Jewish schools are a major community priority and recently there has been some discussion regarding the uptake of Jewish primary schools in London, as seen in last week’s JC.
Partnerships for Jewish Schools (Pajes) collates annual information from all Jewish primary schools. Our findings show there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of students at Jewish primary schools — which, given the increased number of schools, is expected.
Perhaps more surprising is that the figures are continuing to rise. Overall, numbers in north-west London and Hertfordshire have risen from 845 students now in year six to 1,105 that will be coming from reception this year — an increase of over 30 per cent.
This increase has been reflected in all sectors, Charedi, Orthodox, mainstream and cross-communal. At the same time, there has been a significant increase in provision. Since there are more schools to apply to, it would explain why some schools are seeing a drop in applications, especially if there is a fluctuation in the births for a particular year.
It is most interesting that school demand is increasing given that, according to JPR reports, the birth rate overall for the Jewish community appears to be dipping. This underlines the fact that a greater proportion of parents are opting for Jewish schools, and for good reason. The excellent standard of education, coupled with a strong ethical and moral code, make these schools an excellent option.
The location of the schools is often an additional factor, as is the increasing desire for parents to place their children in a Jewish environment due to a challenging political climate and negative attitudes towards Israel.
The data would suggest there are sufficient primary schools in each sector to meet current demand. In the longer term, however, the growth in the Charedi community will result in an anticipated increase in demand for Charedi schools.
At the same time, there may also be a levelling-off or even a dip in demand for mainstream schools. This raises the possibility of schools which currently service families from the mainstream Jewish community broadening their intake to address the need of the more Orthodox sector.
This then leads us to the current hot topic regarding secondary schools. The recent Institute for Jewish Policy Research-Pajes report has shown a significant rise in the number of children attending Jewish schools in north-west London, which is likely to increase in the next few years. Do we expand current schools or alternatively open a new school?
Both these proposals have merit. We are very fortunate to have outstanding and very popular schools; being able to expand them will enable us to broaden educational opportunities for students, while meeting the needs of a growing population in a cost-effective manner. However, should the projected numbers continue to increase, as our primary school data suggests, then it may not be possible to meet the needs of the community just by expanding schools.
An important aspect to consider is what our aspirations are for our community. At present 63 per cent of Jewish children in London attend Jewish schools, although when we remove the number of Charedi schools from these statistics, this number falls to 43 per cent. Were we to be able to raise this number by just a few percentage points, we would certainly need a new school.
This is not an exact science and it is impossible to predict the future. Ultimately, the overriding message that we can take from these numbers is the success of Jewish education in the UK, which, as a direct result of the tireless efforts of the governors, leaders and teachers of our schools is flourishing.
As a community, we need to cherish our schools and ensure their financial stability, enabling them to continue to deliver an outstanding education for all our children.
David Meyer is executive director of Pajes