Jewish schools make you feel more British


At a time when fears of religious extremism have led to a renewed emphasis on teaching British values in schools, here is an interesting piece of research.

Children at Jewish secondary schools have actually strengthened their sense of Britishness in their first two years at school.

It is a striking finding from the most extensive survey of Jewish schooling ever undertaken in this country.

Students expressed an "increased sense of comfort with their British identity" since starting at Jewish secondary school, according to an interim report.

Most also recognised "the importance of learning about the wider community around them, and specifically learning about other faiths".

The research aims to track the experience of pupils at six mainstream London Jewish secondaries and one in Manchester, along with that of their families, from their first year until they leave. It is being led by Dr Helena Miller, UJIA director of research, and supported by the Pears Foundation.

After their first two years at Jewish school, students remained "comfortable" with their Jewish identity and were supportive of Israel. But the report found "little evidence of any Jewish change" in the daily lives of many of their families.

"The increasing ease with which Jewish school students are able to express themselves and function within their British identity will reassure those who equate Jewish schooling with insularity," the report said. "It reflects a desire among students to play their full part in the world from within a Jewish context."

One sign of this was that nearly half of the sample were taking part in the Jewish Lads' and Girls' Brigade Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

The increased attachment to British identity was "surprising," the report said. "The respondents have spent the previous two years in Jewish institutions where it is often assumed they are cut off from British society and yet there has been consistent movement towards greater British identification among students in all of the schools."

More than two-thirds thought that British Jews should learn about other faiths, with only 13 per cent disputing the need.

Also interesting, the report commented, was that "a strong British identity is not developing at the expense of a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people and consistent support of Israel." (The research was carried out before the Israel-Gaza conflict in summer).

A larger number of students attended Jewish summer camp than they did two years before, the research found.

Israel offered "a sense of meaning" to students, while they believed it important to know about the Shoah.

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