Meet the head who is changing the landscape of Jewish education
IT IS not often that you are handed a hard hat at a job interview. But then, protective gear seems symbolically apt for Patrick Moriarty as he kicked off his career at the Jewish Community Secondary School (JCoSS).
After all, the 49-year-old is all about breaking new ground. He began as deputy head of the Barnet school in 2010 — when it was little more than lines on a drawing board — and two years later, took over as headteacher.
In that short but busy time, he has cemented JCoSS’s position as a trailblazer — not only as the first senior school of its kind to offer a cross-communal Jewish education, but also as the first to house on its site a massive state-ofthe-art facility for children with special needs.
And what is, most likely, another first for the community, he happens to be halfway through his three-year training to become an Anglican priest.
The roles, he points out, are complementary.
“The job of a headteacher, in the loosest sense, is a spiritual one,” Mr Moriarty says. “What you have to do is embody a certain set of values that are bigger than the school. Whatever you do is symbolic, and therefore spiritual.
“Training as a priest is all about reflecting on how systems are organised, on compassion, and on how we c a n c r e a t e a community that is bigger than the sum of its parts and has a connection to something higher.”
He adds: “In some ways, I think the same impulses that led me to explore priesthood also led me to explore school leadership. And working for a Jewish school, the crossover is huge.
“I am constantly struck by the deep conversations I have with Jewish colleagues and pupils. That has brought home to me the fact that, the deeper you go into spiritual life, the more common ground you find between different faiths.”
Born and raised in Hampstead Garden Suburb and educated at Haberdashers’ Boys’ in Elstree, Mr Moriarty says he always “felt like I lived among and on the edges of the Jewish community”.
He studied theology and philosophy at Oxford, before returning to London for his teacher training. Early teaching posts paved the way to a 12-year stint as head of religion and philosophy, and then as head of sixth form, at the UK’s leading Haberdashers’ Girls’ school.
It had to take something special to lure him away.
“It’s quite hard to leave a place like Habs,” he explains. “But here was something very different — a new school with a new vision.
“I had taught in a Jewish school before, so I knew it would have its act together. It would be well-organised and well-thought through, its governance would be sound, its finance would be sound, it would have sought excellent legal and professional advice.
“But above all, it was the vision of what the school was going to be: this pluralist, high-achieving environment. I just thought it was really exciting and worth leaving Habs for.”
He knew he was boarding a ship sailing uncharted waters. As the first crosscommunal Jewish secondary school in the UK, JCoSS, with its message of inclusivity, immediately distinguished itself from the existing Orthodox-run schools in the community. Suddenly, children who before may not have qualified to attend a Jewish secondary school would be able to pursue a Jewish education until the age of 18.
But, he says, he wasn’t prepared for
Herewas something very different: a new schoolwitha newvision’
JCoSS head Patrick Moriarty with students