BY ADAM CAILLER
IN the week since I met Bury and Whitefield Jewish Primary School head of governors Harvey Jacobson, the school has launched a new website and a parental communication app.
The school has acted rapidly to address the issues raised in its April Ofsted report, which stated that it required improvement — a dramatic change from the ‘outstanding’ rating it received in 2008.
Mr Jacobson had been “quite shocked” that the report highlighted so many issues.
He said: “In terms of educational matters, I think the majority of the issues raised by Ofsted are accurate.
“The only thing which is a bit disappointing is that they have not taken into consideration some of the initiatives we have put in place over the last nine months, of which they are aware.”
One of the main talking points was that the children did not know about British Values.
This topic, which has become an issue for many Orthodox Jewish schools throughout the UK, covers five main points — democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.
To address this, the school held a British Values Day, which I attended to find out just how far it had progressed with that and other issues raised by the governing body.
Mr Jacobson, 62, said: “We were advised that the children understood what British Values are, but that they couldn’t label them, as such.
“We didn’t see that as a serious issue. I would have thought that people’s first priority is education, and it probably is, but the quality of school dinners is a big issue.
“We now have a new head of catering and have been in liaison with Bury Council, as well as forming a focus group with a parent of a pupil from each year.
“We’ve also changed butcher to Vidal’s. The quality has improved no end and the feedback from children and parents has been excellent.”
But the improvements with the food will not stop there. A new menu will be introduced from September, with greater focus on the nutritional content.
He added: “Clearly, as a Jewish school, we have kashrut to be bothered about, but the council provide the cooks.
“When it heard we were unhappy with what we were getting, it immediately made the changes.”
A fundraising initiative was launched in April, through the advent of a new yearbook.
The target was £50,000, but this was exceeded within three months.
Mr Jacobson said: “My co-governor, Simon Taylor, took the lead on this.
“We are very grateful to everyone who supported this, as it is going to provide new IT equipment, including interactive smartboards, laptops and a new server.
“This will be fully-embedded into the school from September.”
The school’s new website, alongside a new mobile phone app, will allow parents and teachers to communicate about events, absences and news.
“We were on a text messaging app,” he explained. “It was a little bit outdated, so now we have this new parents’ app, which is simple to use.
“The teachers have been trained, and there will be a couple of parents who will be well-versed in it so that those who have issues can ask fellow parents.
“The entire thing is being upgraded in January which will allow even more two-way communication”.
There is now an increased number of teachers on the senior leadership team, to allow for specialist issues to be resolved.
From September, Spanish is being offered as an extra-curricular activity, with Ivrit taking its place as the scheduled lesson.
He said: “They will have their normal kodesh education, but with Ivrit lessons alongside it.
“This will be more conversational Hebrew, as well as focusing on pronunciation. We will still offer Spanish, if parents want their children to do it.
“We’ve also bolstered history, geography and science, with each subject having a specific lesson, rather than being part of wider lessons.
“And we now have specifically-appointed teachers for those subjects. This was something raised by Ofsted and we are upping our game in a big way.”
To make sure these new methods are working, the school has brought in moderators for feedback on the teaching, as well as more experienced mentors from other schools.
Last month, a moderator commented that the teacher responsible for early years “really knows her stuff”.
It had also become apparent that reception class children were leaving foundation stage with 86 per cent or more development scores, up from 76 per cent the previous year. The national average is 73 per cent.
Mr Jacobson is more than positive about the future of the school.
He said: “One of Ofsted’s main problems was the pace of our improvement.
“The recent report has given us a bit of a kick up the backside to press on the accelerator pedal, which is what we have done.”
Salfordian Mr Jacobson, whose company owns more than 75 fashion brands, still finds time to dedicate a significant amount of time to the school.
“I fit it all in by doing less work, although I still have a few business interests,” he said.
“My experience in business is all about making sure people do not go wrong where I’ve gone wrong, and I call on that experience for this school.
“In business, when someone asks if they should take a commercial risk, I always ask them if it’s like drink-driving or driving slightly over 30.
“The big risk in a school is that you can’t take a commercial risk, which is why we have governors who have specialist expertise — a lawyer, accountant, insurance broker etc.”
But he believes marketing could be improved and is looking for someone with experience to assist.
Touring the school’s British Values lessons, it was interesting to see the improvements first hand.
The Year Five class was deep into a discussion about democracy.
A one pupil, one vote system will be introduced in the next few weeks to decide the new school prefects.
In Year Two, there was a discussion on mutual respect. The group talked about people from different countries and how they can be helped, if necessary.
Year Three pupil Poppy was intrigued by her lessons on tolerance.
She said: “I’ve learned how to respect others, while making sure I don’t disrespect anyone.”
As well as British Values, the Year Six class, which was learning about liberty, had a visit from the North West Ambulance Service to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS.
The future is definitely looking bright for Mr Jacobson, the staff at Bury and Whitefield and, especially, the pupils.
The question remains, however, whether or not they will, as he puts it, “take a commercial risk” and invite Ofsted back for an early inspection — or do they wait two more years?