The government’s planned exclusion of Hebrew from a list of officially recognised languages for primary schools could damage Jewish education, the Board of Deputies warned this week.
Education Minister Elizabeth Truss announced plans last month to make it compulsory, from September 2014, to teach a foreign language to children aged seven to 11. Schools would be required to offer at least one of only seven recognised languages, excluding Hebrew.
Many Jewish primary schools, which have to fit in Jewish studies alongside the national curriculum, currently offer Hebrew as their only foreign language. According to the Board, they would find it impossible to continue teaching it if they were compelled to offer another foreign language as well.
Board senior vice-president Laura Marks said the government proposals could be “extremely detrimental to our community’s identity, as language — including modern and classical Hebrew — is a vital ingredient to understanding our faith and culture”. She urged the government “to reject the idea of stipulating just a narrow range of languages”.
Four years ago, a Jewish Leadership Council report urged all Jewish schools to teach Hebrew and said that it was “disappointing” that some had preferred French as their foreign language.
The importance of classical Hebrew was recognised nearly 600 years ago in England when Henry VIII established Regius professorships in the subject at Oxford and Cambridge.
A few Jewish primary schools do manage to offer a second foreign language in addition to Hebrew. The Michael Sobell Sinai School in Kenton teaches French, Ivrit and even some Spanish.