New rules published this week by JFS in Kenton, North London — and likely to be followed by other Jewish secondaries — will offer places on the basis of points scored for synagogue attendance and other observance.
Parents will also need a certificate signed by their rabbi or another community official to testify to religious practice — mirroring the procedure in some Catholic schools.
The schools were forced to rewrite their entry policies after the Court of Appeal ruled in June that they could no longer take pupils simply on the basis of whether a parent was Jewish, as this was against the Race Relations Act.
Under the new JFS system, children must score a minimum three points in order to gain priority in the competition for places next year.
Attending synagogue at least twice a month from the beginning of this month, plus the High Holy Days and at least one day of Succot, will score three points.
Children who go on all the High Holy Days, or alternatively at least four times, will score two points, but less frequent visitors, none.
The entry rules make no distinction between Orthodox and non-Orthodox synagogues.
In addition, children who have been to a Jewish primary school, cheder or had a Jewish tutor for two years will gain one point, while a parent or child who has volunteered in any “Jewish communal, charitable or welfare” activity will also score one.
There would be no advantage in achieving more than the required three points, JFS chairman Russell Kett explained.
But the school made it clear in a statement that it was introducing the changes “only because it is advised that legally it has no option”.
It also hoped its appeal against the Court of Appeal decision to the new Supreme Court — due to begin on October 27 — would enable it to revert to its former policy: “to give priority to those children who are Jewish according to religious principles stated by the Chief Rabbi, irrespective of the extent to which the applicants and their families practise their Judaism”.
Diana Lazarus, chairman of King Solomon High School in Ilford, and Malcolm Gordon, chairman of Yavneh College in Borehamwood, confirmed their entry policies would be along “similar lines” to JFS.
Children have little time to prove their religious credentials with applications for next year due in by October 23. According to the JFS guidelines, applicants “are strongly advised to contact a synagogue as soon as possible to establish what they need to do to be able to demonstrate attendance and get the certificate signed”.
The Jewish Community School (JCoss), the country’s first cross-communal school due to open next September in East Barnet, is also having to revise its entry criteria. “By our first open day [September 13], we will be able to tell people what our policy will be,” said head teacher Jeremy Stowe-Linder.
Primary schools will have more time to publish their new policies as their deadlines are generally later.