The future of Jewish education in NSW

JCA has announced an unprecedented community-wide initiative to secure the future of Jewish Day School Education in NSW. 

The Jewish Day Schools (JDS) system in NSW has evolved over the years as the number of school-aged children has increased alongside general population growth and the arrival of new immigrants to Australia.

Today, parents have a range of options available to them with six Jewish Day Schools in Sydney catering to a broad spectrum of religious preferences.

The local Jewish community invests significantly in Jewish education through JCA (and other donors) as well as through capital appeals. This funding has been vital to the viability and sustainability of Jewish Education for our community – particularly in the Jewish Day School sector.

The future, however, is less certain. Significant shifts in demographic trends as well as questions of affordability – exacerbated by increases in the cost of living and the impact of COVID-19 on household incomes – raise important questions about the sustainability of the current Jewish Day School ecosystem.

The past 10 years have seen a steady growth in the number of Jewish school-aged children, peaking in 2020 at 7,715. The growth was boosted by earlier waves of immigration from South Africa and Israel as well as the broader trend of the grandchildren of baby boomers reaching school age.

The tide is now turning. The number of school-aged children is forecast to decline significantly in the coming years – down to 6,517 by 2031, a reduction of 16% compared to 2020’s peak.

Added to this are continuing shifts in religious identification and the incidence of intermarriage. The proportion of partnered Jews in NSW who have a Jewish partner, for example, has declined since 2001, from 79.5% to 75.2% in 2016 (source: JCA NSW 2016 Census and Gen 17 Report).

As these trends impact and shape our community, there are important questions that need to be considered in terms of the viability and long-term sustainability of our JDS system.

Looking ahead, will we have sufficient demand to support our current Jewish Day Schools over the coming decades? Will the knock-on effects of COVID affect the financial viability of the schools in the near and longer term? What are the education choices and desired wants and needs facing the community and how do we balance competing needs in the best interests of the NSW Jewish community?

New Committee Chaired by David Gonski AC

To address these challenges, JCA, together with the Presidents of the Jewish Day Schools and major donors, agreed that a community-wide plan was needed to meet the needs and expectations of our community over the next two decades.

Spearheading this effort is the newly formed Jewish Day School Review Committee chaired by David Gonski AC. Joining him on the Committee are leaders from community, business, philanthropy and education including: Stephen Chipkin, immediate past President of JCA; Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, Optus CEO; Jonathan Gavshon, Group Homes Australia Co-CEO; Anna Green, BCG Senior Partner; Anne Hastings, former Principal of Emanuel School and current Masada Board Member; Gary Pinshaw, McKinsey Senior Partner; Caryn Sandler, Gilbert + Tobin Partner and Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer; Jacquie Seemann, Thomson Geer Partner; and Allan Vidor, Toga Group Managing Director. All Committee members have in common a strong connection to the Jewish Day School system through their participation in community and through the enrolment of their children or grandchildren.

The purpose of the new committee is to conduct an impartial assessment of the sustainability of the Jewish Day Schools over the coming decades, and to propose recommended future scenarios which improve that sustainability.

The Committee is using the recent outcomes of the community-wide Education Survey, conducted by independent Australian research company NOUS Group, as their starting point for discussion. In the first phase of the survey – funded by a project-specific gift from a major donor – the parents of more than 1,200 students participated in the JCA-NOUS attitudinal online survey.

Following consultation with the Jewish Day Schools and relevant experts, the Committee aims to table its report and recommendations for discussion with JCA and the JDS Presidents by June 2021.

With the collaborative effort of all the schools, and the knowledge, passion and commitment of this Committee, JCA hopes to ensure the sustainability of Jewish Day School education for future generations.