More than 100 Israeli children taken into Jewish schools in the UK

A report has found that the children have had to adjust to ‘alien’ educational practices


Helping young Israelis: a half-term camp arranged at Alma Primary School

More than 100 Israeli children were taken into Jewish schools in the UK in the aftermath of the Hamas pogrom of October 7, according to a report examining how the community responded.

While the number had dropped from 103 to 92 by late November and some families returned home after, new arrivals were still coming in.

The “temporary” Israelis at one school actually increased from six at the start of the crisis to 18 some weeks later.

Most had family or friends here, in some cases families relocated for work but there were some displaced from their homes in southern Israel and some were Russians who had left for Israel after the outbreak of the invasion of Ukraine.

While community organisations did their best to make the newcomers feel welcome, they missed home. “None really want to be here,” one interviewee said.

Although most children spoke some English, many had poor reading skills in the language, the report, authored by Helena Miller, senior research fellow at the London School of Jewish Studies, said.

But it added, “None of our schools has capacity within their current resources to cope effectively with the extra demand”.

Generally Jewish schools had “inadequate” teaching “English as an additional language” resources to deal with an “additional influx” of children.

Some teenagers were able to access remote learning in Israel, in one school the Ivrit-speaking children had a half-hour gathering in the morning and in another instance the Jewish Volunteering Network was able to provide four Hebrew speakers to help.

The Israelis had to adjust to “alien” practices such as not calling teachers by their first name or having the teacher’s mobile number.

Schools appeared to be “very quiet and strict” compared to home..

Some children were “very unsettled” in class and many were “anxious and can’t bear loud noises”. Some were upset by Guy Fawkes Night and Diwali fireworks.

One child kept asking her teacher, “Where is the safe room?”

PaJeS, the Jewish schools’ network, launched initiatives to help with mental health and wellbeing, while the newly formed Critical Incident Support for Jewish Schools produced a guide for schools on how to welcome their new pupils.

Reflecting on the experience so far, Dr Miller said the Jewish community showed it was able “to come together to respond at speed” - but the lack of ability in Hebrew in schools “has limited engagement with these visiting families”.

She added, “We might hope this episode has shown a compelling reason for learning modern Hebrew in school.”

Meanwhile, the head of a private sixth form college said he would welcome Israelis teenagers who wished to study in the UK to apply for its scholarship scheme.

Allan Cairns, who is headteacher of Ealing Independent College in London, said he would “absolutely welcome students to apply for the college from Israel - I think that they would find it a good fit in terms of academic rigour within a nurturing environment.”

Four years ago the college launched an annual competition, where “the successful participant can win a fully funded place or a half funded place if they come second. We also have a fund which is allocated for students with potential who could only attend with financial support.”

One previous scholarship winner is a Russian Jewish girl who came here following the invasion of Ukraine and began her A-level course last September.

Applications for the scholarship competition close on Friday.

Mr Cairns studied in Israel at Yad Vashem with the Holocaust Educational Trust in 2016 and described it as “a humbling and valuable experience”.

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