School backs Jew-hate GCSE exam question

A Jewish school has defended a controversial GCSE religious studies question on antisemitism that was last week attacked by Education Secretary Michael Gove and the Board of Deputies.

Mr Gove said that it was “bizarre” and “insensitive” for the AQA exam board to ask students to “explain, briefly, why some people are prejudiced against Jews.” Board chief executive Jon Benjamin called it “unacceptable”.

But teachers at Manchester’s King David High School, whose pupils sat the exam paper two weeks ago, have backed the AQA.

Steven Mintz, who oversees religious studies exams for the school, said: “I thought it was a reasonable question.”

Mr Mintz, a former examiner, is the author of a AQA-recommended textbook on GCSE Judaism, which contains a section on discrimination and prejudice.

He said: “Any exam can be misinterpreted. Only very occasionally have I seen racist, homophobic or insulting comments. There is a definite procedure where the examiners would filter out such a paper and send it back to the centre for investigation.”

Rabbi Benjamin Rickman, head of Jewish studies at the school, said that pupils had “had no problem with the question.

"The topic of prejudice is on the syllabus and we teach our students to understand why people are prejudiced generally and why the Jews in particular have been targeted throughout history. There was no suggestion that students were being asked to justify the reasons.”

But Jonathan Miller, headteacher of JFS — where pupils also sat the exam — said that the school was “currently in discussion” with AQA over the question.

Angela Gluck, a former chief examiner for GCSE religious studies for another board, said the question was “unconscionable. I don’t understand how it could have been permitted or how an exam board could create a question that risked eliciting antisemitic answers.”

Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA, said that he was “horrified that our question has caused offence as that absolutely was not our intention. I will be meeting representatives of the Jewish community over the coming days to ensure we are sensitive to their views and have a full understanding of the issues this question has raised.”

Last updated: 9:45am, May 31 2012