Jewish schools in Britain will increasingly have to accept non-Jewish pupils in order to fill their places, a new study predicts.
The first report of the Jewish Leadership Council’s Commission On Jewish Schools says that in London “it is likely that more than one secondary school will be enrolling non-Jewish children in the near future”.
The 11-strong team, drawn from across the religious spectrum, concludes that the falling population is likely to lead to empty desks despite the growing popularity of Jewish schools.
According to the 20,000-word report, around 60 per cent of Jewish school-age children now attend Jewish schools compared with just 25 per cent 30 years ago. Half come from the strictly Orthodox community, while 40 per cent of children from mainstream families go to a Jewish school.
“We may be reaching a ‘tipping point’ when Jewish schooling becomes the norm for Jewish parents,” it declares. “There are many more children in Jewish schools every day than the number of parents in synagogues every week.”
But the optimism about rising Jewish enrolment has been tempered by the forecast that the pool of primary-and secondary-school-age Jewish children will decline by between 15 and 20 per cent in the next decade.
The centrist Orthodox view is that “accepting non-Jewish pupils would have a negative impact” on a school. Some parents would withdraw their children, or not apply for places.
The report also points out that many Jewish parents prefer independent non-Jewish schools, with research indicating that “perhaps surprisingly, a significant proportion” hail from “observant families”. It adds: “There is little evidence that parents sending their children to independent schools would easily switch their preferences to Jewish schools.”
The report also covers funding, teacher training and the impact of government policies on faith schools.
Professor Leslie Wagner, commission head and Derby University Chancellor, saw the report as a road map for Jewish education: “I would hope that the issues facing Jewish education will be much clearer now.”
In particular, he warned that urgent action was needed to safeguard Jewish schooling in Redbridge, Essex. “The schools are so fundamental that if we don’t fix them, it will affect the whole community very seriously and there are a still a lot of Jews living there,” he said.
The report calls for research into funding Jewish Studies and security, noting that in some schools the percentage of parents paying voluntary contributions is “particularly low”.
In the wake of the report’s warning of an over-supply of places, the Orthodox educational philanthropist Benjamin Perl questioned the need for the cross-communal Jewish Community Secondary School, set to open in 2010.