Rabbi Danny Rich
16 September 2016
The Jewish Chronicle
Leadership is sometimes about the difficulty between principle and practice, the balance between maintaining one’s pure values and the pragmatism of working with others to achieve the possible.
The question of faith schools for the Liberal Jew may be such a scenario. Liberal Jews find themselves divided on the desirability of faith schools per se but, even were they to agree that they are not a good thing, it is highly unlikely that, in a time when one in three primary and one in five secondary schools have a faith foundation, any political party will be elected on a pledge of abolishing them.
Therefore we do not involve ourselves in the futile debate, “Are Faith Schools Good or Bad for the Cohesion of British Society?” but instead considers the nature of present and future faith schools.
There is no doubt that we would support the government’s recently announced intention that pupils educated in faith schools should have more opportunities to be integrated with their peers from other faith and non-faith backgrounds.
Under pressure from the Catholic authorities, the government also proposed that the rule for the establishment of new faith schools should change.
Currently the founders of a new free faith school have to offer half of the places on a basis other than the child’s faith.
While in practice a number of new Jewish schools have informally discouraged such applications from non-Jewish children (for example by making kippot and tzitzit part of school uniforms), a number have been forced to become more diverse and inclusive.
Other Jewish schools, including the new South London Mosaic Jewish Primary School and the Jewish Communal Secondary School (JCoSS), have explicitly welcomed pupils of different faiths or none, and a visit to the King David Primary Jewish School in either Birmingham or Liverpool attests to the successful integration of Muslim and other pupils into a Jewish school.
The removal of the 50 per cent cap will, I suspect, encourage applications from Jewish (and Christian and Muslim) schools which wish to use taxpayer’s money to offer pupils an exclusive and narrow experience fit for the last century if not before, rather than an inclusive integrated education for the 21st century.
Whether a supporter or opponent of faith schools in principle, the removal of the 50 per cent cap could lead to a raft of new schools which will bring little of value to their pupils but, worse, increase the growing ghettoisation of Britain.
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