Schools ready for academy revolution

By Simon Rocker, May 27, 2010
New rules: Michael Gove

New rules: Michael Gove

Some of the top Jewish schools will be among the first in the country able to take advantage of the government's flagship programme of educational reform.

New Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to all schools on Wednesday to invite them to opt out of local authority control and enjoy greater independence by accepting academy status. But schools rated outstanding in Ofsted inspections will be able to go to the head of queue and become academies as early as this September.

There are at least half a dozen "outstanding" Jewish schools: King David Junior School and North Cheshire Jewish Primary in Manchester; and JFS, Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls, Hertsmere Jewish Primary and Mathilda Marks-Kennedy Primary in London.

Michael Glass, chairman of JFS, said that academy status "is certainly something that will be under discussion. But we don't have any information".

Joshua Rowe, chairman of Manchester's King David Schools, said that while he could "see the merit" of the government's proposal, "we have been fortunate in achieving great things working with the local education authority and I can't see we're dying to get out of LEA control".

Rabbi Avraham Pinter, principal of Yesodey Hatorah, also said that his school's local authority, Hackney Learning Trust, had been "supportive. Ultimately we would have to look at what's in the interests of our children, but I don't have enough detail about the advantage of academy status yet".

He also warned that in the current economic climate, the government might find it difficult to find the money to implement its ideas. "Seeing is believing," he said.

Schools that became academies would be "liberated" from previous bureaucracy, Mr Gove said, and enjoy greater control over their budgets and freedom from following the national curriculum. They would also be free to change the length of terms.

Other planned educational changes include reducing the scope of the national curriculum in general - which, for example, could allow schools to devote more time to Jewish studies - and making it easier for parents and charities to open new state-aided schools.

A meeting for groups planning new Jewish schools has been arranged in July by the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council with the founder of the New Schools Network, which has lobbied for greater parental choice.

But one area in which Jewish educational leaders will want greater clarification in is the government's stated aim to encourage "inclusive admission policies" in new faith schools wherever possible.

Rabbi Pinter said: "There are concerns about more inclusive admissions policies. One needs more detail."

The Liberal Democrats have previously backed calls for new faith schools to adopt wider entry policies by recruiting children from other faiths and called for more "inclusive" admissions in their election manifesto.

One of the community's senior educationists, Alastair Falk, the director of educational leadership at the UJIA, said: "It would be sensible to arrange a forum for Jewish schools to hear the advantages and disadvantages for Jewish schools about academy status."

Mr Falk is a former head of both a Jewish secondary school and of an academy himself. "One of the important aspects of the academy programme was that it encouraged private sponsorship and a large number of sponsors came from the Jewish community," he said. "This could be an interesting opportunity to attract some new investment into Jewish education."

But there was a "risk" that academy status could lead schools to become more insular and "do their own thing", he said, "whereas in recent years there has been a lot of success with Jewish schools sharing ideas and resources".

Last updated: 3:25pm, May 27 2010