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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 February 2005, 11:18 GMT
School puts emphasis on faiths
By Melissa Jackson
BBC News education reporter

Group teaching
Immanuel College has a broad focus
The annual report from the English education watchdog, Ofsted, said independent faith schools provide well for pupils' moral and social development, but cultural development requires improvement.

"Muslim and Jewish schools are developing well the relationship between the religious and secular curriculum," it said.

Immanuel College in Bushey, Hertfordshire, is an independent, co-educational school with 550 pupils - all of whom follow Jewish studies to GCSE level, and many to A level.

Tolerance and understanding are at the heart of its ethos and, although Judaism is a central part of its identity, the school prides itself on widening its net to discuss and debate other religious attitudes to key issues.

In this way, it believes pupils leave with a full picture and not just a snapshot of the world.

That ethos is enshrined in head master Philip Skelker's belief that "without secular studies, the search for religious truth is incomplete".

Speaking about Immanuel's curriculum, he said: "It links secular study with Jewish knowledge, to prepare pupils in the fullest possible way for life in the complex world we now live in.

Immanuel College head teacher Philip Skelker
Our curriculum doesn't seek to exclude beliefs that we don't share
Philip Skelker, head master
"You can't teach history without introducing other faiths.

"Our curriculum doesn't seek to exclude beliefs that we don't share.

"We want our pupils to go out into society to contribute to it in a way which reflects the principles of Judaism," he said - with an emphasis on tackling social injustice and inaction.

His view is that a religious-based education is better than one without any spiritual guidance.

He said: "I think there is a tremendous danger of coming out of school being neutral and uninformed and uncertain about the basis of morality."

The school's teaching staff are about 60% Jewish and 40% non-Jewish.

Deputy head master John Waters said: "It is high, but not overwhelming.

"The school's attitude to choosing staff is appointing the best person for the job."

Wider issues

About 20% of the school timetable is devoted to Jewish studies, which encompasses Bible studies and Rabbinics - both of which include study of Jewish festivals, prayer and rituals and the moral lessons to be learnt from Biblical stories.

Head of Jewish studies Johnny Solomon said: "Education requires us to engage with a wider world."

To this end, students are given the opportunity to visit a Muslim school and the neighbouring convent.

Deputy head girl Sasha Pomerance
We don't learn about other faiths in enough depth to live in the real world
Sasha Pomerance, deputy head girl
And the whole school is taking part in a project to raise money and awareness for refugee children.

This will include inviting a group of refugee children to after school activities, alongside buddying, mentoring and outings.

Students will be encouraged to relate issues raised by the project to Jewish values.

"To realise that caring for our 'neighbour' or the 'stranger' are core ideas in Jewish teachings in an attempt to understand our commitment to those around us," said project co-ordinator Elaine Robinson.

GCSE and A-level religious studies syllabuses require pupils to look at other religions and Mr Solomon said staff often make reference to other religions during both religious studies and other subjects.

Cultural mix

"We might look at Christian attitudes to abortion, for example," he said.

"Being British is an important part of our pupils' identity, but we are also a Zionist school.

Education requires us to engage with a wider world
Johnny Solomon, head of Jewish studies
"We have a blend of cultures that take place here.

"We have numerous pupils from lots of different countries - Europe, Israel and the US - and we make sure there's a very strong sense of community."

Religious studies is compulsory to GCSE level and the subject areas covered would be the same as other faith schools, but with a Jewish emphasis.

"These themes cross all religious boundaries and ours have the unique quirks of being Jewish," said Mr Solomon.

Citizenship

The curriculum also encompasses citizenship issues under the banner of personal, social and health education (PSHE), which incorporates health, alcohol, drugs, smoking, sex education, marriage, careers and personal development.

It is a broad-based timetable, but do the students feel confident the school has got the balance right to arm them with a set of multi-cultural values espoused by Ofsted chief David Bell to equip them for life in modern Britain?

Head girl Naomi Grant
Naomi Grant: "No room for isolation"
Sixth former and head boy, Daniel Guetta, said: "By studying our faith in more depth, we get used to studying faiths in general.

"We do learn about other faiths, but I think a good in depth study of Judaism helps us to integrate with everyone else."

Head girl, Naomi Grant, said: "I think schools have an obligation to teach their children to live in a multi-racial society.

"Here the emphasis is on making sure the foundations of your own faith are strong enough to be able to appreciate others.

"There's no point in isolating yourself and living in a bubble."

Deputy head boy Joseph Skelker said: "Our main focus in faith education is on Judaism but that's like learning English before learning other languages."

But deputy head girl Sasha Pomerance feels Mr Bell's views may be fair comment.

She said: "I feel the criticism is justified.

"We don't learn about other faiths in enough depth to live in the real world."




SEE ALSO:
Muslim schools citizenship warning
17 Jan 05 |  Education
Overhaul for religious teaching
28 Oct 04 |  Education
The growth of faith schools
09 Jun 04 |  Education


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