GREAT excitement surrounds the building of JCoSS, the UK’s first cross-community Jewish state secondary school. Read the full speeches from yesterday’s ground breaking ceremony, attended by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
Gerald Ronson, JCoSS chairman
“Welcome to the ground breaking ceremony to our brand new, state-of-the-art building.
“Our vision is now becoming a reality. The creation of the UK’s first Jewish, cross-communal, state-funded secondary school.
“After ten years in the planning, in just six months we will receive our first applications. Suddenly it all seems very real.
“As most of you know, I am quite used to seeing buildings rise from their plans and take shape. I have been actively involved in building many schools before, both in the UK and in Israel.
“But for me, JCoSS is special.
“I am excited because of what this building represents. Let me explain.
“Over the past 50 years the Jewish population in the UK has declined by 150,000. Many Jews have married out or simply lost interest.
“In my view, mainstream British Jewry won’t survive another 50 years with similar decline.
“We have to find ways to re-engage these lost and rapidly disappearing generations and re-connect them with their roots.
“Education is, in my view, not simply one way to do it. It is the only way.
“And JCoSS is crucial to achieving that goal. It is crucial because it will embrace the whole Jewish community regardless of affiliation or practice, welcoming all on an equal basis.
“It is crucial because, by providing an excellent education in outstanding facilities, it will help us reach out to the disillusioned of our community.
“And it is crucial because, by bringing our whole community together in a single building for a single purpose, it will remind us that there is far more that unites us than divides us.
“As chairman of the Community Security Trust, I see what happens when we forget that and become extreme in our views.
“As a middle-of-the-road person and as a traditional Jew, I am passionate about ensuring that other Jews across the full spectrum of our community have an equal opportunity to be educated in the best facilities by great teachers, while remaining within a Jewish ethos and value system.
“But it is not just JCoSS’s place within the Jewish community that makes it so important. We know, and the governor knows, that many parents favour faith education, and with good reason.
“Faith schools have an excellent record of achievement. But we also know some faith schools can be insular and promote racial segregation.
“Minister, I want to assure you that JCoSS will not be a faith school like that. Our vision is one which our students learn about and engage with the whole world around them.
“Alongside an innovative Jewish education for our students, we will be using a syllabus that ensures our students engage with the world beyond the school gates.
“We will expect our students to spend time at other local schools, including schools of other faiths. And, Mr Mayor, we want to play a full part in the Barnet family of schools.
“Our vision is quite simply this: to equip our students, whatever their particular abilities or outlook, with the skills and information to play a full part in the Jewish community and beyond. And to become self-confident ambassadors for Judaism.
“It is a unique nature of this school. That is the reason it has received the immense support that it has from minister Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and his department, which has supported the community’s vision from the very start.
“From Barnet Council, which offered us a home when we were wandering in the wilderness, from the Jewish community, from whom we have already received as of today over 2,000 registrations of interest and donations running into millions of pounds.
“And from our partner, Norwood, who paired special resource provision will make JCoSS fully inclusive.
“That we have come so far is testimony to the sheer dedication, persistence and commitment of a whole number of people. I could not let today pass without acknowledging the work of Robert Schrager, our first chair of governors, who sadly passed away earlier this year.
“I also want to thank his successor, Mike Grabiner, who took over the role at a difficult time. And our chair of trustees, Michael Phillips, who allowed himself to be hoodwinked into leading this project despite knowing that I wouldn’t give him an easy ride.
“Thanks, Michael, for always being there.
“Finally, I would like to acknowledge the support of Norwood and its backers. We have already come a very long way. Today our vision takes another step towards fulfilment.
“A £50m investment in Jewish continuity, a single and inclusive community cohesion; a cause of pride for the Barnet community and the Jewish community –this is our vision.
“Thank you all for helping us to make it real.”
Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
“It is a great honour to be here and to mark with you all this extremely important moment, the next step in the building of this school to be.
“I would like to start by saying to the mayor, to the councillors, to the governors, in particular to the headteacher designate, and also to my colleagues from the House of Commons who are here too, that this is a very important and significant day.
“The Chief Rabbi said that to defend a nation you need an army, but to defend a civilisation, you need schools. And in the week when this community is commemorating the Holocaust, and also on a day when we see very difficult scenes in Geneva at the United Nations, this is a time when we have to redouble our efforts to say that discrimination is wrong and we have to stand together to make sure we route out intolerance and prejudice.
“And that is what this school is going to be all about. I, in the last couple of years doing this job, have learnt a couple of very important things. First of all, the depth of this community’s commitment to education, which I know is deep and historic and is all about the defence of that civilisation and that belief in the community.
“And I have also learnt in the past year and a half about the tenacity of the chair of JCoSS, Gerald Ronson, who never ever gives up and always perseveres and always fights for the best outcomes possible.
“I have had more detailed meetings on this, its finances, its security, its buildings, its facilities, than any other school in the country, which is a testament to Gerald’s drive. As he said, I am a strong supporter of the role faith schools play in our education system.
“In many ways, faith schools were there before the state stepped up to the plate and decided it too should be funding education, especially for the most needy in our community.
“And I have always said that everyone has the opportunity to promote cohesive communities and that is true of faith schools too. And I know, as Gerald said, that that will be central to the thinking of this school.
“And I know too that that is something that is supported by the council here in Barnet, by Mike and also by Alison, so in a cross-party way there is support for the vision of this school, the first cross-community school of its type in the country. It is a very exciting development indeed.
“We also know, though, and I’ve seen this in the last year and a half, that there is only so much that can be achieved by having a great building and great facilities and a safe place. What actually goes on inside the school – that is the most important thing by far.
“The Hebrew word for a school is ‘Beit Seifer’, and that means a house of books, and I know this will be a house of books and a house of learning.
“But what will matter too is that the children are valued, that teachers are great and want to inspire learning every day, and in particular that every child is valued and encouraged and supported to succeed.
“And this will also be a 21st Century school open to the community, ensuring that every child can succeed.
“And the fact that with the Pears Foundation and Norwood, there will also be this specialism in helping and supporting children with autism, which is a very important part as well of the vision of this school.
“In the end, education is a moral pursuit. That’s what unites everyone involved in education, every school and every community, and that moral vision is two-fold.
“First of all, it is that every child has got potential to succeed. And second, that no barrier should ever be too great to overcome. Whether that’s the income of the child or their special educational needs, no barrier is too great if the community comes together to make that opportunity real for every child.
“That, I’m sure, is the moral purpose that will drive forward this school. I know it is what inspires the governors and everyone who supports this school.
“The future of this community, the future of our country, our children, is in the hands of the people who established this school. And you do so with our very full support and great praise.”
Mike Freer, leader of Barnet Council
“Mr Mayor, good morning, Secretary of State, friends. As home to the largest Jewish community in the UK, the council understands the importance that the Jewish community places on education.
“I believe the origin of the word Rabbi is teacher, which underlies that the most revered in our faith communities are in fact teachers. And, of course, in Barnet we do know how valuable a good education is.
“The opening of JCoSS adds to the wonderful family of schools we already have in Barnet. And on top of this we have the outstanding achievement of mixing an academic school with the special provision for children on the autistic spectrum.
“That is a truly special blessing for what will be a truly special school.
“In Barnet we value enormously our faith schools. We have a rich variety of faith school, which we value not only for their contribution to academic achievements, but also for the ethos of achievement and aspiration, and the respect for others that they engender.
“If in Barnet our schools are the jewel in the crown, then today we are pleased to add JCoSS to that array of fine schools.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the council is genuinely pleased to have supported JCoSS and the establishment of the school. We wish the school well, and we wish you all b'hatzlacha [good luck].”
Jeremy Stowe-Lindner, JCoSS headteacher
“We just celebrated the festival of Pesach, or Passover, and we said the words: Let all who are hungry come and eat.
“Let all who are hungry come and eat is an inclusive phrase for an outward-looking faith.
“What are we hungry for? We will have a school here with magnificent buildings, a first-class curriculum, outstanding extra-curricular opportunities, a proudly academic ethos and first-class educators.
“But this is what we expect in all our schools. As a community, we are hungry for more. All who are hungry, all who identify as Jews, are welcome. We are a Jewish school of the community and for the community, and this is what attracted me to JCoSS.
“Like Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors, our tent is open on all sides, not just making a statement of inclusivity and tolerance, but living and breathing it through our actions, our curriculum, and through you, our stake-holders.
“Let all who are hungry come and eat. We will reach out beyond our community to work in partnership with those of other faiths and those of none to shape the JCoSS experience.
“We stretch out our arms to all: as a truly inclusive school, we are unique in the Anglo-Jewish secondary school world to have the word ‘community’ in our name, for we are building here a true community and true family.
“Let me tell you about my own experiences of Jewish education in my family. My grandmother was a deeply religious woman. She did not have the privilege of attending a Jewish school, but she was diligent in keeping kosher, her enjoyment of Shabbat and her attendance at Shiurim, or religious classes.
“But what is interesting is she often read the prayer book upside-down. She couldn’t read Hebrew. My children, our children, have the opportunity to be something very different.
“They have the opportunity at JCoSS to develop as British citizens, as active members of their community, as well-qualified, numerate and literate.
“But they also have the opportunity to be part of a learning community where Jewish legacy and love for Israel is at its core, where the Jewish year and Jewish life-cycles combine with those around in the wider community to make us citizens: British and Jewish social activists who want to make a positive impact on the world around us.
“Where the young people who we have the privilege of educating make choices, informed choices, about the lives they wish to lead and the paths they wish to follow. They will all choose how often to hold their prayer books, but they will all hold it the right way up.
“So what might our new Year 7 experience in just over a year’s time when they walk through our gates? Firstly, they will expect an outstanding curriculum in a proudly academic environment. We have set ourselves the challenging target with a comprehensive intake of being in the top ten per cent of schools in terms of progress nationally.
“We will take no shortcuts on academic achievement.
“Second, spectacular learning environments – thank you, Gerald – both inside and outside the classroom. From traditional classrooms to recording and music studios, from top of the range art, dance, drama, science provision and so forth.
“Third, magnificent ICT facilities to extend learning into all of our spaces and bring parents and others into our community.
“Forth, the best, most senior, and no doubt expensive staff, we will take no gambles with the learning experience of our young.
“And fifth, they can expect to play a full part in both the Jewish community and the community beyond: learning together, celebrating together, laughing together and supporting each other together.
“The most gifted and talented among them can expect to be challenged in all that they do: they are the leaders of tomorrow. Autistic children, as members of Norwood and Pear’s Special Resource Provision, will have an outstanding provision in what will truly be an outstanding resource.
“My mission to JCoSS ensures that parents choosing us for their children will know that academically we are renowned as a centre of excellence, pastorally we are renowned for inclusion, and in everything we do, our Jewish, Zionist community values and practices will be celebrated.
“Let all who are hungry come and eat. Well, we are, and as we lay the foundation stone of this wonderful palace of learning, let us now eat.
“I thank you for your support today and I look forward to continuing these partnerships well into the future.”