Why Jewish schools are on red alert in wake of Paris siege

16th January 2015 at 00:00
UK security tightened as future attacks are said to be likely

Jewish schools in England are operating under a "heightened level of security" because of the threat of copycat attacks inspired by the violence in Paris last week.

Schools have contacted parents to allay their fears, it emerged, while meetings between the UK government and an organisation that combats anti-Semitism have been planned to help manage the threat.

As the precautions were taken in the UK, the French government stationed more than 5,000 police officers and army troops outside Jewish schools across the country in response to the attacks in the capital, which left 17 people dead.

One of the Islamist gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly, killed four Jewish hostages when he targeted a kosher supermarket last Friday. Security agencies on both sides of the Channel warned this week that future attacks were "highly likely".

A North London school, which did not want to be named, said the events in France highlighted why Jewish schools in the UK invested so heavily in security.

"We have major concerns, absolutely," the school added. "We are on a heightened level of security, as everyone is. Jewish schools have always gone over and above when it comes to security. After last week, it's back at the fore. Most schools will have been communicating with their parents; the parents will have been concerned, as will the students."

In 2010, according to Department for Education figures, parents were contributing about pound;1.6 million annually to fund security at Jewish schools. Michael Gove, then education secretary, pledged pound;2 million per year towards security costs, which is guaranteed until the end of this Parliament. The Community Security Trust (CST), which monitors anti-Semitism in Britain, adds about pound;500,000 each year.

The Home Office said it had contacted the CST - which acts on behalf of the whole Jewish community, including its schools - as soon as the attacks took place, and it expected to hold meetings with the charity this week.

"I have spoken with the CST and reaffirmed our ongoing commitment to work closely with the Jewish community on security matters," said immigration and security minister James Brokenshire. "This support will continue and I will be meeting members of the Jewish community to discuss issues of concern arising from the tragic events in France."

A CST spokesman said: "We spend an inordinate amount of money on security, particularly on our schools - as we should.

"Obviously there's a change in the threat level [after last week's attacks] as there could be people who might be perversely inspired by what they saw happen.

"The national UK threat level went up at the end of August, which saw the government put out very strident messages. There's a very real threat - that's why we've invested literally millions of pounds in security in Jewish schools."

Reports claimed this week that Coulibaly's intended target had been a Jewish school in the south of Paris. In 2012, three students and one teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse were killed by a lone gunman, who also murdered three soldiers in two further incidents.

The CST said that when a new school was being designed, security was considered even before an architect became involved, such was the concern about a potential attack.

Although its figures will not be released until next month, the CST has predicted that the number of anti-Semitic attacks in 2014 will be the highest recorded in the past 30 years in the UK.

New laws will make teachers responsible for countering extremism. Find out more in next week's issue of TES

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