The Leeds Jewish Free School opened this week with just nine pupils — three of them non-Jews. Yet LJFS chair, Councillor Dan Cohen, professed “delight” at the first intake at the £3.5 million secondary school, which shares its site with the Brodetsky Jewish Primary.
“New schools in general and Jewish schools in particular start small and grow year-on-year,” he claimed. Yet the two Jewish free schools opening in London at the same time reported a full take-up of initial places.
LJFS had been anticipating a first intake of around 15 — the maximum class size is 25. School head Jeremy Dunford attributed the low uptake to delays at the Department for Education.
“We did in fact have 22 applications,” he pointed out. “Those we lost were lost primarily because of the delay in getting the final funding agreement signed. This was beyond our control. We had all our elements in place at the end of February. Obviously, we all wanted more pupils in the first year but the first year is the hardest to sell.”
Mr Dunford said the important thing now was for the community to set aside “its initial doubts and acknowledge that what seemed impossible for many years has now been achieved”.
The iPads being used by pupils had “gone down a storm” and they were enjoying premises including modern science laboratories, a performing arts studio and a learning resource centre.
LJFS is incorporating four hours a week of Hebrew and Jewish studies into its curriculum and has a link-up with local Jewish youth club The Zone, whose presence on campus will facilitate extracurricular activities.
Focus is now on recruitment for 2014 and there is an open day coming up. “It will be much easier to sell an existing school,” Mr Dunford said.
And the local Etz Chaim congregation’s Rabbi Anthony Gilbert noted: “From small acorns grow great oaks — many a yeshivah has started with few pupils. We have an opportunity that cannot be passed over.”