Hebrew in UK Jewish schools given last-minute reprieve

British Jewry successfully fights part of the national curriculum overhaul which put in danger primary schools’ Hebrew programs

Hebrew Alphabet (Oxford University Press)
Hebrew Alphabet (Oxford University Press)

LONDON –- The British Jewish leadership has expressed relief after the government backtracked on a plan that would have made it difficult for Jewish schools to continue teaching Hebrew, Monday.

Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies, Anglo-Jewry’s representative organization, said he was “delighted” that the government took the community’s objections into account.

“The consequence of [the] decision is that it will be much easier to teach Ivrit within our schools,” he said.

In November 2012, the government launched a consultation on a suggestion to require primary schools to teach either French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Latin or Ancient Greek. Because Hebrew was not on the list, Jewish schools were concerned they would not have enough time to teach Ivrit properly as well, and that they could even be forced to drop it from the curriculum.

The department of education received 601 responses to the consultation, of whom a majority “were not in favour of the proposal for a set list of languages,” according to a February report. There were calls to include a range of languages in the list, including Japanese, Sanskrit, Arabic and Urdu, but by far the largest group – 226 respondents – specified “it was essential that Jewish schools had the option of choosing Hebrew as their foreign language.”

The Board of Deputies and the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools also made representations to the government.

On Monday, Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said that he was dropping the proposal.

“We have noted the concerns expressed by organizations such as the Board of Deputies that it could narrow the scope of language teaching in primary schools,” he wrote in a letter to Wineman. “I have decided, therefore, not to proceed with making the proposed list a statutory requirement.”

Primary schools are now obligated to teach a foreign language between the ages of seven and 14, but are free to choose which one. The announcement was made as part of a wide overhaul of the national curriculum, which governs the material taught in state schools.

Most Popular
read more: