Family & Education

Impact of Jewish education less than parents expect

Parents who favour Jewish schools more concerned their children marry in than those who send them to a general school


In the year 2000, the BBC launched the series, Child of Our Time, presented by Lord Winston, whose aim was to follow a group of children born in the year of the new millennium and chart their development over time. The latest instalment, looking at them in their mid-teens, was shown recently.

Coincidentally, a large group of children born in Britain that year are the subject of another, very different study: one tracking the progress of their Jewish lives.

Initiated by the UJIA six years ago and funded by the Pears Foundation, nothing has been attempted like this in British Jewry before. It began when the guinea pigs entered secondary school.

The sample comes from seven Jewish schools — JFS, Hasmonean, Immanuel, King Solomon, JCoSS, Yavneh and King David Manchester — and a smaller cohort from non-Jewish schools.

“We are going to continue to follow them through university and beyond,” explains Dr Helena Miller, UJIA director of research. “You can’t really see the impact of a person’s Jewish identity until they are making decisions for their own children.”

An early report, produced in 2014 when the children were in Year 9, found that the British identity of pupils at Jewish schools had grown stronger since they started at secondary school.

Now, the latest batch of research has emerged from the students’ GCSE year in 2016, based on a survey involving nearly 800 children and interviews with 110 families.

Until now, there has been “virtually no difference” between parents who send their children to a Jewish school and those to a general school, Dr Miller says. In both groups, their top priorities are to provide their children with a stepping stone to higher education; a sense of attachment to the Jewish people; and a foundation of Jewish knowledge and tradition — with academic excellence the highest consideration.

But now that children have reached 16, differences have become apparent in one particular area. Parents of children at non-Jewish schools are more interested in promoting friendships with non-Jewish children than those who opt for Jewish schools and less concerned if their children date only Jewish people.

“Parents of those in non-Jewish schools are having to grapple with issues of children going out on Friday night in a much stronger way than those who send their children to Jewish schools,” says Dr Miller, who has published the latest findings with education consultant Alex 

One family told the researchers: “We have now got a rule where one Friday night a month they can go out.”

Another reported their son “was really cross that he couldn’t play rugby on the first game of the season… it was Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah”.

Overall, the children’s Jewish lives have changed relatively little over the course of the five years from 11 to 16 unless there has been a “trauma or significant events in the family — a divorce, a death, economic change”.

Their Jewish experience has been punctuated by “moments of importance” such as starting school, bar or batmitzvah or an Israel tour.

But what has changed is parental expectation. When the children started school, parents anticipated there would be greater impact on a child’s observance than has proved to be the case. Five years down the line, parents have lowered their expectation.

Dr Miller finds no great surprise in this. The family is the primary crucible of Jewish life. “By and large, parents want their kids to be like them — whatever their Jewish lives are like, they want their kids to have similar Jewish lives.”

But where parents believe school has had a positive effect is in their child feeling part of a Jewish peer group, feeling pride in being Jewish and a sense of belonging to a community.

“Students learn about being Jewish from taking part and observing their families,” she says. “It is an experientially-rooted, not an intellectually-rooted, Judaism.”

Although the aim of the study is not to assess the extent of Jewish knowledge, a short quiz exposed some gaps. Only 30 per cent, for example, knew what the Green Line was in Israel. But Dr Miller cautioned, “We all think kids don’t know a lot about Israel but they also don’t know a lot about the UK so general knowledge is not great.”

Less than half, 47 per cent, could correctly identify from a list who was not a child of the Queen.

Given the brevity of the test, she said, not too much should be read into it.

While children in Jewish schools build up strong Jewish social networks, they remain conscious of being part of a multicultural society.

“Jewish schools are often accused of keeping young Jewish people in a bubble. We found very strongly that the young people in our survey are very rooted in being Jewish in Britain. They engage with and are interested in the wider world.”

Many are involved in charities and social action projects in the wider community, “not just Jewish causes” .

While it remains early days yet for the study, the latest slice of research has made two findings useful to educators. “One of the perceptions in the community is that Year 9 trips to Israel with their school are destroying Israel tours because they are going when they are 14 instead of 16,” she says.

In fact, nearly three-quarters of those who went on a Year-9 trip with their school were planning to go on a youth movement tour to Israel two years later.

Almost 70 per cent of the sample overall were planning to go on Israel tour at 16. The prime reason for not going to Israel among Jewish school pupils was cost; whereas those in non-Jewish schools said it was because friends weren’t going.

While 80 per cent of children planned to stay on at school for the sixth form, for those moving, often the reason was they wanted to study a subject not on offer at their current school, particularly if it was vocational. That suggests there is a need for a greater range of vocational courses in Jewish schools.

“Partnerships for Jewish Schools is aware of this and addressing the issue,” Dr Miller says.

And there is one finding that should please teachers. Despite some critical voices, the majority of children in every school felt positive about it.



Teenagers and parents think of their Jewishness in terms of “universal” values and practices, such as protecting the environment, having family meals or respecting people who are different.

That ranks higher than religious observance or connections with Israel.

Generally, teenagers are positive about Israel, particularly after going on the year-9 trip there with their school, according the UJIA/Pears research. But they appear broader-minded than parents, 51 per cent believing Jews should be free to criticise Israel compared with 46 per cent of adults.

Generally, their Jewish attitudes chime with those of their parents except in one question. Whereas 73 per cent of parents felt their future to be “bound up with that of the Jewish people”, only 39 per cent of children felt likewise That could be because children’s Jewish experience is more local.




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