By Simon Rocker
July 28, 2010
The Conservatives’ “free-schools” scheme was one of the flagship policies in their election manifesto. Parents’ groups, charities and other groups would be able to open their own schools with state funding free of local council bureaucracy.
It was music to the ears of many in the Jewish community – particularly to those clamouring for more Jewish primary schools to alleviate the current shortage of places.
But the plan has come with a catch. Those who want to open free faith schools will only be able to reserve 50 per cent of places to members of their own faith.
If the remaining 50 per cent of applicants happen to be Jewish, for example, all well and good: they would still be able to come to the school. But the schools can’t bank on that fact.
Jewish groups were not best pleased to learn of the strings attached to the policy and the Board of Deputies has urged its members to lobby for a change.
The Conservatives will probably prove amenable to amending these entry conditions, but the LibDems, keener to promote “inclusive” policies in faith schools, less so.
Jewish groups wanting to set up state-aided schools while having greater control over their admissions, can still take the old route into the state system by applying for voluntary-aided status – which Schools Secretary Michael Gove has promised to make easier.
Nevertheless, with less money around in government coffers, start-up faith schools may have to find the money for buildings themselves rather than hope for capital grants.