Over 550 former students of the Jewish Free School (JFS) have signed an open letter demanding that the school implement a “decolonised national British curriculum.”
The petition, which was created on Monday by two former JFS students, Ella Davis Oliveck, who graduated in 2013, and Jacob Middleburg, who graduated in 2015.
The letter reads: “As we reflect upon our education with you, we feel we have been provided with a predominantly while education that has left many of us ignorant to the structural racism and injustices that Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) face in Britain and beyond.”
It asks that head teacher Rachel Fink and the JFS senior leadership team reform the school’s approach to the teaching of history, urging an “honest portrayal of the British Empire and the slave trade.”
The open letter also urges JFS to undertake a “decolonisation of literature” on its English curriculum, and to incorporate a broader slate of black British and postcolonial texts so as to equip students with the means to discuss “race and race relations in our society.”
The petition outlines three further reforms to JFS teaching, including the hosting of “workshops and talks” on race issues, a shake-up of Jewish Studies teaching to include the experiences and cultures of Ethiopian, Mizrahi, Sephardi and Yemenite Jews, and diversifying the voices in music, art and drama classes.
The letter argues that standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has led anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in May, is of particularly importance for Jewish schools.
“As a Jewish faith school,” the petition reads, “a fight against antisemitism involves tackling systemic racism wherever it materialises.”
“If we are to expect other groups to stand with us in a fight against anti-semitism then we must stand with them,” it concludes.
JFS, in a statement, said: "Over recent years we have redoubled our efforts to ensure that our curriculum covers may areas that may have been missing from the education received by the signatories of the open letter."
It continued: "JFS of 2020 is a very different place to that of the past and our focus on aspects of Black history, the civil rights movement and advancement of black rights is a core part of our renewed focus on interfaith dialogue and promoting positive engagement."
"Beyond relevant topics taught in the classroom students have the opportunity to engage with students and guests from other communities including prominent feminist, Muslim and black speakers including most recently Baroness Doreen Lawrence."
"We explore issues of faith, identity and sexuality alongside issues of racism and don’t shy away from difficult discussions, including challenges within the Jewish community."
"There is always room for further development particularly with monitoring the impact of what we are teaching," it said.
JFS also said that it "welcomed the activism of our Alumni" and were "proud that our students both current and former engage with important issues of the day."