JFS ruling leaves schools in 'chaos'

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

The Court of Appeal’s ruling that it is unlawful to admit children on the basis of a parent’s Jewish status “has thrown our admissions policy into chaos”, according to Jonathan Arkush, senior Vice-President of the Board of Deputies.

He told a meeting for Jewish schools on Wednesday night that there will be a “flood of admissions appeals”.

With the court order on how the judgment will apply not due out until today, schools have been left in the dark over when they will have to introduce new rules and how those places already allocated for this September will be affected.

Jack Rabinowitz, a solicitor specialising in education law, agreed that there was a risk of “potential chaos” for schools trying to come to grips with the impact of the court’s ruling. “It does affect this year and next year’s round of admissions and the law might change again if the House of Lords goes the other way to the Court of Appeal.”

The case had been brought to the court on behalf of a boy refused entry to JFS in north London two years ago because his mother was a non-Orthodox convert and thus not Jewish according to the Office of the Chief Rabbi. But the Court of Appeal found that using parental status to decide entry breached the Race Relations Act because it was a matter of ethnic origin, not religion.

The judges are yet to say whether JFS — which has already announced it will try to contest their decision in the House of Lords — must offer the boy a place this September. Mr Rabinowitz said: “There are consequences immediately for children who are in the same category [as the boy] who may be appealing for places in September, and for children applying next year.”

At the briefing for schools, the Board of Deputies warned that school appeals boards — which review applications from pupils who have been refused a place this year — “would have to be mindful of the judgment if parental lineage was an issue”.

But the Board also said that, although the ruling took “immediate effect”, a request was expected to be made to the House of Lords to suspend it until the Lords heard the case. The Board has told schools that, until then, they are not allowed to ask if children are halachically Jewish.

And they were advised that, unless the Lords overturn the judgment, there will have to be new entry rules based on religious belief and practice. Jon Benjamin, Chief Executive of the Board, said that it was looking at the entry policies of other faith groups and was awaiting a briefing on admissions from the Department for Schools, Children and Families.

But he said that faith-based tests “will mean a total shift away from the position whereby a non-practising family with one Jewish parent could have expected a place at a Jewish school”.

Last updated: 4:34pm, August 13 2009