JCoSS is building on a strong foundation
Jake Chweidan and Josh Samuels get some pointers on JCoSS
Parents and pupils had their first taste of the JCoSS experience at an induction day for the cross-communal school which opens in Barnet in September.
The initial intake of 150 hail from a diversity of Jewish backgrounds with Reform and Orthodox families particularly well represented. There are also pupils from Masorti, Sephardi, Liberal and secular households. Five applications for places were signed by Lubavitch rabbis and some of the children have Israeli parents. Three non-Jews will also be among the first recruits.
This eclectic mix is reflected in a Hebrew inscription carved in sandy Jerusalem stone on the wall of the JCoSS synagogue. Translating as "These and these are the words of the living God", it comes from a Biblical tale of two warring Jewish scholars, told by an angel that both their interpretations of Jewish law are valid. It is a story which highlights the JCoSS ethos of acceptance for all strands of the Jewish community.
Looking around the new building Josh Samuels, 10, said excitedly: "It's a million times better than my other school. There are only four Jewish kids in my whole school. I haven't really experienced antisemitism, but I know they won't have any here."
Another pupil, 11-year-old Jake Chweidan, said he would feel more comfortable in a Jewish environment. "I like that it's a Jewish school, everyone has something in common right away."
With construction staff still working towards completion, a tour of the premises requires the donning of hard hats, emblazoned with JCoSS logos, and yellow reflective jackets. Suitably attired, Ella Dinner, 11, enjoyed her sneak preview of "a really cool school. It's brand new and I think that makes it more exciting to learn."
Joining the tour was deputy head Patrick Moriarty, a former head of sixth-form at Haberdashers' Aske's Girls' School.
"We have gone from being non-existent to being the second most popular Jewish school in the country," he claimed. "And that's before we even had buildings.
"It's now a buyer's market - schools aren't choosing pupils, parents can choose the school. The schools all have such different personalities and have a different ethos. Parents can choose what is right for their child."
For Jake's father, Graham Chweidan, the induction day provided another chapter to his photographic project documenting the school's construction.
"My wife is a convert and I don't want my kid going somewhere I know the powers-that-be don't really want him, even if he could technically go to JFS now.
"I probably wouldn't have sent him to a Jewish school without JCoSS. It was an easy sell for them."
Josh's mother, Lara Samuels, is JCoSS admissions officer, becoming professionally involved after being attracted to the inclusive ethos as the parent of a potential pupil.
"I have an older daughter who is in year seven at our local state school. I hope she will come here for the sixth form."
Inside the building, dance and recording studios, sports halls, science laboratories and offices are taking shape. There is even an al fresco classroom on the roof terrace, looking out over trees.
The view is spoilt by the remnants of the East Barnet Upper School, an abestos-riddled 1960s-style building which will shortly be demolished to make way for JCoSS sports pitches, tree-lined pathways and grass verges.
An innovative inclusion for the longer term is an outside space exclusively for year seven pupils.
"In our experience, the year seven girls see older girls sitting around and preening, and they stop imaginative games, stop running around," Mr Moriarty explained. "If we let them play separately, they can be kids for one more year."
Such special touches are expensive, and JCoSS has had to meet a £3 million excess over government budget.
But staff reason that facilities are as important as outlook in bringing in pupils.