The future of Jewish schooling in the United Kingdom:
Author(s): Oliver Valins, Barry Kosmin and Jacqueline Goldberg
Published: Tuesday 31 Dec 2002
Today Jewish schools are flourishing. They have never been as popular with parents or the British educational establishment. While recent decades have seen a decline in the British Jewish population and a decrease in its level of attachment to Judaism, during that same period the number of children in full-time Jewish day school education has rapidly increased. This growth in the demand for Jewish faith-based schooling means that there is now full-time provision for over 22,000 Jewish children in nursery, primary, secondary and special educational needs (SEN) schools. This report explores the reasons for this unexpected success, and highlights the future challenges facing this sector. It also records and analyses key performance indicators using some newly available data, and provides a detailed and nuanced assessment of Jewish day school education in the United Kingdom.
The upward trend in Jewish day school enrolment is an indication of an increasing desire on the part of parents to educate their children in Jewish environments, be they Progressive, central Orthodox or strictly Orthodox. In general, schools in the United Kingdom straddle both the public and the voluntary sectors of the economy. What is interesting about all faith-based education, including the Jewish sector, is that many members of the community being served perceive both the fee-paying independent schools (voluntary sector) and the voluntary-aided state schools (public sector) as being 'their schools'. In the state schools, the Judaic element is paid for by voluntary contributions from parents; the income stream that funds this part of the curriculum is therefore the only part that officially falls within the Jewish voluntary sector, aside from contributions towards the capital costs of running schools.
The Jewish day school movement is part of the larger context of faith-based schooling provision in Britain, including Catholic, Church of England and Muslim schools. There are currently 2,610 Catholic schools, only 6 per cent of which are independent, providing a service for 820,000 pupils. With nearly twice as many schools, a total of 4,774, the Church of England educates 904,000 pupils. More recently a Muslim school system has developed in Britain, and currently consists of 72 schools catering for 9,000 pupils, only 2 of which are state-sector voluntary-aided. This report is offered as a contribution to the wider UK discussion taking place in the political and educational arenas on the topic of faith-based education. It asks the crucial question of whether or not, from the perspective of both educators and parents, faith-based Jewish education in Britain is a success.
The establishment of the Jews' Free School (JFS) in 1732 was the beginning of Jewish day schooling in the United Kingdom. This has now evolved over several centuries into a complex matrix of educational provision that includes wide variations in school type, geographical location, religious affiliation and funding basis, as well as both state-sector voluntary-aided and independent, fee-paying schools. In looking at the historical sweep of Jewish education, the effects of changes in ideology and fashion are evident, as is the fluctuation of educational policy and its consequences. This helps us take a long-term perspective in which we can see the proportion of Jewish children attending full-time Jewish day school education changing over time.
This report does not deal with religious education per se. It is rather about education for an ethno-religious group. The term 'Jewish education' in this sense is a misnomer. While the education that takes place in Jewish schools certainly includes faith-based Judaic subjects--instruction in Jewish texts, Judaism, Hebrew--most of it involves the general subjects covered by the National Curriculum.
The Future of Jewish Schooling in the United Kingdom focuses explicitly on full-time day school education at primary and secondary levels. It examines the rise of Jewish schooling in the context of changes that have taken place in education in the United Kingdom over the years. Rather than the interlocking system of education that the UK state school system is perceived to be, the system of UK Jewish education is shown to be one of diverse niche markets. As such, it is more accurately conceptualized as a series of interconnected Jewish day school systems that do not overlap in terms of provision--primarily because practical and religious barriers limit parental choice and available options regarding their children's schooling.
In addition to an assessment of the current provision of general and Judaic subjects in Jewish schools, the report highlights key strategic issues for the future, bringing together in-depth interviews with education professionals and parents. Overall strategic themes are identified and discussed: the provision of places, human resources, financing, and communication and information. The strategic issues facing the strictly Orthodox sector, which has particular needs and concerns, are also discussed, as well as the provision for children with special educational needs, so placing these issues firmly on the communal agenda.
This study is the fourth piece of research to be published as part of JPR's project, Long-term Planning for British Jewry. This four-year policy research programme aims to influence the development of policies and priorities for Jewish charities and other voluntary organizations in the twenty-first century. The programme is made up of a number of projects that slot together to form a comprehensive picture of British Jewry's communal organizations and services. These projects build on one another, feeding into a strategic document that will assist the community in planning its future.
For social planning purposes it was necessary at the outset of the Long-term Planning project to map the parameters of the organized Jewish community. It emerged that the Jewish voluntary sector comprises nearly 2,000 financially independent organizations; thus, the income needed to maintain these organizations had to be substantial. The first piece of published research was commissioned in order to map systematically for the first time the income and expenditure of these organizations across all their funding streams. The report by Peter Halfpenny and Margaret Reid, The Financial Resources of the Jewish Voluntary Sector, estimated the income of the sector from all sources in 1997 at just over £500 million. This figure is several times the expected proportion of the UK national voluntary sector income.
For the purposes of the financial resources study, the education sector was taken to comprise all charitable and other non- profit-making organizations with an educational purpose, including, but not only, independent schools. State-maintained, voluntary-aided schools were beyond the remit of this study, with the exception of the income streams directly related to the Judaic content in the curricula of these schools. The financial resources report reinforced the central role that education, including day schools, plays in the Jewish voluntary sector, with an estimated expenditure of £95 million in the 1997-8 financial year. In a related report by Ernest Schlesinger, Grant-making Trusts in the Jewish Sector, which examines trusts with specifically Jewish remits, it emerged that, in the 1997-8 financial year, over £10.5 million was granted to educational organizations.
The existence of these 2,000 voluntary organizations requires that several thousand members of the Jewish community fill unpaid leadership posts on boards of trustees, take on the burdens of financial office and accept legal and moral responsibility for the running of each organization. JPR commissioned and published a recent report by Margaret Harris and Colin Rochester, Governance in the Jewish Voluntary Sector. The objective of this qualitative study was to explore the issues and challenges faced by those who currently serve on the boards of Jewish voluntary agencies in Britain. Chairs of boards of governors of schools were among those interviewed, giving another perspective on the running of such institutions within the Jewish community. Some key challenges for all boards were identified, including the pressure of change in terms of increasing professionalization, and the problems of recruiting volunteers and leaders. Five specific challenges emerged for the Jewish voluntary sector: the need for co-operation, the challenge of internal divisions, the need for a sense of collective responsibility, the changing demography of the Jewish population and the problem of resources. These same issues are also recurrent themes throughout the following report.
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