Schools fight back on admissions

By Leon Symons, April 18, 2008

Jewish schools tell the government that clamping down on entry codes could threaten their basic values

Jewish schools have told the government that the tighter controls it has applied to admissions codes could threaten their ethos.

They also called for the scrapping of the law that forces them to accept non-Jewish pupils if they cannot fill all their places with Jewish children.

Governors and heads of Jewish schools met schools minister Jim Knight in a meeting at the Board of Deputies’ offices in London last week. The meeting was called in the wake of the government’s decision to “name and shame” schools in three sample local authorities — Barnet, Manchester and Northampton — that it said had breached admissions codes.

Some schools were accused of seeking personal information from parents and requesting donations when children applied for places.

Participants said afterwards that they were reassured that the government was not “out to get faith schools”, with the minister regretting the events of the previous week but blaming the media for turning it into a political story.

However, some who were present have told the JC that prior to the meeting, they felt the government had failed to grasp that Judaism was much more than just a religion.

Rabbi Avraham Pinter, principal of the Yesodey Hatorah schools in Hackney, said: “What came up time and again was the subject of the ethos of Jewish schools. Family values are central to what Jewish schools are trying to impart to their children. If you can’t ask a parent to uphold the ethos of the school, you can’t teach the ethos.

“I had a feeling beforehand that the people we were meeting had clearly not understood how central Judaism is to all of us. But I am happy that they left with a much clearer picture that it is not just a religion, but a whole way of life,” added Rabbi Pinter, who also praised the Board for acting swiftly to arrange the meeting.

His view was backed up by David Fuller, executive head at Hasmonean High. In a letter in this week’s JC, Mr Fuller, who is not Jewish, said: “Jim Knight was reasonable and listened to many valid points, but I could not help wondering whether he and, more particularly, the civil servants’ writing policy, understood what it means to be an Orthodox Jew.”

Mr Knight said that he recognised the ethos of Jewish schools and it was something he did not want to lose. He also said he would try to iron out any mistrust that had arisen. On the question of not filling all places, the minister agreed to look again at the legislation, but said that it was important to maintain a level playing field for all schools and families.

Mr Knight said after the meeting: “We are committed to state maintained faith education in this country. That’s why the government and all the major faith groups, including the Board of Deputies, Agency for Jewish Education and other Jewish school bodies worked so closely together on the landmark Faith in the System document, published last year.

“Jewish schools are among the most successful in the country. They are popular with parents and play a vital role in delivering excellent education. The Jewish community’s commitment to helping young people reach their full potential and the high priority education is given at home is a model we can all learn from.” He gave a commitment to continue working with communal agencies to make sure all schools complied with the law for 2009.

Last updated: 10:19am, May 22 2008