The Department of Education in Britain has been accused of disappearing evidence that shows more than 1,000 students reported missing at school actually were attending at an illegal ultra-orthodox Jewish establishment.
The reports allege the students, some as young as 13 years old, have been attending heders — the informal Haredi Orthodox Jewish schools — which operate without a permit and teach only holy scriptures in Yiddish.
The investigation claims students graduate these illegal schools with little knowledge of the English language and few skills that can equip them for life after school.
The schools have been allowed to operate in the London borough of Hackney for over 40 years without any government intervention, despite their being non-registered. Additionally, the institutions have also been accused of physical and sexual abuse of children, supposedly inside the schools’ walls.
The Hackney Learning Trust, a private firm working for the municipal council of the borough, informed a municipal official in 2010 of the schools. Initially they were able to keep track of the missing children to keep them safe from exploitation. But the firm destroyed all evidence of the attendance of students in the ultra-Orthodox schools at the request of Jewish educational institutions, which threatened legal action against the trust.
Some of the unregistered schools are listed as charities, which also give them a tax advantage.
Former students have described their struggle with English and mathematics in particular.
An ex-student of an illegal school, now in his 20s, told BBC, “I’m starting to study for my GCSEs. I’m maybe like an 8-year-old, 9-year-old. That’s my level of education.”
“My childhood was stolen from me. I think that sometimes the government misleadingly believes that by intervening they will be seen as intimidating minority communities, but they are doing exactly the opposite,” said a student who claimed he was abused and beaten at a school in Stamford Hill. “They are being discriminatory against Jewish children and anti-Semitic by not intervening. They're saying that children like me don't have the same rights as any other child because we come from the Orthodox Jewish community.”
British educational authorities previously voiced similar concerns about Christian and Muslim groups. A few years ago, Birmingham performed a crackdown in 21 Muslim schools accused of breeding radicalism. The report proved false and many governors and the Muslim Council of Britain dubbed the operation as a “witch hunt.”