Demographics in the Education System: Pupil Composition and Transfers between Education Streams
Author: Nachum Blass and Haim Bleikh

PRESS RELEASE: Demographics in the Education System: Pupil Composition and Transfers between Education Streams


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A new study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel finds that, in recent years, the rate of growth in State and State-Religious schools has risen, while the rate of growth in Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab Israeli schools has slowed. Nonetheless, Haredi schools are still growing at the fastest rate. The main explanation for this trend is changes in fertility rates among the different segments in Israeli society. Another possible explanation is that pupils tend to transfer from more religious to less religious school systems, though the scope of these transfers is limited and therefore they explain only a small portion of the change.


Key Findings:

  • Since 2000, the growth rate in the Haredi and Arab Israeli school systems has declined. While the number of pupils in Arab Israeli schools grew at a rate of 6.7% between 2000 and 2001, it only grew at a rate of 2.3% between 2014 and 2015. In Haredi schools, the growth rate was 6.7% between 2000 and 2001 and 5.1% between 2014 and 2015. However, the State stream experienced a growth of 0.3% between 2000 and 2001 and a growth of 3.1% between 2014 and 2015. The State-Religious stream grew by 0.6% in the first period examined, and by 3.5% in the second.
  • Between 2000 and 2015, only about 2% of pupils transferred between different educational streams, which indicates that selecting an educational stream is an ideological and values-based decision that does not generally change over time.
  • Among those who did transfer between education streams, there is a trend of pupils moving from more religious to less religious school systems at every important juncture: from preschool to first grade, from primary school to lower secondary school, and from lower secondary school to upper secondary school.
  • The fertility rates among Haredi women during the period studied decreased by about 10%, and the rate of growth in the share of children entering Haredi preschools decreased by 50%.

Significant changes took place in the major education streams between 2000 and 2015. Until the middle of this period, there was consistent growth in the number of Haredi and Arab Israeli students in Israel’s education system. However, during the second half of this period, the growth rate decreased in these streams and accelerated in the State-Religious and State education streams. Against this backdrop, a new study by Taub Center researchers Nachum Blass (Principal Education Researcher) and Haim Bleikh explores the movement of pupils within Israel’s education system between 2000 and 2015. The research focuses on transfers between schools under different types of supervision and between the different sectors—Arab Israeli, Haredi, State-Religious, and State—and between official schools and schools that are recognized but not official (and vice versa).


Within the Jewish sector, pupils are transferring from more religious to less religious systems

In general, the percentage of pupils who transfer to a different educational stream by the time they complete secondary school is low, standing at about 2%. The “net” transfer (after measuring those who left and joined each stream) is even lower, standing at less than 1% of all pupils. This fact suggests that parents carefully consider the educational and ideological orientation of the school where they send their children, and their choice remains constant over the years.

In the Taub Center study, Blass and Bleikh track transfer trends throughout the years of schooling—including at the main junctures of transition from preschool to first grade, from primary school to lower secondary school, and from lower secondary school to upper secondary school—and find that, since the early 2000’s, the trend has been for pupils to move from more religious to less religious streams. Thus, in the most recent school year (2014-2015), approximately 3,800 pupils left Haredi preschools for State-Religious or State schools, while only 2,200 children from State-Religious and State preschools joined Haredi schools for the first grade. During the same period, about 4,000 pupils transferred from State-Religious preschools to State primary schools, while only about 1,700 made the transfer in the opposite direction. In contrast, about 1,700 pupils transferred from State-Religious to Haredi schools, while about 3,000 pupils transferred in the opposite direction. That being said, when examining the data it must be noted that there has been an absolute growth in the number of pupils in the system (the number of pupils grew, and therefore the number of transfers grew accordingly, as well). In addition, it may be that ideological considerations do not come into play as much when choosing a preschool as they do when choosing a primary school, but rather the choice is sometimes made based on proximity, price, and teacher quality, among other factors.

Number of pupils transferring between educational streams

Net change in the number of pupils in each educational stream from kindergarten to the first grade

A similar trend was found in the transition between the sixth and seventh grade. Between 2000 and 2001, about 700 students transferred from Haredi to other types of schools, while in 2014-2015 the number of those who transferred to a different education stream rose to about 1,400 pupils (it must be taken into account that during the same period the number of pupils enrolled in sixth grade in Haredi schools doubled, and also that the Haredi stream does not separate lower secondary school from primary school). However, about 2,000 pupils left State-Religious schools between 2000 and 2001 as compared with 2,700 pupils between 2014 and 2015 (and in this case the transfer rate was slightly higher than the overall growth in the number of pupils). State schools experienced a growth of 1,200 pupils from transfers during the earlier period as compared with 2,500 during the later period (overall the number of pupils increased by 4,000). In later grades, the share of pupils transferring to different types of schools decreases, but the same trend can still be found among education stream transfers between the seventh grade and the ninth grade.


Fertility rates also matter: secular and religious families are having more children than in the past, while Haredi birth rates have declined

As mentioned above, only 2% of all pupils transfer between education streams (the share of those who transfer between Hebrew-language schools is double that of the Arab-language schools). Due to the limited scope of the transfers, they cannot alone explain the changes in the demographic composition of Israel’s school system. Another possible explanation is the change in fertility rates in different population groups. Between 2000 and 2014 there was an increase of 16.5% in fertility rates within the Jewish population (from 2.67 to 3.11 children per woman, on average), compared to all the other population groups that experienced a decrease: 27% among Muslims, 10% among Christians, and 23% among Druze.

When the data is broken down by level of religiosity within the Jewish population, it appears that the fertility rate among the secular population rose by 10% between 2000 and 2009, and by 15% among the religious population. Among traditional Jews the fertility rate has barely changed, while among Haredim it decreased by 10%. Recently, there has been a slight increase in fertility rates among Haredi women and a slight decrease among secular women. It should be noted that, despite recent changes in birth trends, the fertility rate among Haredi women was still 3.5 times higher than among secular women during this period (6.53 children per Haredi woman, on average, as compared with 2.07 per secular woman in 2009).

Blass and Bleikh note that another factor that influenced the Arab Israeli share of the total pupil population in preschools is the increase in enrollment rates. At the beginning of the period studied, the Compulsory Education Law was implemented for children ages 3-4 in communities of lower socioeconomic status, many of them Arab Israeli. Coupled with high reproduction rates, the result was a 5% increase in the share of Arab Israeli pupils in public preschools between 2000 and 2007, reaching its peak at about 25% of all pupils.

Distribution of pupils in education system by stream

In 2011, the Trajtenberg Committee recommended that the Compulsory Education Law be implemented nationally, which caused enrollment rates of children ages 3-4 to rise in the public schools – especially among populations that had either previously sent their children to private preschools, or among those that had not sent their children to preschools due to the high cost. The increase in enrollment across the entire population, along with the decline in natural population growth among Arab Israelis, resulted in a steady decline in the percentage of Arab students among all students in public preschools between 2007 and 2015.


The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, headed by Prof. Avi Weiss, is an independent, non-partisan institution for socioeconomic research based in Jerusalem. The Center provides decision makers, as well as the public in general, with a big picture perspective on economic and social areas. The Center’s interdisciplinary Policy Programs – comprising leading academic and policy making experts – as well as the Center’s professional staff conduct research and provide policy recommendations in the key socioeconomic issues confronting the State.

For details, or to arrange an interview, please contact Itay Matityahu, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel: 052-290-4678.