Chair's Message: February 2016

One of the most important dates in the JLC calendar is our meeting with the Prime Minister. In the days following, what was a fantastically positive dialogue with the leader of Her Majesty’s Government, the focus has been on the male dominated make-up of our delegation. As you all know I am not one to shy away from an issue, especially important one’s such as deficiency of women in the ranks of Jewish leadership. As a community we all need to continue to take steps to change the face of our community’s leadership – a process which began when I established the Commission for Women in Jewish Leadership in late 2011.

But when it comes to the Prime Ministers meeting, the delegation is shaped by the issues at hand. In advance of the meeting we approach the organisations who are best placed to represent specific issues. The leaders of those organisations, who also sit on our council, present the debate on the topic in which they specialise at the meeting with the Prime Minister. Of course, any organisation is welcome to send who they feel will best represent topic they are charged to address but it is not my role to pressure leaders to step aside.

As a whole we, both as a community and the JLC members, have to face up to this challenge and ensure that we are promoting the best people to the most important jobs. There are many talented women within our community who merit such roles, inevitably the work of the Commission for Women in Jewish leadership and other initiatives such as the programmes run by Lead will give rise to a more balanced face of Jewish leadership that will I am sure be reflected in our delegation in future years. This is not about tokenism, but promoting the talented people which will lead to change across the community.

The meeting itself was an example of the dialogue that continues to flourish between the Jewish Leadership Council and its members and government. In what has become a fixture of the Prime Minister’s calendar, we exchanged ideas and tabled proposals on social care, combating antisemitism and extremism, our relationship with Israel, faith based education and other topics.

We also took the opportunity to discuss an issue that has gripped many of us over the last few months. The government’s decision to accept 20,000 refugees who have escaped the Syrian civil war is an important moral stand. At the meeting, World Jewish Relief presented to the Prime Minister a unique programme aimed at equipping refugees with the skills and tools to find work. It is hoped that the pilot programme will be followed by a full-scale initiative engaging with government and the private and voluntary sectors. To be able to sit with the Prime Minister and offer support for government projects is a great credit to our community and something that I am extremely proud of. There is a full article about the project later in the newsletter.

Another important issue raised at the meeting was education. Jewish schools have flourished in the UK and over the last twenty years we have seen an unprecedented expansion. This is coupled with success as many of our schools are rated within the top establishments nationwide.

In wider society there are significant issues surrounding education that this government is working very hard to address. This has led to Ofsted clamping down on faith schools for failing to meet British Values. However, we need to be clear that there are many schools that have recently been downgraded because of how ’British Values’ are interpreted. Many remain excellent schools. They teach a broad curriculum and produce fantastic, integrated British citizens.

Ofsted is currently taking a very literal approach to the legislation which details ‘British Values,’ but as a whole our schools comply with the legislation and should be respected as such. We will continue to work with the relevant authorities to ensure that there is a working relationship in place so that schools can have surety in the protection of their ethos, and strive to be recognised as outstanding.

It is important to understand that there are vast differences between these schools and unregistered establishments which have recently come under the spotlight. We are all aware that it is not reasonable for children to leave school without basic numeracy and literacy skills. There are schools within our community that have to meet these basic standards and we need to work with the relevant establishments to make sure the entire community complies.

We will continue to work with various groups within our community to ensure that the Jewish education sector continues to flourish. There are many challenges ahead but I am confident that through PaJeS, and the many other institutions of our community, we are well placed to face up to them in the coming months.

This was why I was further delighted to see the success of the Jewish School awards which took place recently. It was an inspiring night that showed the true quality of the teachers in Jewish Schools and long may this be an event in the yearly calendar. You can read more about the event further in the newsletter.