Analysis: Central issues the report glosses over
Running to more than 80 pages, The Future of Jewish Schools — the report of the Jewish Leadership Council commission — is perhaps more interesting for what it does not say.
If mainstream Jewish secondary schools in London are likely to face a struggle to fill their places within a few years, then one question is bound to be asked. Is there any point in opening the Jewish Community Secondary School (JCoSS), scheduled to take its first students in two years?
Abandoning JCoSS is not an option explored by the report — which is hardly a surprise, since the Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements would not contemplate it. Even if the demographic data suggests there is probably only room for five mainstream Jewish schools in the capital rather than the six including JCoSS, the non-Orthodox will still argue that at least one of them should be cross-communal.
In any case, plans for JCoSS appear too well-advanced for a rethink. A possible alternative — jettisoning JCoSS and turning JFS into the cross-communal school, for example — is simply not on the agenda. The Orthodox authorities would be loth to relinquish control of Britain’s largest Jewish school.
Hence, we are left with the report’s conclusion that more than one of the schools is likely to be enrolling some non-Jewish students early in the next decade — a “negative” scenario in the quoted central Orthodox view. It is a scenario that schools seem destined to fall into rather than actively embrace. Despite the cited example of King David High School in Liverpool, where fewer than a quarter of first-year pupils are Jewish, none of the London Jewish schools is looking to become a Jewish interfaith school. The JLC report stops short of recommending it.
Although the report’s main focus is the “mainstream” primary and secondary schools, it does touch on the expanding Charedi school network, whose pupil population is estimated to be doubling every 20 years.
The possibility is raised of more strictly Orthodox schools entering the state-aided sector — there are 87 independent strictly Orthodox schools — which would certainly relieve the financial burden from a part of the Jewish community disproportionately affected by poverty.
But the report stays well clear of one sensitive issue: that many Charedi boys leave school at 13 for yeshivah, receiving little formal secular education afterwards.
The government may be less inclined to turn a blind eye to this phenomenon in future, especially as the Charedi community grows.