As I move on from Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS) it seems an appropriate moment for reflection and to say a personal thank you to the JLC. At a time when other communal organisations were divesting themselves of their obligations to schools, the JLC invested in mapping the strategic picture of Jewish schooling. Pajes grew out of this as a natural progression from the initial review and the subsequent implementation group that helped ensure, in true JLC fashion, that this was not simply a paper exercise. It is, however, still a work in progress and there will be much for my successor to do, not least because Jewish schools sit within the wider contexts of Jewish demographics and, arguably, more important, public policy.
Ironically, there are probably more people now than ever before claiming to speak on behalf of Jewish schools. Despite this, monitoring and communicating policy effectively, particularly in an increasingly hostile environment towards faith schools, still requires the additional resource and co-ordination already identified as an issue in the JLC”s 2008 Report. The same applies to lobbying and to understanding data and demographics. This is particularly important given the dismantling of the old education system based around local authorities and the emergence of a new, schools based approach. Whether in teacher training or school improvement, the direction of travel has been firmly and clearly towards schools taking control. To do this effectively, schools need to work collaboratively and we are now seeing the beginnings of this approach among Jewish schools around teacher training. PaJeS has a key role to play in continuing to stimulate thinking about new structures and in providing the strategic glue for the various local groupings that may emerge.
In a shrinking community, we need to get real about economies of scale and the fact that our school leaders are perfectly able to talk about professional issues with colleagues from across the various parts of the community without any damage to the specific fabric of Jewish life their schools promote. I once had the pleasure of hearing the late Abba Eban speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Cambridge University Jewish Society, of which he had been a founder member. “It was at Cambridge”, he said, “that I acquired those qualities of critical thought, rational debate and courteous listening that have been such a hindrance to me in my political career”. It is my hope that PaJeS can continue to hold the space where those qualities are foremost and that, through the continuing support of the JLC, the next generation of young Jews may come to learn that politics and identity built on those very qualities is both possible and devoutly to be wished for.