How to find out if Jewish schools work

By Simon Rocker, September 15, 2011

Millions of pounds have been spent on opening new Jewish schools in the past decade and another three new primary schools took their first pupils this month.

But with this massive investment in Jewish education, the question remains: do Jewish schools actually work?

Their secular academic achievements are easily gleaned from the figures. As Schools Minister Nick Gibb pointed out last week at a Jewish Leadership Council reception, 83 per cent of pupils at Jewish schools achieve at least five GCSEs at grades A* to C - compared with a national average of 55 per cent.

But there is no data to show whether Jewish schools here help to strengthen pupils' identity, because for more than 25 years no research was done.

Now the biggest survey of its type is about to begin, to measure the impact of Jewish schools on their students and families. Funded by the Pears Foundation, it was initially limited to the new Jewish Community Secondary School, but has been extended to another five London schools.

The seven-year project, led by Dr Helena Miller, director of research at the UJIA, and the British-born Dr Alex Pomson of the Hebrew University, will track the effect of Jewish education on a generation of students over the course of their school life.

Using research to guide educational-policy making was originally advocated three years ago by a commission on Jewish schools set up by the JLC. Most of its recommendations have now been put into practice, according to a report published by the task force charged with implementing them.

The task force was chaired by the Orthodox philanthropist Leo Noé, who brought on board representatives from across the religious community, from Charedi to Progressive.

Mr Noé told last week's reception: "The one thing I am certain of is that Jewish schools are the key to and guarantee of the Jewish future."

Now the JLC, Board of Deputies and UJIA will establish a new strategic educational body to take responsibility for community-wide issues, such as teacher training or monitoring supply and demand for school places.

It will be chaired by Jonathan Goldstein, deputy chief executive of Gerald Ronson's Heron Group and chairman of Kerem School. He has also chaired one of the JLC's commission major projects: the planned £10 million redevelopment of the King Solomon campus in Redbridge.

Last updated: 1:29pm, September 15 2011