Why Jewish families choose other faith schools

By Jessica Elgot, January 28, 2010
Miliband: choice

Miliband: choice

Many families are sending their children to Christian faith schools rather than local comprehensives.

They see them as offering better education, achieving better results, and having a stronger religious ethos than secular alternatives.

It was revealed this week that Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is Jewish but atheist, is to send his eldest child to a top Church of England primary.

He is not alone. Jewish parents often point to the fact that two-thirds of 329 primary schools with “perfect” SATs results last year, were Anglican, Catholic or Jewish schools.

Academic results were a key consideration for David and Alison Zucker, of Marton-cum-Grafton, near Leeds. They had three children at St Aidan’s Church of England school in Harrogate. Eldest Adam, 22, attended St Aidan’s, a secondary school, for the first year in which they accepted other faiths. Labelled “outstanding” by Ofsted, it is a popular with Jewish families.

David, a former member of Sinai Synagogue council in Leeds, said: “St Aidan’s has fantastic results and we were bowled over how polite the children were. So we offered to prove our commitment to religion to them by showing we were observant Jews, but actually we were already attending shul regularly, so we didn’t have to change our lifestyle.

“By teaching our children about Judaism at home, but then educating them within a dominant culture at school, we taught them how to respect both. You just don’t get that at a Jewish school.

“Our only worry was our own children not being accepted by their peers into a school which is massively oversubscribed with practising Christians. But I found children at a faith school are much more respectful of other faiths.”

St Aidan’s head, Dennis Richards OBE, said: “Our emphasis is on religious education, not preaching a doctrine. We want to send our pupils to thrive in the great cities of the land, to be religiously literate, sensitive and aware. To have children of other faiths in the school is an enormous privilege. They have taught us so much.”

Anna Betz from Wanstead, east London, sent two of her five children to Christian schools. Daughter Heidi, 17, boards at Wells Cathedral School, a specialist music school near Bath.

Anna said: “I wanted Heidi to attend King Solomon in Barkingside, but they weren’t happy with my conversion. That was upsetting. We had been living abroad and had been observant. I wanted her to feel part of a community at home, at a Jewish school. When that didn’t happen, she started auditioning for music schools.

“C of E schools understand how to co-operate with people who aren’t of their faith. I don’t think any of my children feel any less Jewish at all.”

Anne Wollenberg, 29, turned down the oppertunity to apply to Carmel College in favour of attending Oxford High School, and later her local CofE state school in Oxford, having attended a Cof E primary school. She said: “I didn’t think I’d have the same opportunities, as a woman, at Carmel.

“I’ve always been brought up knowing about Judaism and other religions, and it was strange that many children at my primary school didn’t. They thought it meant I was from another country. And I got into a huge argument with my teacher about the meaning of the word ‘shalom’, which she had totally wrong. I used to sing hymns secretly missing out the word ‘Jesus’ in assembly too.

“I don’t think anyone needs to worry about sending their kids to a Christian school.“

Last updated: 9:50am, January 29 2010