At least two of the community’s secondary schools have heeded the Chief Rabbi’s call to teach Islam in religious studies GCSE.
Last week, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said children should be taught about the Muslim faith as part of government-proposed changes to the curriculum.
When asked about the change, JFS headteacher, Jonathan Miller, said: “While we remain concerned that adequate time be given to the study of Judaism, we welcome the guidance of the Chief Rabbi in helping us to decide that Islam will be the second religion taught at GCSE.
“Our students will relish this addition to our curriculum and we welcome the opportunity to enhance our students’ understanding of their own religion alongside an increased understanding of others.”
Charles Dormer, the headteacher of Immanuel College also welcomed the move, adding that it was “not a controversial decision”.
Speaking to the Jewish News, he said: “The relevant Senior Leaders, Rabbis and teachers here have discussed the guidance.. and they are working as a team to implement that for September 2016.
Our parents, Governors and Rabbinic Advisor on the London Beit Din understand and respect the reasons for this development.
He continues: “Adding the perspectives of Islam to our learning will mean a small increase in the time we spend on RS in Years 10 and 11 so that our students do not have to learn any part of this expanded course in a rush, but can take time to consider and discuss the important issues raised fully.”
He added, “Immanuel was founded by a group of Jewish educationalists including Chief Rabbi Sacks, in the name of Chief Rabbi Jacobovits, and it is answerable to Chief Rabbi Mirvis on educational and halachic matters.”
However, Jonathan Rabson, Executive Director of NAJOS (National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools) said: “We continue to regard the introduction of the requirement of a second faith in the teaching of religious studies GCSE as an unwarranted intrusion into religious freedoms in our schools.
“This change will mean that our schools will no longer be able to study religious studies at GCSE level and instead will learn about our religion outside of the formal curriculum.”
The reforms, which come into effect from September, require pupils to be taught about a second faith other than their own and would amount to a 25 per cent reduction of the time currently allocated to Jewish Studies.
Jewish News approached other secondary schools in the community about their stance on the change.
A spokesman for Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: “Losing 25% of the time allotted for teaching Jewish Studies as part of the Religious Studies GCSE was a serious loss for Jewish education in our schools.
“The course was, and still is, an extremely valuable tool for teaching Judaism to our children.
“However this change has provided us with a valuable opportunity.
“Although the Chief Rabbi has not issued any formal guidance on this issue, since ultimately it is for the schools themselves to judge how best to tailor their curriculum, we have had a series of positive discussions with a number of our schools and made recommendations to them.
“It is more important than ever that our children have a better understanding of Islam and that we build strong relationships with British Muslims.
“As such, the Chief Rabbi has recommended that schools take this opportunity to teach students Islam, a faith which is widely discussed, but often poorly understood in public discourse.”