education, not about parents and checking up on their religious observances. This case, along with numerous ones affecting church schools, highlights the pressing need to take faith criteria out of admissions procedures altogether. State school intakes should be open to all local children, irrespective of any religious practices that do or do not occur at home’.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Jay Harman on 020 7324 3078 or info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

Read the OSA’s full determination: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/466378/ADA2990_Hasmonean_High_School_Barnet_-_7_October_2015.pdf

Read the school’s admission documents: http://www.hasmonean.co.uk/information/admissions/

Read the FAC and BHA’s full report ‘An Unholy Mess: how virtually all religiously selective state schools in England are breaking the law’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess/

The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and LecturersBritish Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education AssociationLiberal Youth, the Local Schools NetworkRichmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.