School keeps ethos in a changing market

By Jessica Elgot, November 10, 2011
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Happy among friends: Pupils from varied religious and cultural backgrounds have been successfully integrated at Ilford Jewish Primary, which has improved its Ofsted rating

Happy among friends: Pupils from varied religious and cultural backgrounds have been successfully integrated at Ilford Jewish Primary, which has improved its Ofsted rating

The number of languages spoken by Ilford Jewish Primary pupils runs comfortably into double figures.

Dialects from Africa and the Indian subcontinent can be heard in the classrooms and festivals such as Ramadan and Diwali are observed at home by the non-Jewish children who now account for one-third of the school's 400 student population. However, all pupils learn Hebrew and participate in celebrations of Israel's birthday.

IJPS has had to adapt to a changing intake resulting from the dwindling Jewish community in the Redbridge area. But staff and governors have risen to the challenge, reflected in an upgrade from "satisfactory" to "good" in the latest Ofsted report.

Headteacher Roz Levin has held the post for 13 years but been involved as a parent and governor for much longer. She believes that Jewish parents should see the school's diversity as an asset - and that the IJPS scenario is one some north London Jewish schools will face in the future.

"It will be an issue," she predicted, "but probably not in the same numbers that we have had to address.

"There is a huge demand for primary school places [in Redbridge]. So the local authority asked us to take some other children in 2009. And last year we took a significant number." Others have joined IJPS in the higher years.

When Jewish parents expressed concern, "I told them the school will absolutely not change. I always say to new families that they have to understand the school is a Jewish school and they have to be supportive, or this is not the right place for their child."

There have been no changes to the curriculum and 90 per cent of staff are Jews. "We've kept our ethos and we've strengthened it," Jewish studies' head Deborah Harris reported.

Mrs Levin acknowledged that dealing with children who did not speak English as a first language presented "a new challenge" and IJPS had engaged three foreign language assistants. "We have had some Tamil children who were born in Germany. We used Yiddish to speak to them because we didn't have a German speaker.

"Some of the children have been living with grandparents and came over here aged seven, having never been to school. The child isn't used to the school environment and they can't understand a word we are saying."

Angela Winner has taught Hebrew at IJPS for 14 years. She finds that non-Jewish pupils can progress faster as "they are more accustomed to picking up languages".

Although there is no alternative to Jewish studies, non-Jews are encouraged to contribute from their own cultures. Only one family has asked for their child to be withdrawn from classes about Judaism or Israel.

"Last year we were talking about Jews in Egypt and the plagues," Mrs Harris recalled. "We talked about carrying water and a little girl from Nigeria said her mummy had taught her how to do that. So we looked up pictures of children carrying water. They listen and they want to share."

Partly through a change from two-form to one-and-a-half-form entry, the projections are for a full Jewish intake in the next two years, after which IJPS will move to purpose-built premises on the nearby King Solomon High campus.

Last updated: 12:37pm, November 10 2011