"Education for the Modern World"
United Synagogue Agency for Jewish Education
Tuesday 19 October 2004
Given by David Miliband MP, Minister of State at the Department for Education and Skills
Introductory remarks by David Rose, Chair of Governors of the USAJE.
Minister, your officials, guests and those interested in education, welcome to this the fifth celebrity lecture held under the auspices of the USAJE.
Education, education, education was, as we all know one of those political remarks that struck an electoral chord 7 years ago. No doubt, it was penned by some high flier in the Labour election team, whilst we in the Jewish community would claim that we adopted this objective first.
There can be no doubt that improvement in education and particularly school standards, has been a continuing priority in these past few years. Having, for the first time, a Prime Minister with children in state schooling has clearly been a key factor in keeping that priority on track. It will be interesting as we seemingly move into the run up to the next General Election whether education will again be high up as a factor in voter choice.
In this room this evening we have teachers and other educators; governors and lay leaders; and parents from across the Jewish community. I am sure that we all recognise the importance of education in contemporary Jewish life. To some this may have been an emphasis on education as a way of securing the route out of poverty and a vital part of our process of our integration in British society. This is a theme that resonates with many involved in looking at how ethnic communities are served by the educational systems and methods in the UK.
To many of us, education is also vital to the future of Jewish life and the Agency plays a part in both processes.
What is the USAJE?
The USAJE is the educational arm of the United Synagogue the largest religious body in Anglo-Jewry with a particularly key role in the communities of Greater London and the adjoining areas.
We are not ourselves providers but in, our training, enabling, leadership and support roles, see ourselves as Partners in Developing Jewish Education. Our services are widely available across the Jewish community not just to the United Synagogue's own local synagogues' part time education centres and the 7 schools for which it is the foundation body but also to communities in other cities and indeed across Europe, where our senior staff today met with colleagues from Paris.
One of the Government's clear education successes has been to make teaching a desired occupation. Recent years have seen significant increases in teachers' pay and investment in teacher training. For those of us in London, issues of recruitment and retention are still critical but for the Jewish community these measures have been particularly relevant in helping us to increase the number and improve the quality of the teachers available to our schools.
Through the Jewish Teacher Training Partnership, bringing together ourselves with universities and schools with funding from the Teacher Training Agency and the UJIA we are now a significant body in training teachers under a host of DfES acronyms. The JTTP has secured outstanding OFSTEDs, and is attracting a very high quality of new entrants to teaching.
The Agency has, with financial support from the DfES, played a role in Governor training. This recognises the responsibilities that have been devolved from LEAs to schools and the Government's efforts to attract people willing to be school governors.
The United Synagogue is the foundation body for 2 secondary schools, and 5 primaries. The Agency plays a role in bringing the Schools together both at teacher and governor level.
We have a growing interest in strategic Jewish day school development to meet our community's needs - with over 60% of the children of United Synagogue members at Jewish schools. There is already one active proposal for a new school and in other places, parents and communities concerned at a potential lack of places are exploring the options for school development, including in LEAs, which do not currently have any Jewish schools. The 2001 Census fugues make very interesting reading on both the size and the location of the Jewish community and will I am sure provide much support for the case for more school places.
This expansion of state support for Jewish and other faith schooling has been a particular feature of recent years. Some LEAs have shared our vision of the benefits of such schools and worked with us to deliver them, but others have been less positive. Some seem to be concerned that any form of faith schools are a barrier to assimilation or integration and contrary to their vision of a melting pot, which to me sounds anything but an understanding of equality and diversity objectives. However, how can that approach be justified when Church schools are long established and only newer communities are denied full access to religious state schooling of their choice?
Minister, I would hope that your Government recognises that faith schools can play a vital role in strengthening local communities and in delivering social cohesion and other regeneration objectives. We are clear that faith education can produce young people, confident in their heritage, and that this is an integral part of the solution to achieving racial integration and not something to be afraid of. We will be particularly interested as the General Election approaches to see how far our community's educational aspirations are addressed.
But there are other educational issues that keenly interest us.
Recent years have seen us engage in debate and consultation with the DfES and its agencies on topics such as admissions policy; the six-term year; and most recently changes to the national curriculum in relation to religious education. Here we see the proposals as being well intentioned in trying to fill a void in religious knowledge in mainstream schooling. Offering an appreciation of faiths is clearly a proper objective in educating children, whose families not made their own religious choices.
However, it must be recognised that teaching of a particular religion should already be embedded in what a faith school offers. Offering a choice between faiths - like a religious supermarket - is not what those schools should be doing. Rather they must address issues of mutual tolerance and understanding others' ways of life and practice. So we would wish to see the National Curriculum recognise this critical distinction.
This growing dialogue between ourselves as a minority community and the educational world can only add to understanding of the issues and the possibility of delivering policies that better reflect the diversity of modern society and recognising that choice in education means much more than a choice of school.
Beyond that we are keenly interested in all the wider educational issues such as the emphasis on early years; tackling inequality through extended days and after school clubs; educational performance and the latest debate on the Tomlinson report and the future of A levels.
This is the fifth USAJE Celebrity lecture. In the past we have heard from:
- Gillian Shephard MP, then Secretary of State for Education.
- Chris Woodhead, then Chief Inspector for Schools and
- Dr Nick Tate, then CE of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
- Last year Stephen Twigg MP, the Junior Minister for Schools
And now David Miliband MP, the Minister of State for School Standards.
Over 30 years ago, I had the privilege of being a student on the Political Sociology course taught by his late father, Ralph, at the LSE. That was when the political ideas that his father promoted were all the rage in the student community. Thos ideas are somewhat different from what New Labour and that other product of LSE, the Third Way, seemingly offer!
David was born in London and started his schooling in Leeds before being a pupil at Haverstock School - now being completely rebuilt under a major PFI scheme - and growing up in Primrose Hill.
He studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Corpus Christie College Oxford. This was followed by a Kennedy Scholarship to study for a Master's degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His first job was in the voluntary sector, working for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. He was then Research Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research and from 1992-94 Secretary of the Commission on Social Justice, set up by the then Leader of the Labour Party, John Smith, to work out new approaches to welfare policy.
From 1994-97, he was Head of Policy for Tony Blair, working on the policies that would see Labour elected. He was then Head of the Prime Minister's Policy Unit in Downing Street from 1997 to 2001 when he was elected MP for South Shields on Tyneside. I note his constituency website makes no reference to his Arsenal season ticket but representing a constituency across the Newcastle - Sunderland divide that avoids making a more locally controversial choice even if does not go down well in my corner of North London.
11 months after entering Parliament he was a minister at the DfES, first with Estelle Morris as Secretary of State and now Charles Clarke. He is now the Minister for Schools with particular responsibility for school standards. At 39, he is widely tipped for further political advancement.
Minister, I am delighted to invite you to address us on "Education for the Modern World" and hope that you will be able afterwards to respond to questions.