Schools break rules over entry demands

State-aided Jewish schools have been found to be in breach of the Government’s admissions code by asking parents for inappropriate personal information or requesting donations when their children apply.

Several Jewish schools have fallen foul of the code by asking parents on entry forms for details such as their marital status or occupation.

In a briefing on Wednesday, Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, highlighted the failure of five Jewish schools to comply with the rules by including information on voluntary contributions on their application forms.

In one case, that of Beis Yaakov Primary in North-West London, the request for donations towards Jewish studies amounted to £895 per term.

All Jewish state-aided schools in Manchester and Barnet were found to be in breach of the code in at least one respect, after the government tested compliance in all state schools in a sample of three local authorities: Barnet, Manchester and Northamptonshire.

In response to the findings, the Board of Deputies said a statement: “Many of the schools are in the process of correcting their admissions forms. In most cases this will require only minor changes.”

Evidence has also been uncovered by the JC suggesting that Jewish schools elsewhere appear to be failing to satisfy the code. In at least two cases, application forms downloaded from the schools’ websites ask parents about marital status and occupations.

The Government is now promising tighter scrutiny of entry procedures by education authorities after finding problems with 96 out of 570 schools — many of them religious — in the three local authorities.

The Board of Deputies said that according to advice given by Mr Balls’s department: “There should be no mention of voluntary contributions on admissions forms, although this can be referred to in any marketing prospectus or supplementary forms.”

It added: “All parties accept that financial contributions must be voluntary. It is important to remember that these are primarily fees for security or religious instruction, neither of which is paid for by the Government under the current funding formula.”

A spokesman for the DCFS said: “Schools can ask for voluntary contributions from parents, or indeed anyone else, at any time. But they cannot ask parents to sign a form as part of the admissions process.”

Among the other Jewish schools named by Mr Balls, Hasmonean Primary sought an admission fee of £50, Mathilda Marks detailed voluntary contributions of £670 per term, while both Hasmonean High and Rosh Pinah asked parents to declare their support for contributing to Jewish studies.

Other areas where some Jewish schools are falling short of the code include failing to make clear in their admissions policy that they will give priority to children in care, or that they will admit non-Jewish children in the event of having spare places.

In Barnet, Hasmonean Primary School failed to comply with the admissions code in 10 out of 16 specified areas: Mathilda Marks-Kennedy, eight; Independent Jewish Day School, Menorah Foundation and Hasmonean High School, seven each; Menorah Primary and Rosh Pinah Primary, six each; Beis Yaakov, five; Pardes House, four; and Akiva, one.

In Manchester, King David High School was found wanting in five out of six categories; and King David Junior and Infant Schools, one each.

None of the schools approached wished to, or had a spokesman available, for comment.

But a spokesman for Barnet Council said: “We are very disappointed that ministers have chosen to attack Barnet schools in this way.”

Mr Balls had previously wrongly implied that parents were being asked to pay for places in some Barnet schools, the spokesman said.

He added: “Barnet Council has conducted a thorough review of the issues raised by the DCSF and found that no children were disadvantaged when school places within the borough were allocated.

“Where technical breaches have been found, we are working with schools to help them ensure that their admissions processes meet the requirements of the code.”

The Government’s action means that Jewish schools will have to take particular care in trying to establish the Jewish status of applicants.

State-aided schools should not ask directly for copies of Jewish marriage certificates, although these can be requested by the school’s ecclesiastical authority, for example the Chief Rabbi’s Office.

The Board of Deputies said that schools and their religious authorities were looking at ways to attest to the status of Jewish children. Catholic schools currently use baptismal certificates that are acceptable under the current system, as they do not include any information on the marriage status of parents of the children.

According to the Board, the DCSF has suggested that “a certificate of Jewish status is needed from religious authorities, although this will obviously differ from baptismal certificates.

“This will bypass the need for schools to see more traditional forms of documents proving Jewish status that contain data on marriage status.”

    Last updated: 3:59pm, June 3 2008