The Jewish school where half the pupils are Muslim

King David, in Birmingham, is a state primary where the children learn Hebrew, recite Jewish prayers, eat kosher food and wave Israeli flags. So how come the majority of pupils are followers of Islam? Jonathan Margolis investigates

It's infant prize day at King David School, a state primary in Moseley, Birmingham. The children sit cross-legged on the floor, their parents fiddling with their video cameras. The head, Steve Langford, is wearing a Sesame Street tie.

A typical end-of-term school event, then. But at King David there's a twist that gives it a claim to be one of the most extraordinary schools in the country: King David is a strictly Jewish school. Judaism is the only religion taught. There's a synagogue on site. The children learn modern Hebrew - Ivrit - the language of Israel. And they celebrate Israeli independence day.

But half the 247 pupils at the 40-year-old local authority-supported school are Muslim, and apparently the Muslim parents go through all sorts of hoops, including moving into the school's catchment area, to get their children into King David to learn Hebrew, wave Israeli flags on independence day and hang out with the people some would have us believe that they hate more than anyone in the world.

The Muslim parents, mostly devout and many of the women wearing the hijab, say they love the ethos of the school, and even the kosher school lunches, which are suitable because halal and kosher dietary rules are virtually identical. The school is also respectful to Islam, setting aside a prayer room for the children and supplying Muslim teachers during Ramadan. At Eid, the Muslim children are wished Eid Mubarak in assembly, and all year round, if they wish, can wear a kufi (hat). Amazingly, dozens of the Muslim children choose instead to wear the Jewish kipah.

At the prize morning Carol Cooper, the RE teacher, says: "Boker tov," (Ivrit for "Good morning").

"Good morning Mrs Cooper," the children chant in reply. The entire school, Muslims, Jews, plus the handful of Christians and Sikhs then say the Shema, the holiest Jewish prayer, all together.

The Year Four violin club (five Muslims, two Jews) play "Little Bird, I Have Heard". Just as many prizes are being distributed to Hussains and Hassans and Shabinas as there are to Sauls and Rebeccas and Ruths. In fact, if anything, the Muslim children have beaten the Jewish ones. Thus does the Elsie Davis Prize for Progress go to a beaming little lad called Walid, the religious studies prize to a boy called Imran wearing a kipah and the progress prizes for Hebrew, to a boy called Habib and a girl called Alia.

Times being as they are, King David doesn't advertise its presence in a city where its pioneering multiculturalism could raise all kinds of unwelcome attention. There's a discreet signboard outside that reveals little about the school's unique nature. There are watchful video cameras high up on the walls, plus two electronic gates to pass through. Sadly, it is, to a significant extent, says Laurence Sharman, the (Christian) chairman of the PTA, "an undercover school".

The Muslim parents, however, are only too keen to talk in the playground about what might be seen by some in their communities as a controversial schooling decision.

"We actually bought a flat in the catchment area for the children to come here," says Nahid Shafiq, the mother of Zainah, four, and Hamza, nine, and wife of Mohammed, a taxi driver. "We were attracted by the high moral values of the school, and that's what we wanted our kids to have. None of us has any problem with it being a Jewish school. Why on earth should we? Our similarities as religions and cultures are far greater and more important than our differences. It's not even an issue.

"At the mosque, occasionally, people ask why we send the children here, but there is no antagonism whatsoever, and neither is there from anyone in our family. In fact, it was a big family decision to try and get them into King David. This is the real world. This is the way real people do things in the real world. All the violence and prejudice and problems - that's not real, that's just what you see on the news."

Fawzia Ismail (the mother of Aly-Raza, nine, and Aliah, six) is equally positive. "My nephew came here and my brother showed me the school, so it's a bit of a family tradition now. We're very, very pleased with the school. It's so friendly. All the kids mix and go to one another's parties and are in and out of each other's houses. They teach a bit about Israel, but we don't have any problem with that. There are such similarities between our people and our societies."

Irum Rashid (mother of Hanan, nine, and Maryam, four) says that a lot of people in Small Heath are considering moving to Moseley because of King David. "It's a very happy school, the behaviour is fantastic, the food is great - because it's kosher - and so are the SATs results."

But what about learning Hebrew and the Jewish prayers? "I think it's great. The more knowledge, the more understanding," says one of the mothers. "They learn all they need about Islam at mosque school. Actually, the kids often sing Hebrew songs in the bath, which is a bit confusing because we speak Gujarati at home, but I think it's great."

The Jewish parents and teachers I speak to are just as enthusiastic. "You know, in these difficult times in the world, I think we show how things should be done. It's really a bit of a beacon," says one teacher, whose three children all went to King David and ended up at Oxford University.

Parent Trevor Aremband is from South Africa. "In Johannesburg, we have Jewish schools, but they're 100 per cent Jewish, so we were a bit shocked when we first came here. But the integration works so well. It's clearly the way to go in today's world. My son is eight and has loads of Muslim friends."

The most important thing, I am told repeatedly, is that the cross-cultural friendships forged at King David last a lifetime. I hear a conversation about how a Rebecca is going to fly over from the States for a Fatima's wedding. I am told about a pair of lads, one Jewish, one Muslim, who became friends the day they started in the nursery, went to senior school together as well as to university and are now living close to one another with their wives and families and are currently on holiday together.

King David was not designed to be such a beacon of inter-faith cooperation and friendship. Founded in 1865 as The Hebrew School, it was 100 per cent Jewish until the late 1950s.

Then two things began to happen: there was a growth in the Muslim population in middle-income areas such as Moseley, and a shrinking of Britain's Jewish community, especially outside the main centres of London and Manchester. Muslim children started coming to the school in the early 1960s, but the current position, in which they are in the majority (Jewish children comprise 35 per cent, Muslims 50 per cent, Christians, Sikhs and other, 15 per cent) is very new.

"One of the things that surprises people about this school," says Langford, "is that it's not an especially privileged intake. Half of our kids have English as an additional language. But the amazing thing is how well it all works. We have a new little boy here from China, whose only English a few weeks ago was to ask for the toilet. He now speaks English - and can say the Shema perfectly.

"If you gauge success, for instance, by racial incidents, which schools always have to report to the LEA, we have at the most one a term. And that can just mean some harsh words with a racial slant used in the playground. At multicultural inner city schools where I've taught, there will be far, far more than that, possibly one or more a week."

In terms of SATs and Ofsted inspections, King David has also shone. It is rated as good - the second highest possible ranking - in all areas, and Ofsted made a special mention at the last inspection of the integration between children of different faiths and races. In the recent SATs results, the school also came in well above the national average in all subjects.

Steve Langford, a Warwick University economics graduate, is himself a bit of a paradox. He is Church of England on both parental sides and only became interested in Judaism when he worked in a Jewish summer camp in Massachusetts in his gap year. His interest paid off when he got a teaching job a King David. Now he is learning Ivrit at evening classes and goes to Israel for holidays.

The Rabbi of Birmingham's Singers Hill Synagogue, one of the financial backers of King David, is proud of Steve Langford and of the school's extraordinary interfaith record.

"King David School is amazing," says Rabbi Tann. "The reason I think it works well is that racism is engendered entirely by adults. Children don't have it within themselves. Their natural mode is to play happily with everyone. It's only when adults say, 'Don't play with him, he's black, or don't have anything to do with him, he's Muslim, that troubles begin.'

"We never have any racial or inter-faith problems at all. Not ever. In 20 years here, it's simply never happened in any significant way. We teach that if you don't like someone, you avoid them. Don't play with them. Go to the other side of the playground. I believe that if more people followed the lead of King David School, we'd have a much more peaceful world."

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus all the build-up to Man City vs Chelsea and Everton vs Palace
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Polly Borgen at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012
peopleThe Emmy award-winner starred in Cape Fear, the Sopranos and Desperate House Wives
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teaching Assistant required in ...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam