Gove upholds complaint over admissions rules

Education Secretary Michael Gove has upheld a complaint against the entry policy of a Hertfordshire Jewish primary school, saying it cannot give reception place priority to children who have attended its nursery.

But Clore Shalom in Shenley will not have to amend its admissions policy for this September because it would be too disruptive to families who have applied for a place.

Mr Gove’s decision comes six months after the school’s policy was ruled unlawful by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, which regulates admissions.

A Department for Education spokesman said Mr Gove believed it was “unacceptable that Clore Shalom School failed to comply with the School Adjudicator’s decision. However, because of the disruption it would cause to parents’ and children’s lives, he will not direct the school to follow the Adjudicator’s orders to change its admissions arrangements for this September.”

He was “very clear that the school must have lawful admissions arrangements and will take strong action if this is not the case. The school has confirmed that its admissions arrangements for September 2014 will be lawful.”

In the past, almost all children from the Clore Shalom nursery went on to the main school. But in August the OSA upheld an anonymous complaint over admissions, saying that it could not use nursery attendance or family membership of a synagogue to allocate reception places.

The school then altered its rules to effectively guarantee reception places to only 25 out of 30 children from the nursery, provoking angry protests from some parents whose children were no longer assured of a place.

But even this measure has now been ruled out of order by the education authorities and the school has dropped nursery attendance as a criterion for entry to the main school from 2014.

Irene Blaston, chair of the cross-communal primary, said: “While this is not the outcome that we wished for at the outset, we achieved our goal of protecting the majority of the families directly affected by the ruling. We’re pleased that it puts an end to months of uncertainty.”

However, other Jewish schools are now altering their entry rules in the wake of Clore Shalom’s problems.
Jonathan Rabson, executive director of the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools (Najos), said that Brent and Barnet had told Jewish schools they could no longer give absolute priority in reception to children who had attended a school’s nursery.

He said the changes had caused “huge concern” for the many Jewish schools in the two boroughs. The move had “serious consequences for Orthodox Jewish schools with a nursery provision, as the vast majority of children who attend the nursery follow into reception. Schools have traditionally allowed this expectation for people to enter the school at nursery and continue into the main school.

“The additional benefit from this is that Orthodox and mainstream Jewish families tend to select their schools at nursery entry. It ensures that those of a particular style or ethos suitable for the school are given priority entrance.”

Mr Rabson added that Najos was increasing its lobbying of government and local authorities to give “greater consideration for the needs of Orthodox schools, especially in the maintained sector, with the threat to curriculum and admissions being the most worrying issues”.

Najos already runs a helpline for parents for nursery admissions and a co-ordination scheme involving 20 Orthodox Jewish schools to try to ensure that no pupil is left without a nursery place.

Last updated: 11:45am, March 4 2013