Education Secretary Michael Gove has defended the Government’s decision not to include Hebrew as one of the officially recognised languages for primary school teaching.
In a letter to Jonathan Rabson, executive director of the National Association for Jewish Orthodox Schools (Najos), Mr Gove said he realised that this would be “disappointing news”.
But he added: “I would like to assure you that I continue to support the work that you do, including the teaching of Hebrew as an integral part of the ethos of your schools.”
Despite strong protests from Najos, the Board of Deputies, Partnership for Jewish Schools and others, the Government remains committed to its plan for primary schools to have to teach one from a prescribed list of seven languages: German, Italian, Spanish, French, Mandarin, Latin or classical Greek.
While schools will be free to teach additional languages, some Jewish schools say that in a crowded time-table they only have room for Hebrew. Some Jewish schools have in recent years switched to Ivrit at the urging of Jewish leaders — although some manage a European language as well as Hebrew.
Mr Gove told Mr Rabson: “We believe that by prescribing a list of core languages, we will preserve a balance between giving schools a variety of teaching options on the one hand, and maintaining continuity between primary and secondary language teaching on the other.”
He added: “Whilst I recognise that teaching another language in addition will present some challenges for your schools, this will also be the case for other schools which currently teach languages not on the prescribed list and wish to continue to do so, or which do not currently teach foreign languages at all.”
Najos has also been active in opposing government plans to make evolution a compulsory part of primary school science lessons.
While the national curriculum is binding only on voluntary-aided religious schools, the Department for Education has also made it clear that the new free schools must teach evolution also.
A DfE spokesman said: “All free schools, including faith schools, have to offer a broad and balanced curriculum and as part of that must make provision to teach evolution — as set out in their funding agreement. In addition, like all state schools, free schools are not allowed to teach creationism as scientific fact.”
Rabbi Harvey Belovski, the principal of one new Orthodox free school, Rimon in Golders Green, has said he has no problem with evolution being taught “carefully”.
But schools to the right may regard evolutionary theory as incompatible with the story of Creation.
According to the Office of the Chief Rabbi, decisions on what to teach in primary schools should “always be made in conjunction with the teachers who are responsible for delivering it. When dealing with complex subjects like evolution in science lessons, the teaching should be done sensitively and appropriately for the relevant age group.”