Family & Education

Chief Rabbi's LGBT guide has set a benchmark for Orthodox schools

JFS headteacher Rachel Fink assesses the impact of the Chief Rabbi's guide one year since its publication


The High Holy Days are always a time to reflect on the year just gone and what has changed in that time.  

A year ago, just before Rosh Hashanah, the Chief Rabbi published his ground-breaking guide for Orthodox Jewish schools addressing the wellbeing of LGBT+ pupils in our schools. So what impact has this guide had on a school like JFS — one with an Orthodox hashkafah (outlook) that serves two thousand students and their families, who come from a wide range of religious backgrounds?

One could argue that anyone working in education today with young people is acutely aware of the ever growing mental health issues and the often greater challenges for students who are discovering that their sexuality or gender identity may be different from the majority of their peers.  

Therefore anyone who understands good pastoral care should not have need of the guide at all. After all, every child deserves for school to be a place where they can feel secure and able to focus on their education and personal development.

However, the creation of the guide itself demonstrated courageous leadership. Previously, this particular topic was not spoken about publicly and Orthodox schools were not certain of the pathway they had to walk — delivering the highest standards of student welfare without ever compromising on adherence to halachah. The Chief Rabbi has now provided those of us in education with public support and a foundation on which to develop our practice.  

At JFS, amendments to all our policies explicitly referring to LGBT+, homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying set a tone and standard from the governing body and leadership team that impacts across the whole school.  It sends a clear message “from the top” about our expectations for nurturing every student. 

All our pastoral and Jewish staff have actively engaged in training from KeshetUK, in an authentically Orthodox and beneficial way. This has opened up the opportunities for constructive conversations between staff and recognising that actually we are all on the same page when it comes to student welfare.   

Our students have had the opportunity to openly discuss issues of gender and sexuality through our mental health awareness week programmes and collaborative assemblies between the school and KeshetUK. All of this has taken place in an atmosphere of respect and understanding, supporting students and their families and ensuring that JFS is a welcoming environment for everyone.

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