Family & Education

Don’t let schools collapse under financial pressure

Voluntary contributions from parents remain vital for maintaining Jewish education


Modest and manageable.

This is how the latest Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) report describes the likely impact of the pandemic on Jewish charities.

Yet there is one area of the community where the effect is expected to be neither modest nor manageable: Jewish schools.

According to the report, the pandemic appears to have had the strongest impact on voluntary contributions to Jewish schools. Nearly one in five parents who were either paying these in full or in part in the last academic year are “expected to pay less, or not pay at all, or were unsure about what they would do” this year. Though stark, the numbers in the report are more optimistic than our experience of the reality on the ground.

Even before the pandemic, schools were struggling to cope. Lower levels of voluntary contributions, combined with declining government grants, meant schools were already under significant financial pressure. Despite their best efforts, governors and headteachers have had to make painful decisions resulting in fewer programmes, fewer teaching assistants, fewer supplies and fewer resources.

Since the pandemic, Jewish schools have faced huge educational challenges, for example how to balance in-school with online learning. Yet whether children are physically in school or not, much of the cost remains: premises, staff, security, 
additional cleaning costs and more.

At least one primary school now has an annual budget deficit of over £150,000 and they are not alone; other schools have said their receipts from voluntary contributions are now “less than 50 per cent required to run the school efficiently”. Reductions of at least 20 per cent over the last year are not uncommon. Voluntary contributions are critical to the operation of our schools.

All this is not to minimise the severe financial impact on families. We understand this is very real, and all schools will do everything possible to support families who need help. It is also important to stress that all pupils will continue to receive the same level of educational provision, irrespective of the level of voluntary contributions a family is able to make.

However, the reality is that if the level of voluntary contributions continues to fall, there will be an unavoidable and lasting impact on the overall educational provision our schools can offer. That is something we all desperately want to avoid.

Sometimes we forget how privileged we are in the UK. In America, Australia and elsewhere, a Jewish education costs many thousands of pounds. Yet in the UK, parents are simply asked to make a voluntary contribution at a comparatively low level.

So we hope that parents in a position to make voluntary contributions in full will do so, and those that can’t, to give the maximum they can. For Jewish schools to thrive, voluntary contributions must be seen as a priority, not an add-on to your charitable giving.

According to the JPR report, nearly 60 per cent of families with at least one school-aged child living at home send their children to a Jewish school. They do so because they want more than just a good education. They want to see the Jewish values they treasure instilled in the character of their children. Few things are more important.

As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, so eloquently wrote: “Education is not what we know. It is who we are. Jewish schools are our best investment in the Jewish future.”

Sue Nyman and Rachel Stafler are member of the PaJeS school awareness group

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