JCoSS: 'It will do exactly what it says on the tin'

By Robyn Rosen, September 10, 2009
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Constructive thoughts: Jeremy Stowe-Lindner checks on the progress of building work at the Barnet site

Constructive thoughts: Jeremy Stowe-Lindner checks on the progress of building work at the Barnet site

True to his key promotional role for the Jewish Community Secondary School, JCoSS head Jeremy Stowe-Lindner happily adopts a famous advertising phrase to encapsulate his hopes for the £50 million project.

Speaking one year ahead of the opening of the cross-communal school in Westbrook Crescent, Barnet, Mr Stowe-Lindner, 35, opines that JCoSS will “do exactly what it says on the tin.

“What we’re trying to do is create an inclusive, outstanding school in a nurturing environment and we can build that from nothing.”

Eight years in the planning, JCoSS will offer places to children who identify themselves as Jewish, regardless of practice or affiliation. It aims to achieve an educational standard putting it among the top 10 per cent of schools in its first year, a challenge Mr Stowe-Lindner sees as “a golden opportunity”.

People have waited for a school not tied to any denomination

Wandering around the building site as the structural landscape starts to take shape, the head points out that construction work is ahead of schedule and highlights features including £1.5million state-of-the-art ICT facilities, a special resource provision for autistic children and Oyster card-style register points. “A new school is in itself an amazing opportunity. But we’re creating an ethos and way of learning and teaching that’s unique.”

The Hendon resident says his approach to the JCoSS role has been influenced by teaching experience such as the deputy headship at Swakeleys School for Girls in Hillingdon and being assistant head at Copthall School in Mill Hill. “I can use all the things I’ve learnt and pick what’s best rather than coming into a school with an existing ethos and infrastructure.”

Even the best run schools have their problems and his view is that “successful headteachers see crises as the norm. If you’re panicked by problems, school is not the place for you.”

He left Swakeleys — recognised as one of London’s most improved schools — in May, since when he has been advising on how best to turn the aspirations for JCoSS into reality. And little escapes his attention. For example, he has “spent three days looking at electrical points. It sounds horrendous but their siting is fundamental to teaching and learning. It’s very exciting to be able to play around with things and see what works best.”

Nor has he been thrown by the June Court of Appeal ruling on Jewish school admissions which has caused JFS — and probably other schools — to henceforth offer places on the basis of points for synagogue attendance and other observance.

“Our admissions criteria are with the lawyers as they are at every Jewish school,” he says. “Our criteria has always looked to include, not exclude Jewish children. We are not threatened by what’s happened. What’s key to us is that our school reflects the entire community. The JFS ruling has no bearing on that.”

Interest in JCoSS has been expressed on behalf of more than 2,300 potential pupils and Mr Stowe-Lindner is aware that JCoSS has become a hot topic across the Jewish spectrum — “I find it difficult to visit the deli without people trying to talk to me about the school.”

He estimates that at least half the pupil population will be from families who “identify with the mainstream Orthodox communities” and is unperturbed by Orthodox criticism of the school for policies such as optional prayer and kippot.

“People say they have been waiting for this — a school not tied to any denomination.

“We will keep Shabbat and kashrut and therefore the full range of young Jews can come to the school. Nothing to do with our faith should be turned into something negative. If you make kippot compulsory, it is inevitable teenage rebellion will be about that. “

Mr Stowe-Lindner believes his own background fits perfectly with the goals of the project. A member of both the Hendon United and North Western Reform shuls, he explains that “half of my family are frum and the other half are Anglicised so I was brought up as a mix of the two. You can’t get more JCoSS than that.”

A cricket fan, there has been some Ashes banter at home this summer given that he is married to an Australian, Adele. The couple have a one-year-old son and another child is on the way.

Open days at the school are being held this Sunday and on October 1.

    Last updated: 1:59pm, September 10 2009