Among the several comments published in recent weeks in the JC concerning the "best" way to deliver education to children in the Anglo-Jewish community, only two or three letters have referred to the sizeable minority of students who have special educational needs.
We have also read that even the sophisticated Jewish community in New York has failed to include these special children within their own schools, and appears to keep faith-based education as the preserve of high achievers. The truth is that these children still remain largely invisible in the greater debate about ethics and communal responsibility in Jewish education.
Fortunately, here in Barnet, in London, something new and different is about to happen for some of these young people. It should be a cause for national recognition and communal celebration, yet not many people have noticed it and even fewer have lauded it. Nevertheless, it is surely the only way for Jewish education to progress and set an example for the future.
I am, of course, referring to JCoSS, the new cross-communal secondary school opening in September, and, in particular, its Pears Special Resource Provision (PSRP). Inspired and developed by Norwood, the PSRP will cater exclusively for students with autistic conditions and special educational needs. Specialist staff will work with each child to develop a personalised curriculum programme and the students will have access to all the necessary resources and expertise, within both the specially adapted and equipped PSRP building and the main school.
This specialist resource provision is an integral part of the whole school and its students will be supported as part of JCoSS's inclusive ethos. Here, inclusion means not only welcoming children from across the range of Jewish observance but also embracing children with different abilities, who will require a special kind of educational support to meet their needs.
When the 157 new students start their secondary school career this autumn at JCoSS, seven of them will be part of the PSRP and this number will grow each year until it reaches a full cohort of 50 children. How exciting that, together with their brothers and sisters, students with autistic conditions will be able to attend a mainstream Jewish school rather than a non-Jewish special school. For the first time, there is a choice for them, too.
Anglo-Jewish education has to become more inclusive. It must equip our students with the skills and knowledge necessary to cope within a pluralistic society in which every one of us will play a part.
We need instruction with vision and commitment to the creation of community cohesion with compassion and tolerance. A well-rounded education should provide knowledge that improves our understanding of the world, so that each of us takes our share of responsibility to support all fellow citizens within our community and beyond. In its wider sense, it involves learning about difference and also the value of making a difference.
Norwood has worked closely with JCoSS to develop this specialist resource provision. It is an innovative educational venture and should become the first of many more integrated educational facilities within the Jewish community.
This new school deserves great credit for openly reaching out to all children who want access to a Jewish education, including those who would previously have been segregated because of their special needs.