JFS eNEWS 09/04/21

Dear Parents/Carers

At this time of year I always return to the book that has had the greatest impact on me. My copy of Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is tattered, dog eared and covered in scribbles and post it notes.  It is the book, above all books, that makes me think.  Frankl’s overriding message is that our most important freedom that defines the meaning and purpose of our lives is that whilst we cannot always control the situations in which we find ourselves, we can control our attitude to that situation.  His book is ultimately a tribute to hope.

We live our lives with an eye to the future and as optimists.  Whilst things may sometimes be extremely difficult we are confident that, in time, things will change for the better, even if we carry our difficulties with us.

Hope empowers us.  As Rabbi Sacks said, hope is what enables us to make commitments, to give love, to comfort the troubled, to lift up those around us and to live by our ideals.  Hope is found in community and in family.

In the week when we mark Yom Hashoah ahead of Yom Ha’atzmaut – I am reminded that hope is what has sustained and brought us together as a people.

In this newsletter you will find a separate letter from me that I ask you to read and consider carefully.  In it I broach the challenging topic of sexual harassment and assault between peers that has been highlighted in the media recently.  This is a conversation that needs to be had, also at JFS between staff, students and parents, so we consider our collective responses and responsibilities.

I would like to welcome three new members of staff who have joined us this term – Miss Helai (Maths), Mx Terry (History) and Mrs Muka (Cache).  A warm welcome also to students who have joined JFS this week.

To my JFS family, I wish you a term full of hope.  A term that empowers us as a community and a family, to look out for one another as we also look to the future.

Shabbat Shalom

Rachel Fink
Headteacher

Dear Parents/Carers

Sexual Harassment and Sexualised Culture – Supporting and Protecting our Young People

If you have been following the news in recent weeks, you will not have failed to be drawn to the story about what has been termed ‘rape culture’ amongst teenagers across the country and in all communities including our own.  The testimonies on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website, some referencing our own school, make for disturbing reading.

There are those who might suggest that it is impossible to verify the truth of these allegations, or that the naming of different schools and universities is inconsistent.  Others will argue that when you read the testimonies it is clear that most of them reference incidents that take place out of school, at parties and on the weekend; that they are nothing to do with school.  The anonymous nature of the website offers a platform to those who have felt that until now, they cannot speak up.  At the same time there is a risk that because the postings are anonymous, they will simply be ignored.

My view, both as an educator and as a woman, is that we have a responsibility to have an open and honest discussion and once again partner with students and parents to really understand what is taking place in our community, a microcosm of society, and how do we collectively create change.

I have reviewed all the JFS testimonies and we have shared them with the authorities to seek advice as to what further steps we should take to investigate – the challenge is of course the anonymity.

I therefore want to stress that if there is any current student who believes they need support, or needs to report any allegation of sexual assault, whether current or historic, we have trained designated safeguarding leads (DSLs) at school who will listen without judgement, guide and support them and also engage with relevant authorities.  I know this to be true because my DSLs have needed to and have done so in the past.  Mr Bruce, Rabbi Cohen, Miss Grobler and Miss Patel are all trained for this purpose.  Their names and faces are on display all around the school.  Even if a student doesn’t know who they are, they can speak to their year team who will help and direct them.  I recognise how hard it is to come forward.  I believe it is harder to stay silent.  This applies equally to all students whether female or male.

In terms of a broader conversation on this topic, this has already begun.  This is a collective conversation with students and staff, working together to understand how we find ourselves in this situation today, how do we collectively change the narrative, how do we remain safe and how do we regain the confidence of our teenagers so that they can socialise without fear.

Key questions that have already come to the fore include:

  • How do we make it less difficult to report experiences, despite the extensive provision in place?
  • How do we ensure that we all understand a similar definition of consent?
  • How do we address the issues of online pornography, the young age at which most of our students first encounter such images and the influence this has on their understanding of sex and sexual relationships?
  • How do we have honest conversations about social media and about alcohol and drugs – all three feature heavily in many of the testimonies and we cannot shy away from the fact that these are issues that must be addressed as part of this conversation.
  • How do we also make sure that harming and shaming of girls is stopped without demonising boys?

These are not easy conversations to be had.  If we think about our own teenage years, they are certainly not discussions we would have wished to have with our parents, let alone our teachers.  But we have to overcome our awkwardness, our children’s view that as adults, we don’t know anything about what it means to be young, and to show them that we have the wisdom of years that can partner with their youthful outrage on this topic to secure a better environment for everyone.

However, this is not a conversation that can simply be the responsibility of the school.  I have referenced on many occasions our home school partnership and that JFS functions best when teachers and parents come together to work in the best interests of our children.  I need you to join us in this endeavour as well.   There are times as parents when we should allow our children to solve their own problems and there are times when we need to step in and be involved.  This is one of those times.

I urge you to begin your collaboration with us by having a discussion with your children this weekend.  If you are not sure where to begin – share this letter with them and ask them what they think?  It doesn’t matter whether they are in Year 7 or in Year 13.  We have a collective responsibility to educate, guide and support our children.

Over the next few weeks I will share with you our plans.  We will also be working with the other Jewish Schools and raising this important issue with Jewish communities of all denominations, youth movements and we will continue to work with our external partners who deliver education on this topic, including Streetwise and Jewish Women’s Aid.  I hope as part of our plans we will be able to offer additional parenting events to you so that our open conversation is across the whole of the JFS family.

Any student who needs to make a disclosure, but still feels that they cannot approach our safeguarding leads, can access help through the free NSPCC hotline established specifically to support students of who have experienced sexual abuse in educational settings.

The number is 0800 136 663. The line is open 8.00 – 22.00 Monday to Friday (including bank holidays), and 8.00 – 18.00 over the weekends.

 

Kind regards

Rachel Fink
Headteacher

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JFS joins the rest of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth in mourning the passing of HRH, the Duke of Edinburgh. We send our condolences to Her majesty, Queen Elizabeth and all the royal family.

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