Family & Education

Inspectors impressed with JCoSS mensches

The Jewish programme at the cross-communal school is praised for its diversity


JCoSS received an early Chanukah present this month — the award of outstanding status for its Jewish programme from the Board of Deputies-run inspection service, Pikuach.

It is now the fourth state-aided Jewish secondary school to be ranked outstanding for Jewish studies, achieving a grade better than the“good” of five years ago.

The cross-communal school gave Jewish education a “high and respected profile” and provided “fully for all learners”, inspectors said.

They were particularly impressed with its “culture of kindness” and the encouragement of children to be “a mensch”. There was “a real calmness and tranquillity” around the school.

Sara Levan, joint head of the Jewish Studies department who, as director of Jewish life, looks after informal education, said: “We are so pleased and proud to have been recognised in this way. We have a phenomenal team who represent our pluralist ethos through personal example and who infuse the school’s Jewish life with passion, creativity and consistently high standards every single day.”

Her co-head Debbie Juggler, director of Jewish learning, said “there was a tendency to think we offer a more dilute form of Judaism. This Pikuach inspection shows we don’t”.

The pair took over the running of the department this term after Elaine Robinson’s departure for a job in Singapore.

Since the Jewish curriculum of schools varies according to its pupil intake, Pikuach measures them against each school’s individual objectives rather than a general benchmark. 

Inspectors highlighted a “flexible approach to the curriculum”, which, for example, offered a “beit midrash” option for more in-depth textual study.

Having students from different backgrounds and with different levels of knowledge could be challenging, Mrs Juggler said, but it showed “the values of pluralism to be part of a living, functioning Judaism. We can work together, share the same space and have robust conversations about religious practice, Israel, belief in God.”

A subject like Purim might be taught in the context of the theme of “leadership in exile” so that, while less knowledgeable students might learn the details of the biblical story for the first time, those more familiar with it would be exploring it “from a different angle”.

Just under two thirds of students  – 65 per cent — achieved A* or A in GCSE religious studies. And there are 35 students in year 12 and 13 pursuing the subject at A-level.
Inspectors noted that, in one RS A-level class, students considered a range of Jewish approaches to homosexuality from Reconstructionist to Orthodox.

The year-seven informal education programme covers such topics as the relationship with Israel, or engagement with festivals through contemporary Jewish music or graffiti art.

The once-a-week informal sixth-form sessions range from Bible and Chasidim to Jewish history or art.

A new leadership academy option has been introduced for sixth-formers, while in the lower school the Asdan course offers a Jewish-Studies route for less academic students.

Staff also took on board student views, Mrs Juggler said. “For example, they asked us for more lessons on world religions.”

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