Two 'free' primary schools in the pipeline

Two new Jewish primaries are hoping to be among the first wave of "free schools" introduced by the coalition as part of its key electoral commitment to extend parental choice.

Both schools, a modern Orthodox primary in Mill Hill, north west London, and an "inclusive" primary in the north London borough of Haringey, plan to open as early as September 2011, alleviating the acute pressure on Jewish primary places in parts of the capital.

Unlike existing voluntary-aided religious schools, the new free schools will be free from local authority control and be funded directly by the state: they will also be exempt from teaching the national curriculum.

But they will also face tighter entry rules in being initially allowed to reserve only half their places for members of their own faith. (Jewish children could still be admitted for the remaining places under other criteria).

‘Our community will benefit from this school’

Adam Dawson, chair of the Mill Hill planning group, said after Monday's announcement by Education Secretary Michael Gove of the first 16 projects chosen to move to the next stage of the process: "We are delighted that approval has been given."

The group had opted for the free school rather than voluntary-aided status because the local council, Barnet, had no money to help with capital costs, he explained.

Although a site has been found for the one-form entry school, he did not want to reveal it. "It's not a done deal and we don't want to be gazumped," he said.

But he was still seeking clarification from Mr Gove of how the entry rules will apply. "There is a lot of dotting of i's and crossing of t's," he said.

The Haringey project has been jointly been led by Peter Kessler, from the New North London Masorti Synagogue, and Emma Cravitz of the Muswell Hill United Synagogue.

The new school, which will open in the Highgate/Muswell Hill/Crouch End area, will be "independent of any Jewish denomination," they explained.
"It won't be Orthodox or Reform, it will simply be Jewish. We will welcome children from across the spectrum of Jewish life on an absolutely equal basis - an environment that large numbers of Jewish families see as ideal."

As for the admission of non-Jewish children, they said: "There is no reason why Jewish children should be educated exclusively in the presence of other Jewish children. We believe that our community will benefit from better interaction with the wider world, and that children from the wider community will also benefit from what we have to offer."

A shortlist of three potential sites has been drawn up for the one-form entry school, which they hope to launch entirely with government funding.

Meanwhile, a leading Progressive rabbi has warned of the social dangers of single-faith schools. Rabbi Alexandra Wright, of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood, speaking on a Channel Four programme on Sunday, said: "The impact on society is to create polarised communities."

    Last updated: 10:23am, September 8 2010