Opinion was divided on the reality of the situation facing Jewish education this week, after several head-teachers and governors last week warned of a “silent crisis” facing Jewish primary schools.
Whilst admitting that there are “big and important questions” still to be answered, experts overseeing Jewish education have this week asked: “Why all this talk of crisis?”
Alistair Falk, director of Partnership for Jewish Education, reflected on the increased choice of primary school places, saying: “There may never have been a better time to be a Jewish parent in London.”
He added: “There are probably now sufficient primary places, but this is of little help if the school places are not in the areas where most young Jewish families live. The real challenge is how to serve the new Jewish populations, without leaving other Jewish schools increasingly empty of Jewish children.”
Others agreed with concerns raised last week, however, with Jewish educational bodies recognising the shortage of suitably-trained staff.
Jason Marantz, chief executive of London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS), said: “We are trying to respond to the shortage and are engaged in a big project to train more Jewish Studies teachers, including launching a new BA and MA Jewish Education.”
Others felt sympathy for the concerns being raised. Jenny Rodin, who retired as head-teacher of Hasmonean Primary School last year, said: “There are many very good senior educators in schools who are certainly put off becoming head-teacher because of the continual changes forced upon them, which can make or break you as head.”
She added: “At least two of the vacant headships are as a result of Governors forcing excellent head-teachers to resign. Who would then want to take up headship with the fear that the same thing could happen to them?”
Susy Stone, head-teacher at Akiva, said sometimes differences in the school’s ethos can restrict opportunities. “I know of senior teachers who wanted to fill the vacancy of deputy as a development opportunity but were frightened off by the suggestion that with Akiva on their CV they would find it difficult to secure a senior post in their own sector.”
On the shortage of head-teachers, Falk suggested sharing them, saying: “If schools really cannot find suitable head-teachers, why not have an executive head overseeing more than one school?”
Taking that model one step further, he said: “If parents want a more local primary school, then why would a successful existing one not consider either splitting its site, so that at least the youngest children don’t have to travel, or sponsoring a new free school or primary Academy?”
“Or perhaps community-sponsored transport to existing facilities is a cheaper and more cost effective option than building a new school? These are all big and important questions that will require careful deliberation and joined-up thinking.”