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Defining moment

14 September 2018

“I AM distressed that it should be necessary, but I think it is necessary,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said during a conversation with the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, recorded to mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

He was talking about a formal adoption by the Church of England of the definition of anti-Semitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). On Tuesday, the College of Bishops, meeting in Oxford, acted swiftly to do just that. It is extraordinary that, more than 70 years after the freeing of Jews from Nazi concentration camps, a formal mechanism is needed to shame institutions into acknowledging the persistence of anti-Semitism. For when the actions of a relatively few individuals are repeatedly ignored, or even condoned, by those with the responsibility to call them to order, then the label of institutional anti-Semitism must be applied, as Chuka Umunna MP said of the Labour Party this week.

The most troubling aspect of this episode, which we hope will prove to be a short-lived aberration, is that it introduces an element of self-consciousness into relations between Jews and Christians which have become, in many instances, so natural as not to be noticed, let alone written about. This is not to say that Jewish or Christian identity needs to be hidden: it is fun to engage in events such as the Jews v. Christians cricket match last month, and instructive to judge the interfaith work of young people for the 21 for 21 awards (to be announced on 19 November). But everyday friendships are best when they have no labels attached.



THE study of the outcomes of a faith-school upbringing, conducted by the UCL Institute of Education and published this week, raises more questions than it answers. A key difficulty is that it measures attainment at secondary-school level. Since most church schools are primaries (the C of E has expanded significantly into secondary education only in the past 20 years), many of the students surveyed and categorised as comprehensive pupils will have been ex-pupils of a faith school. Nor is there any way of quantifying the faith element in individual schools, church or secular. Thus we are no nearer a judgement of the effect of a religious schooling on academic achievement — if such a calculation is fitting, which we are not sure it is.

The indications are, however, that the effects are small. The impressive element in the UCL is the care that the analysts took to discount other factors, from low birth-weight and birth order to parental occupation and faith. These prove to be hugely significant, in many cases accounting for between half and all of the advantage of different forms of schooling, including private schools and grammars. Whatever else has changed since the 1980s, when the data for this analysis was gathered, the importance of a child’s home background remains as vital to his or her future.

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