Strictly Orthodox free school bids rejected

In what was generally a bumper week for Jewish education, two cross-communal primaries in London and a high school for Leeds were among more than 100 new free schools approved by the Department of Education.

But Beis Malka, a school for girls run by the Belz Chasidim in Stamford Hill, north London, was rejected, as was a proposed new strictly Orthodox school for Hendon, north-west London, with separate classes for girls and boys.

Rabbi Avraham Pinter, the principal of the state-aided Yesodey Hatorah girls’ school in Stamford Hill, said: “It’s become very clear that for schools which want to maintain their Orthodox ethos, the free school route is not an option.

"It is a pity people were misled by government statements. The Conservatives appear to be kowtowing to their Lib Dem coalition partners.”

The free school system was introduced to enable parents and other groups to set up state-aided schools independent of local authorities.

However, religious schools can reserve only half their places for members of one faith, although additional pupils from that faith can enter on other grounds, such as living close to the school.

Some of the new or proposed Jewish free schools are explicitly open to accepting non-Jewish pupils. Others believe their emphasis on Jewish studies and Hebrew will make applications from outside the community unlikely.

By contrast, voluntary-aided schools such as Yesodey Hatorah, which receive funding via the local authority, have greater control over admissions.

Beis Malka said it was “a great disappointment to us that though the Department for Education acknowledged the high quality of the proposal and the capacity and capability of the group to deliver it, the application was rejected just because the education plan was not seen to be inclusive enough.”

Last updated: 11:11am, July 19 2012