Jewish and Muslim schools seek to build bridges

By Ecumenical News International
January 19, 2008

The Board of Deputies of British Jews has advertised for a Muslim schools adviser to develop links between Jewish, Muslim and other minority faith schools - writes Martin Revis.

The initiative by the representative body of British Jewry is a response to the legal requirement introduced in 2007 for all schools in England and Wales to promote community cohesion between racial and religious groups.

From September, Ofsted, the schools' regulator in England, will monitor progress made by State-maintained schools on educating children to live and work in a country of racial and religious diversity.

"We hope to match schools to improve local neighbourhoods," Alex Goldberg, the board’s community issues director, explained to Ecumenical News International.

He continued: "Existing links between Jewish and Muslim schools tend to be superficial, such as events once a year, rather than a continuing relationship. We hope to bring in educational programme providers covering such areas as sport, leadership, the environment and business ethics."

The adviser is believed to be the first of another religion to advise schools of a single faith and will assist in assessing the best programmes for specific schools.

The next phase of the initiative will concentrate on links between Jewish schools and those for Roman Catholics and other faiths. Faith-based schools have had different guidelines for what they could and could not teach about other religions, and the aim was to find an appropriate way in which they could engage with one another.

Leaders of all major State-maintained faith schools pledged in 2007 to work together to build a cohesive society when a government minister endorsed their contributions to the education system.

Subsequently a grant of £3 million for the expansion of the school-linking network, which runs a website for potential partners and provides training material, was announced.

Twinning projects are run in Church of England schools. A spokespersons said that dioceses advise on specific initiatives such as that at Blackburn Cathedral in the north of England, which is used as a centre for joint educational work.

According to government figures, about a third of schools in England, most of which are Anglican and Roman Catholic, have a religious character. In the State-maintained sector there are 37 Jewish and seven Muslim schools.

About 2.7 percent of Britain's 61 million people are Muslims, and Jews are believed to number about 285,000.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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