School made to change entry rules

By Leon Symons, November 6, 2008

A state-aided Jewish secondary school has been ordered to change its admissions criteria to make clear it will admit non-Jewish children if it cannot fill all its places with Jewish pupils.

A complaint by Barnet Council against Hasmonean High School in Hendon, North-West London, that it offered places only to Jewish children, has been upheld by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA).
Adjudicator Richard Lindley decided that crucial sections of the admissions criteria of the school, founded in 1944 by Dr Solomon Schonfeld, breached parts of the government's admissions code, published in February.

He refused a request by Barnet to withdraw its complaint after the council and the school had agreed an amendment, saying that the amendment still breached the code because it was insufficiently clear.

As a result of the OSA's intervention, Hasmonean has had to revise its entry rules for September 2009. While the school will still give priority to Orthodox Jewish children, in the event that it has spare places, it will take firstly other applicants who are halachically Jewish and then "other children".

If state-aided faith schools cannot fill their places with children from their own faith, they are obliged to accept applicants from outside.

In February, Children, Schools and Families Secretary Ed Balls announced that a sample of schools taken in three boroughs - of which Barnet was one - had uncovered the fact that a number of faith schools were breaking the code. Barnet then started to check the admissions criteria of all its schools.

On Tuesday, in its first public comment since the decision, Hasmonean issued a statement saying that after questions had been raised about its admissions criteria: "We immediately started working closely with Barnet to address the issues raised, of which most were about clarifying terminology and further defining some key words.

"In September we had an amicable meeting with representatives from Barnet and the Adjudicator to discuss further some minor changes that had been suggested.

"Both the Adjudicator and Barnet have subsequently made it clear that Hasmonean fully complies with the law on admissions."

The school refused to comment on what effect the decision would have if it failed to fill all its places in future.

Barnet said it was told that it had a legal obligation to object to the wording of the part of Hasmonean's criteria which was in breach of the code. "The council continues to believe that it is more effective to negotiate with schools locally to help them achieve compliance with the code," a spokesman said. "The Adjudicator reviewed the school's revised admissions arrangements and made a ruling that the school must make allowance within their oversubscription criteria to admit pupils from outside the Jewish Orthodox faith."

The council said it would "continue to press the government to review the code to ensure it better supports the needs of faith schools and Jewish Schools in particular".

This is not the first time that Hasmonean has fallen foul of government strictures on admissions. Two years ago, the then Department for Education and Skills admonished the school after it was revealed that it was sending letters to prospective parents guaranteeing them a place in the school before any offers had been sent out by the local authority.

Last updated: 11:12am, November 10 2008