New head­mas­ter of Im­manuel looks to stretch his stu­dents


ONCE IT might have been sur­pris­ing to find a church-go­ing Angli­can in charge of a Jewish school. But not any more; four of the six cen­tral Ortho­dox or cross-com­mu­nal se­condary schools in Lon­don have a non-Jewish head.

Since he ar­rived at Im­manuel Col­lege in Septem­ber, Gary Grif­fin has been busy fa­mil­iaris­ing him­self with the Jewish life of his new ed­u­ca­tional home, be it pop­ping into the “beit” — that’s the beit midrash, the hub of Jewish stud­ies — or plait­ing chal­lah for a Shab­bat UK bake.

“I took it home and I stuck to the in­struc­tions, but in hind­sight I should have left it in the oven for an­other 10 min­utes. It was nice and crusty on top but doughy in the mid­dle,” he re­calls.

Not that the 58-year-old is a stranger to Jews. When he started at City of Lon­don Boys, one of the coun­try’s lead­ing pri­vate schools, where he spent most of his work­ing life, “35 per cent of the boys were Jewish”. When he left nearly three years ago, the pro­por­tion had dropped though was still high at “20 to 25 per cent”.

His CV also in­cludes a spell as a gover­nor at Naima Jewish Prepara­tory School in Maida Vale, a reg­u­lar sup­plier of pupils to Im­manuel. Its chair­man of gover­nors at the time, Ed­ward Mis­rahi, is now co-chair­man of Im­manuel.

The col­lege, where fees are now £17,175 a year, is cur­rently rid­ing on a high, with its roll of 690 pupils the largest since open­ing in 1990. That in­cludes 130 at the prepara­tory school which has wel­comed its first year six class this term. The se­nior school has 40 more stu­dents than last year and the year-seven en­try is its high­est at 89.

Its growth is all the more no­table in face of stiffer com­pe­ti­tion with two new stateaided Jewish sec­on­daries hav­ing opened in north-west Lon­don over the past decade.

“I’m very lucky to be com­ing in on the wave of su­perb GCSE re­sults, which were the best in the his­tory of the col­lege,” Mr Grif­fin says. “There is a great de­mand to get in and we have wait­ing lists at most age groups, which for me is very en­cour­ag­ing.”

He says, “If we can raise stan­dards, that’s cer­tainly what I’ll be aim­ing to do.” He has ad­ver­tised the new post of deputy head (aca­demic) to help over­see the for­mal ed­u­ca­tional cur­ricu­lum. But he stresses, “I would not want to give the im­pres­sion, ever, that Im­manuel is go­ing to be­come an aca­demic hot­house at the ex­pense of ev­ery­thing else. I’m very much into a holis­tic view of ed­u­ca­tion.”

In­ter­views for ap­pli­cants also take into ac­count what they can con­trib­ute to the artis­tic, sport­ing or Jewish life of the school. He is proud of its art, mu­sic and drama, en­thus­ing about the “mar­vel­lous” pro­duc­tion of My Fair Lady he saw last sum­mer. He was told a vis­it­ing in­spec­tor, watch­ing some of the drama stu­dents, had asked a teacher, “Are you sure this is not a per­form­ing arts school?”

A south Lon­doner, he takes a 70-minute train com­mute ev­ery day from Wim­ble­don. He grew up on the Ful­ham Road, equidis­tant be­tween Ful­ham and Chelsea foot­ball clubs, since boy­hood of­fer­ing his al­le­giance to the lat­ter.

He “loved school” at Burling­ton Danes in the White City, which was a non-de­nom­i­na­tional boys’ gram­mar when he started but mid-way through his time changed into a mixed, Church of Eng­land com­pre­hen­sive.

An in­spi­ra­tional his­tory teacher con­vinced him to fol­low a sim­i­lar vo­ca­tional path. After a first in eco­nomic and so­cial his­tory at Ex­eter Univer­sity, he qual­i­fied at Lon­don’s In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion be­fore join­ing City at the cal­low age of 22. He worked his way up to sec­ond mas­ter (deputy head) and served as act­ing head in his fi­nal year.

When a new head came in, he felt “it was time to move on. I thought, I’ve been here a long time, prob­a­bly change would be good for me.”

It was while work­ing as a free­lance ed­u­ca­tional con­sul­tant that he was called in 18 months ago by Charles Dormer, then head of Im­manuel, to do a re­view of the school. The week he spent there gave him “a feel­ing for the place. I was so im­pressed with the whole com­mu­nity at­mos­phere. I ate in the din­ing room with pupils and started in­for­mal chats. They were con­fi­dent, en­thu­si­as­tic, they would talk to me about any­thing and ev­ery­thing. They told me how much they loved the place.”

Gen­er­ally “pos­i­tive” in his re­port, he rec­om­mended a few tweaks though noth­ing ma­jor. When the pos­si­bil­ity of the head­ship came up, “I thought I’d like to be part of a school again, I knew it was a school I’d feel com­fort­able in.”

He seems at ease in his study with its ru­ral view, but some of its green fields will have to be sac­ri­ficed to new class­rooms over the com­ing year or two, as the school needs phys­i­cally to ex­pand in or­der to cope with its ris­ing num­bers.

Apart from a new din­ing room re­cently opened by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, a sixth form art stu­dio will be com­pleted soon and a sixth form cen­tre is due to be built dur­ing 2018: a new li­brary and meet­ing rooms are in the pipe­line, too. And as well as new build­ings, the in­creased pupil roll also ne­ces­si­tates the re­cruit­ment of ad­di­tional staff, par­tic­u­larly to main­tain pupil/teacher ra­tios; in the sixth form, he says, “the av­er­age set size is seven to eight”.

He is also in­tro­duc­ing an “en­rich-

The col­lege is rid­ing on a high with its largest pupil roll’

ment pro­gramme” to de­velop the most able stu­dents be­yond their exam syl­labus, with cour­ses for ex­am­ple on law or phi­los­o­phy. A Model United Na­tions group is in the off­ing, which will be open to other schools. Other op­tions fur­ther down the line may in­clude sub­jects such as Man­darin in the sixth form. “We want to stretch stu­dents more,” he says.

An­other area he is look­ing to de­velop is “outreach and part­ner­ship. Although Im­manuel has al­ways had re­la­tions with other schools and the state sec­tor, it is my in­ten­tion to ex­pand those much more — not only in invit­ing schools to take part in

Im­manuel events but stu­dents go­ing out to other schools and other or­gan­i­sa­tions, pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance where it is wanted. I don’t want Im­manuel to be in­ward-look­ing. To be­gin with, it will be with the Jewish com­mu­nity but I see it go­ing be­yond that. I think we have a moral obli­ga­tion to work with other schools and the wider com­mu­nity.”

He con­tin­ues to con­trib­ute his own ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence to the Pe­ga­sus Academy Trust, a pri­mary school academy chain in a “rel­a­tively de­prived” area of south Lon­don, of which he is a non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

As for safe­guard­ing Im­manuel’s re­li­gious ethos, he can rely on its prin­ci­pal, Rabbi Eliezer Zobin, and Danny Baigel, a for­mer head boy of the col­lege, newly pro­moted to as­sis­tant head for Jewish life and learn­ing.

One change is that GCSE re­li­gious stud­ies will re­turn to teach­ing Ju­daism only. Last year the new RS cur­ricu­lum re­quired a sec­ond reli­gion (Is­lam at Im­manuel). But from next year, the school will opt for a new IGCSE syl­labus, which per­mits fo­cus on a sin­gle faith.

“Stu­dents will be able to go back to studying Ju­daism in much greater depth,” he says. “It won’t mean they won’t study other reli­gions, they won’t be studying them as part of GCSE.”

Gary Grif­fin

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