More Jewish schools — ‘a dangerous strategy’

A senior Jewish educator has questioned the wisdom of opening more Jewish primary schools in north London, warning that it could store up problems for the future.

Susy Stone, head of the Progressive Akiva School in Finchley, said: “It is clear to me that the rush to create more Jewish schools is a dangerous strategy for the community. Are we going to open so many schools that we are not going to be able to maintain the excellent standards we have in our schools now?”

Predicted cuts in local authority education spending could leave existing voluntary-aided schools like Akiva facing a squeeze in funding, she warned.

Although school budgets had largely been cushioned from the impact of cuts so far, “that is not going to continue”.

If more schools opened, “how are we going to resource all these? Are we taking on commitments for the future that are not sustainable? Another issue is whether we will be able to fill all these schools. And is it morally responsible when we have an ageing Jewish community to put more money into building schools rather than social services?”

Three new Jewish primary schools serving the mainstream sector opened this autumn in north London and Herts, with two more to follow next year.

Finchley parents have begun a campaign to start a cross-communal school.

Although Akiva was heavily oversubscribed this year with 127 applications for 60 places, it recently rejected the idea of opening a third entry form after assessing future demand.

“I can understand the feelings of parents who can’t get their child into the Jewish school of their choice,” Mrs Stone said. “It’s heartbreaking to see children who can’t get into my school.”

The economic climate meant that schools needed to co-operate more to maintain services — such as behavioural support — cut by the local authority, she argued. But opening too many schools could increase competition.

Adam Dawson, chair of the new Etz Chaim free school in Mill Hill, believed that leaders of Jewish schools had a responsibility to “work more closely together”. But he pointed out that Etz Chaim had opened only after “a lot of research” indicated local demand.

“It depends on whether you think schools should be local or whether you bus children about. Are there places in Jewish primary schools in other parts of London? I am sure there are. But parents have told us they don’t want their four-year-old having to go on a bus to school for an hour in the morning.”

Last updated: 10:52am, November 1 2011