Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 12:12 UK

Building of 50m school under way

By John McManus
BBC News

Hasidic Jews
No children of Ultra-orthodox Jews have yet applied to attend the school

The construction of the UK's most expensive state school, for children from the Jewish population, is being marked with a ground-breaking ceremony.

The Schools Secretary for England, Ed Balls was attending as building work continued on the £50m Jewish Community Secondary School, in north London.

It is the first school for children from families not regarded as Jewish by the Ultra-Orthodox authorities.

Due to open next year it will take 1,300 pupils including 50 with autism.

It will offer what it describes as an outward-looking curriculum, including teaching about Jewish religion and culture.

But pupils will be selected without reference to the way in which they or their parents choose to practise their beliefs.

Almost all the 38 other Jewish state schools operate under the auspices of the Chief Rabbi's office, which requires pupils to have a Jewish mother, or one who has converted to Judaism according to strict rules.

The backers of the new school say the requirement is unduly technical, and excludes what they call "thinking converts" who have entered the religion via a different route.

Autism Unit

Newly-built schools usually cost under £30m, but the Jewish Community Secondary School will also host a special unit for the 50 autistic children.

It will be the first time a Jewish faith school has incorporated such a specialist unit on this scale.

The facilities will include a hydrotherapy pool, a sensory room and individual therapy rooms for speech, music, sensory integration, physiotherapy, audio-visual and soft play.

In addition, all pupils will be able to use dance studios and all-weather sports pitches, and in time the school says it hopes to become a specialist technology college.

Ed Balls
Ed Balls will attend the ceremony marking the start of construction work

The autism unit and state-of-the-art facilities have pushed up the cost of the new building, with the extra funding coming from within the Jewish community, including the disability charity Norwood.

The taxpayer has contributed £36.2m.

A spokesperson for the new school told BBC News that although the usual requirements for being considered truly Jewish would not be necessary to attend the school, children would have to have at least one Jewish parent, or a recognised connection with Judaism.

This could include association with any mainstream Jewish synagogue, attending a Jewish youth club, or even just playing football in a Jewish league.

2000 children have already registered an interest in joining the school when it opens in 2010, more than half of who are members of orthodox synagogues.

However, no Ultra-orthodox families have approached the school yet.



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