Government u-turn on primary school Hebrew lessons

By Marcus Dysch, July 8, 2013
Education Secretary Michael Gove (Photo: surreynews)

Education Secretary Michael Gove (Photo: surreynews)

The government has dropped controversial plans which schools argued would have stopped Hebrew being taught in primary schools.

It had previously announced a list of languages which could be taught as part of the national curriculum, but had omitted Hebrew, in favour of German, Italian, Spanish, French, Mandarin, Latin and classical Greek.

The Jewish community had strongly objected to the Department for Education plans.

But following protests from the National Association for Jewish Orthodox Schools, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council's Partnership for Jewish Schools and other groups, the list has now been scrapped.

A source said the reversal was "a victory for the community's quiet lobbying" on the issue.

Education Secretary Michael Gove had previously stood by the omission of Hebrew, but had admitted it would be "disappointing news" for British Jews.

The new plans for the teaching of key stage 2 foreign languages state: "Teaching may be of any modern or ancient foreign language and should focus on enabling pupils to make substantial progress in one language.

"The focus of study in modern languages will be on practical communication. If an ancient language is chosen the focus will be to provide a linguistic foundation for reading comprehension and an appreciation of classical civilisation.

"Pupils studying ancient languages may take part in simple oral exchanges, while discussion of what they read will be conducted in English. A linguistic foundation in ancient languages may support the study of modern languages at key stage 3."

In a letter to the Board of Deputies, Mr Gove wrote: "We have noted the concerns expressed by organisations such as the Board of Deputies that it could narrow the scope of language teaching in primary schools. I have decided, therefore, not to proceed with making the proposed list a statutory requirement."

Board president Vivian Wineman said: "We are delighted that Michael Gove has taken note of the representations we have made on behalf of the Jewish community - that the proposal of a narrow stipulation of compulsory languages would unduly damage our schools’ ability to teach Ivrit.

“The consequence of his decision is that it will be much easier to teach Ivrit within our schools.”

Mr Gove is due to speak at a Jewish school event in north west London on Monday evening.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced details of the new national curriculum at a primary school in Hendon, north west London, on Monday morning.

Last updated: 4:53pm, July 8 2013