Sharing and caring

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For the Times of Israel posted November 4 2017

Glasgow school for ToI from Jenni Frazer Oct 2017

“I think”, says Bishop John Keenan, “that the relationships here have gone beyond interfaith dialog. As far as I can see, the dialog is in the bricks.”

Bishop Keenan is half of the religious authority for a unique education project in Scotland, where two primary schools, one Catholic and one Jewish, share a purpose-built campus. St Clare’s Catholic Primary and its Jewish counterpart, Calderwood Lodge, are housed in a brand-new building in the Newton Mearns suburb in the south of Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city.

The two schools are half-way through their first term and will open formally on November 8, in a ceremony due to be attended by both Bishop Keenan, who is the bishop of the Diocese of Paisley, and Britain’s Orthodox chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.

It is thought to be a world’s first where two faith schools share the same premises, and its planning has been in the pipeline for four years. It grew out of an educational and municipal coincidence. Calderwood Lodge, founded originally in 1962 by the Zionist Federation, moved education authorities after a boundary change, and came under the authority of East Renfrewshire Council.

The school, the only Jewish school in Scotland, was physically sited in Glasgow, once its supervising authority; but most of its pupils lived in East Renfrewshire.

By 2013, two things were apparent to East Renfrewshire’s education authority: there was an urgent demand for a new Catholic primary school in the area, and a decision was needed about Calderwood, whose building, which also housed its nursery school, was becoming increasingly shabby and run-down.

East Renfrewshire, said to run the best schools in Scotland, had a choice: to invest funds in a building no longer suitable, or to do something really different by inviting two faith communities to share an innovative school building. There is a planned capacity for 210 pupils at Calderwood and 444 at St Clare’s, reflecting the different demographics of Jews and Catholics in the area.

And so, after prolonged consultations with both the Catholic and Jewish communities, parents, teachers — and, unusually, the children themselves — East Renfrewshire shelled out £17 million, ($22.36 million) bought land which had once been owned by a dairy farmer, and built a beautiful, state-of-the-art school campus.

The new building, overlooked at the rear by fields of cows and sheep, is right across the road from Mearns Castle, the “feeder” high school for Calderwood Lodge’s children. St Clare’s pupils go on to a separate Catholic high school, St Ninian’s.

Outside in the playground there is a blur of black school blazers and blue school blazers as the children from the two schools run and jump about in their shared break-time.

Each school has a separate entrance: St Clare’s features a picture of the Pope and a small altar for Catholic ceremonies. Bishop Keenan has already said Mass at St Clare’s — which is a new school, created specifically for the new campus.

Over on the Calderwood Lodge side there is a display case of school trophies, mezuzot on each doorframe, and a kosher kitchen for the children’s school lunches.

No matter which entrance you start in, you come to the central hub of the building, a shared area which features giant murals of the tree of life, painted during the summer holidays by the children. In this space there is ramped seating which turns into a place for school assemblies or audience seats for drama; there are dedicated music rooms with wonderful acoustics and sound-proofing; and upstairs there is an enviably equipped art room and an adjacent science laboratory.

But so far — and the school staff acknowledge that this is a work in progress — there are no shared lessons. Instead, the children, who are taught in separate classrooms at each end of the building, use the facilities in turn, after timetabling — agreed on by a joint administration and the two head teachers — is worked out.

About the only thing that the children will share this term is an end of year pantomime, and some after-school clubs. Just the same, in the school gym, divided by a floor-to-ceiling screen, two sets of children were having adjacent exercise classes — and it was really hard to tell which group came from which school.

However, St Clare’s and Calderwood Lodge are significant for another reason. Scottish law insists that nursery schools are non-denominational, and Calderwood has long had a flourishing and lively nursery.

But at the same time, despite the “Jewish ethos” of Calderwood Lodge, Scotland’s Jewish community has been in decline for the last 20 years. At present the primary school — with a final capacity of 210 pupils — is only 52 per cent Jewish. The rest of the children are “Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and children of no faith”.according to Marian Carlton, who has been the head teacher at Calderwood Lodge since 2014. And, despite the fact that she herself is Catholic, she strictly maintains the Jewish ethos of Calderwood and is au fait with all the necessary religious terminology.

Mrs Carlton is well used to integrating children, and the mix of pupils in the primary school is mirrored in the nursery, which takes 50 three-to-five-year-olds in the morning and a further 50 in the afternoon. Parents of children at the nursery school can sign up for the “Jewish stream” — and Mrs Carlton confirms that a number of Muslim parents have signed up for this, not least because those children will be fed by the kosher kitchen, obviating concerns about halal restrictions.

But Calderwood’s “Jewish ethos” is applicable to all its pupils, which means that the 48 per cent of children who are not Jewish still learn Ivrit and attend “kodesh” lessons — and there is a bonus for parents in the new campus, since previously they were asked to pay a voluntary contribution to Jewish religious education classes. Now, as a faith school supervised by East Renfrewshire, those classes are paid for by the state, making Calderwood Lodge the only Jewish school in Britain where this happens. And on the Catholic side, the religious education, taught by St Clare’s teachers, is similarly funded by the municipality.

Anne-Marie Absalom and Marian Carlton, the two head teachers, are plainly thrilled with their new campus, luxuriating in the shiny new classrooms and furniture and the free wi-fi throughout the building. So far their only disagreement has been whether to allow the children outside to play if the weather is wet. “I can’t send mine out if she’s keeping hers in!” says Mrs Carlton.

Calderwood is twinned with a primary school in Ma’alot whose head teacher came to visit in the opening weeks of the school term and was, says Mrs Carlton with a grin, somewhat taken aback at the school uniforms. “But all East Renfrewshire school children wear uniforms, so we sent him back to Ma’alot with a sample shirt and tie, to see how it would take!”

Both head teachers are both hugely proud of the complex. Mrs Absalom says: “To have a place like this to work in every day, it’s just outstanding. We tell that to our staffs and to the children, and we feel they really appreciate it. Actually, we are amazed at how quickly the children have adapted”.

Rabbi Moshe Rubin, minister of he nearby Giffnock Synagogue and Bishop Keenan’s counterpart as the supervising religious authority for Calderwood, is equally enthusiastic. He says: “I think the new campus has added an extra dimension to the children’s identity. Initially, both the Jewish community and the Catholics had concerns. But both communities wanted a strong ethos and identity for their children, they wanted the same thing — and I think the two communities work well together.”

Monsignor Thomas Monaghan, the priest of St Cadoc’s Church in Newton Mearns, who provides pastoral care for St Clare’s, agrees with Rabbi Rubin. He says: “This is not like sharing premises with any other school. They [Calderwood Lodge] have faith, and so do we”. That’s why, he says, this works.

For a Jewish parent like Vicky Jackson, the new complex offers both delight and the hope that Jews from outside Scotland might be attracted to East Renfrewshire, with this inspiring new overhaul of Jewish and secular education. Mrs Jackson, who has two daughters aged seven and five at Calderwood Lodge and a third just started at the nursery, says: “My daughters loved going to school from the second they started here. The classes are small, the head teacher welcomes every child, the new building is bright and each school has its own identity. We are really lucky to have this campus and I hope it might attract people from outside Scotland who find the cost of living too high in London or Manchester”.

Nicola Livingston is co-president of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council. She is very happy with the new project. She says: “We appreciate the bold move by East Renfrewshire Council in developing this imaginative proposal for a joint faiths campus.

“The school has always been at the very heart of the Jewish community in Glasgow and we were delighted to come together with our colleagues in the Catholic community to bring this ambitious and forward thinking plan to fruition. The two head teachers and their staff have worked together with the pupils and parents, to design a modern and welcoming learning environment.  
“This wonderful school can only add to Glasgow’s growing reputation as a great place for Jewish families to live and for their children to receive an excellent secular and Jewish education. The school, with its wonderful sports and creative arts and drama facilities, will also provide a focal point for Jewish communal activity for all ages and is a cornerstone in our strategic, pro-active planning for the future of the community.”

  • 4 November, 2017