Family & Education

Let’s talk schools: why we need a schools review

Can the Jewish education system be smarter and more effective? We’ll be looking to see


Purim celebrations at Sacks Morasha Jewish Primary in North Finchley, one of the schools under the religious authority of the Chief Rabbi

As the Chief Rabbi has put it, “One day “we will reflect back on this moment and view it as a most significant turning point in the history of Jewish education in the UK”.

It is a moment to ask what is a Jewish school: is it simply a school attended by Jewish children or a place which inspires children to be the best Jews they can be?

Last month, the Chief Rabbi announced the launch of a wide-ranging review into Jewish schools, noting that there was hardly a more important mission than to instil within our children an understanding and deep love of their Judaism.

He is the religious authority for more than 30 Jewish schools across the country, while the United Synagogue is the foundation body for 11.

Following the Covid pandemic and its impact on our community, the US and the Office of the Chief Rabbi held individual conversations with every school for which they were responsible. We found an appetite to take a holistic look at the Jewish education system and to consider how we can be smarter and more effective in delivering what we’re calling “Jewish life”.

We heard the desire to ensure that Jewish schools aren’t simply buildings where Jewish children go to learn, but transformational places where students leave not just knowing about Judaism but with a passion and commitment to live and breathe it. They should leave education with an appreciation of the centrality of Israel to Jewish identity, proficiency in Hebrew reading and writing, and the skills to continue their Jewish learning into adulthood.

Our hope is that with this review, which could be the most significant Jewish educational initiative in a generation, we can create the very best possible environment for inspiring a generation of proud young Jews, equipped to thrive in an increasingly challenging world.

We want to help schools undertake a deep dive into how our Jewish school system operates, what works and what doesn’t, and how we can improve the system for everyone’s benefit.

Many of the challenges schools face are widely known: pressures on budgeting, staffing and how to prioritise resources in an environment where costs are only rising and additional income is not forthcoming.

We know too that schools want to prioritise Jewish education to create the next generation of engaged Jews but doing this is not straightforward. We need to inspire more people to become Jewish studies teachers. We need to be able to remunerate them appropriately to make it a career choice for more people. We need to provide professional development opportunities, as we expect to find in any other profession.

Jewish schools are an undoubted success story of British Jewry with most children attending a Jewish primary and many choosing a Jewish secondary too. The review will ask whether we are using that time well and whether we are making an impact on their Jewish identity. We want to explore whether students leave knowing they are able to go on to further study or enter the workforce proud and confident of their religion and identity.

We and our partners, PaJeS and UnitEd, will be looking at the ecosystem around schools including local synagogues and youth movements — and the crucial partnership between home and school so that children can see what they’re learning at school validated at home.

There is much wisdom and educational expertise within Jewish communities abroad, which we will draw on as part of this project.

Together we can use this pivotal moment for Jewish education, to cultivate an environment in which Jewish schools are more than places of learning; but vibrant engines of Jewish life to empower the next generation to cherish their identity throughout their lives.

Tamar Berman is director of schools strategy at the United Synagogue and project manager for the Chief Rabbi’s Schools Review

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