Heads upset as JFS rejects their pupils

By Simon Rocker, October 1, 2009
Rebecca Persell: no place at JFS

Rebecca Persell: no place at JFS

Jewish primary school heads have voiced dismay that their pupils are not been given priority at JFS.

Vivienne Orloff, head of the Michael Sobell Sinai School, a United Synagogue primary which lies next door to JFS in Kenton, said it was “ridiculous” that children from Jewish primaries did not get preference. “It’s heartbreaking when you have the school on your doorstep. We want all our children to continue their education and what’s important is that the parents want them to.”

Four Sinai pupils unable to get into Yavneh or JFS this year were found places in King Solomon in Redbridge, but for a fifth, the journey was too far.

At Moriah in Pinner, Harrow — which, like JFS, is also a US school — headteacher the Reverend Alan Shaw said: “We had three who did not get into JFS who wanted to.

“All of them are distraught. I feel very strongly that families who have shown commitment to a Jewish education at primary school should have been given priority to a Jewish secondary school above those who could have gone but chose not to.”

One of the Moriah three was 11-year-old Rebecca Persell from Pinner, who had been looking forward to moving with her friends to JFS. Instead she has had to opt for a local comprehensive, a lone Jewish child among hundreds in her year.

“She was devastated, she can’t understand it,” said her mother Helena. “I was devastated, too — I ended up at the doctor’s. She feels completely isolated. She told me the girls at her new school wear trousers but she doesn’t want to because she wants to still feel Jewish.

“It’s unfair that children who have not been to a Jewish primary should get places ahead of those who have.”

JFS had to revise its admissions policy rules after the Court of Appeal ruled in the summer that schools could no longer offer places simply on the basis of whether a child was Jewish. But the change would have made no difference to Rachel’s situation.

JFS has 300 first-year places available, but was heavily oversubscribed. Of 43 appeals on behalf of rejected pupils, only three were successful.

In a letter on behalf of Rebecca to the appeal panel, which is administered independently from JFS, Mr Shaw had written: “She is a well-liked girl whose friends are all from Moriah and have provided her with much-needed stability over the years.

“We are extremely concerned that being placed in an unknown environment without her support network could lead to severe emotional problems as Rebecca enters adolescence.”

Ms Persell is a single mother and Rebecca is dyslexic. “Moriah really drew us into the community and we got a lot of support from the school which I never got before,” Ms Persell said.

“From a very early age, Rebecca and her friends talked about JFS. That’s where they expected to go. They had activities at JFS in year five. They all came back skipping and jumping and saying that’s where they wanted to go.”

She did also apply to Yavneh, in Borehamwood, but was told Rebecca was 175th on the waiting list. And although King Solomon had spare places, the travelling distance made it impractical.

Mr Shaw said the parents of rejected pupils were “very upset. They have done security duty, they have shown commitment, they have supported our school in all sorts of ways. I sympathise with them.”

JFS declined to comment.

Last updated: 5:18pm, October 1 2009