Rabbis in New Faith School Challenge
LEADING Jewish education figures have reacted with outrage on learning that two Progressive rabbis are to lobby the government to prevent state-funded faith schools using a child's or parent's religion in determining admission.
The JC understands that the rabbis will form part of a wide-ranging coalition, due to launch on Monday. It will lobby Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, to stop such schools discriminating against students and teachers on the grounds of faith, as well as recommending that such schools do not offer compulsory worship sessions.
Rabbi David Goldberg, emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John's Wood, said he and Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue would be supporting the coalition.
There are also Hindu, Christian and Humanist organisations involved with the group.
Two years ago, the government proposed that state-funded faith schools should be able to admit only 75 per cent of pupils on the basis of religion and that the rest be allocated by the local authority. The Board of Deputies persuaded the government to back down.
Rabbi Goldberg said: "I do not think it would best serve integration to allow more faith schools. They are not the answer, and so I will be supporting this coalition.
"It seems to me that faith schools just cause people to live parallel lives and do not help integration."
He suggested to the coalition that it appoint Rabbi Romain as its chairman.
Details of the coalition are embargoed until Monday, and Rabbi Romain would say only: "This is not about Jewish schools but about faith schools in general, including Catholic, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu ones. I will be able to give much greater details after the launch on Monday."
The launch will come a week before the opening of the newest Jewish day school in Finchley, North London.
Philanthropist Benjamin Perl, who has founded and provided funding for around 20 Jewish schools, said: "It is absolutely disgraceful for someone to be a rabbi and yet fight our very own day schools, and to have a hand in an agenda that can destroy all our schools and cause more assimilation.
"It is disgraceful to give them a platform, as they do not speak for 99 per cent of the community."
He added: "This is not about Jewish schools not appointing non-Jewish teachers, as all the schools have non-Jewish teachers, so that has never been an issue."
Joshua Rowe, chairman of governors of Manchester's King David High School, said of the campaign: "This is staggering. Faith schools are a gift and a partnership between a community and the government. To try to undermine them makes no sense."
Russell Kett, chairman of governors at London's JFS comprehensive, said: "The rabbis are entitled to do what they like, but I would not support this and my preference is that they should not be doing this."
JFS was last month at the centre of a major court case over a claim that its admissions policy racially discriminated against the son of a convert. It successfully defended the policy.
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: "The policy that has underpinned education in this country for the past 60 years has been one of choice.
"What we campaigned for is for parents to have a choice in how they educate their children. We are confident we have the ear of government on this."
Ed Balls told June's Salute to Israel rally in Trafalgar Square of his admiration for Jewish schools. "I know that they are often setting a great example to our education system," he said.