Pupils are changing — schools must change too

Jewish teachers need to think more about how to accommodate non-Jewish pupils, according to a senior educator.

Rabbi Jeremy Bruce, deputy head teacher of King Solomon High School in Redbridge predicted that Orthodox schools would be “increasingly likely to have non-Jewish students” in coming years.

King Solomon has accepted a sizeable number of students from other faiths over the past three years.

Speaking at the UJIA’s conference on research in Jewish education in London, he pointed to a rise in the number of Jewish schools along with a drop in the Jewish population in some areas.

The change in admissions policy, caused by the JFS court ruling of 2009, had also had a “major impact” on Jewish schools, he said.

Since entry was now based on a number of visits to synagogue during a year (rather than on whether the pupil’s mother was Jewish as previously), he said: “There is nothing to stop a non-Jewish family doing exactly that.”

The presence of non-Jewish pupils raised “complicated” issues of inclusiveness. For example, if the school uniform included kippot for boys, “do non-Jewish boys wear kippot,” he asked. “Can Muslim girls wear a hijab to school?”

But Rabbi Bruce said he was “surprised” how accommodating rabbinic leaders could be towards pupils from other faiths. When he asked one rabbi what he would say if a request were to come from Muslim pupils to hold regular prayer services, “I expected he would say no. He said: ‘Absolutely, we have to do it’.”

Non-Jewish students were often “incredibly enthusiastic” about taking Jewish studies, and sometimes “more enthusiastic” than their Jewish peers, he added.

But teachers felt that far more had been done about teaching non-Jewish students about Judaism than Jewish students learning about other faiths.

“All schools need to think about the issues,” Rabbi Bruce said.

Last updated: 4:45pm, May 31 2013