Most people are happy to leave their school days behind them, or nostalgically reminisce about certain friends or teachers. Not so Juliette Lipshaw, who loved her time at school so much it inspired the course of the rest of her life. And now she is back where it all began, hoping to nurture and inspire the next generation.
Lipshaw, 44, is the new head teacher at Sinai Jewish Primary School in Kenton, north west London, Europe’s largest Jewish primary, with 670 pupils. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” she says, recalling lining up her teddies each night to tell them off and helping her father, a maths teacher, mark his pupils’ homework with a red pen.
Lipshaw joined the school, age seven, in 1981 when two schools, Solomon Wolfson and Yavneh, merged to become Sinai. Her father was a founder governor; she herself was on the board of governors before joining the staff and her sons, now 12 and 14, attended as pupils.
“Obviously we’ve modernised [since then] but what has stayed the same is the love and the nuture and the pride of the school; the love of Judaism and the love of Israel and excellence,” she says. Nonetheless some things have altered, necessitated by the changing world outside school.
“We’ve developed a culture of vigilance, both for safeguarding and security,” says Lipshaw. Her own parents would park on the street and let her walk into school herself. Now there is a gated entrance system and other security measures. However, this is not unique to Jewish schools, she says, noting “heightened security” in secular schools where she has taught.
Sinai is the first Jewish school where Lipshaw has worked — or even been into since she left Sinai at 11 for Henrietta Barnett. She obtained her degree at Manchester University and spent 18 years teaching in an infants’ school in Hillingdon and then in two primaries in Harrow, before moving to Sinai in 2014 as deputy head. Last year she took over as interim head and her post was made official this month.
She is “incredibly proud of the school and the work we’ve done”. The “we” refers to Sinai’s teaching staff. “They’re really driven, always excited and buzzing.” She attributes this in part to the fact she “identifies leaders early on in their careers” and helps them develop their skills.
Other changes she has made include reintroducing French, increasing the amount and variety of sport (“it’s so important that children have active lives”) and introducing a breakfast club and after-school club, to help working parents. A sensory room, a music room and a special educational needs room have been added and Sinai has become a “maths mastery” school.
“I’m all about academic excellence. I believe every child has the right to the best education,” she says. “Behaviour expectations are really high” and her pupils know she is “a stickler” for this.
The biggest challenge for Sinai — and any Jewish school, says Lipshaw — is to deliver high-quality Jewish education alongside high-quality secular education. Only 25 per cent of the curriculum is dedicated to Jewish studies but Lipshaw says: “I want the kids to have the best of everything”.