Exploratory talks are being held towards the establishment of a second state-aided Orthodox Jewish primary school in Hertfordshire.
The discussions involve community leaders, the United Synagogue and the local education authority and a disused school in Potters Bar is among early sites under consideration.
There is an acute shortage of Jewish primary places for families in the Elstree and Radlett area. And the nearby Shenley congregation claims to be the fastest-growing in the United Synagogue fold with a 15 per cent rise to 150 families in 2009. Shenley United chairman Alan Hirschowitz said the existing Orthodox primary, Hertsmere JPS in Radlett, could admit only 60 children a year, leaving many applicants frustrated.
Becky Hilsenrath, the governor responsible for admissions at Hertsmere JPS, said: “It is always devastating to have to disappoint prospective pupils and their parents and we hate doing it. HJPS was set up for the children of the local communities — it never occurred to us that we would be having to turn away local children. When it happens, we try to make ourselves available to listen to and advise often anguished parents. We try to give them as much information as we can.”
Ninety applications were rejected for the current academic year and the picture is likely to be similar for 2010/11.
Mrs Hilsenrath and her fellow governors have also been advising those working on the new primary project. “HJPS would be very enthusiastic about having another school in the locality.”
Although Dr Hirschowitz stressed that “we are far away from being able to put forward any concrete proposals”, a task force is gathering statistics from the eight Hertfordshire US communities and the Federation shul in Elstree to assess demand. The earliest opening date would be 2015.
A United Synagogue spokesman confirmed that “prompted by the present limited access to HJPS, the idea of a new Jewish school in Hertfordshire came up in discussions between the local communities. It is an idea still in its very early stages. However, with the encouragement and support of the US, the concept is gathering momentum.”
At Herts County Council, an official confirmed an approach to school planning officers by project representatives.
It is understood that with an overall shortage of school places in the county, an application to the LEA for the establishment of a new Jewish primary school would be regarded positively.
Family’s heartbreak over Daughter denied a Jewish School Place
Jeremy Harris is one parent acutely aware of the need for more Jewish school places in Hertfordshire.
He and his wife Zanne moved to Radlett in 2003 and their daughter Abigail was born two years later. The couple are observant, keep kosher and are actively involved in their local shul. It was important to them that Abigail should attend a Jewish school, specifically Hertsmere JPS, just down the road from their home. To their huge disappointment, their applications in 2008 for a nursery place and in 2009 for the reception class were both rejected. “It appeared that after siblings had been admitted, there were only three places left for children who live in Radlett,” Mr Harris said. “And since there were three families who lived slightly closer to the school than we did, their children got in and our daughter didn’t.”
With an application to Rosh Pinah in Edgware also rejected and the local alternative a fiercely traditional Church of England school, the Harrises felt compelled to send Abigail to the fee-paying Radlett Preparatory. “At least, there are a few other Jewish children there, unlike the local state schools, now that HJPS has creamed off most of the local Jewish kids.”
Mr Harris is incredulous that such a situation persists. “My wife and I both came from small Jewish communities — Liverpool and Cape Town — and we both went to Jewish schools. In one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the country, we are shocked that we cannot get our child into a Jewish school.” The couple say that many friends are in a similar situation.
Their hope is for a new Jewish school in Borehamwood, with its large Orthodox community. “That would take the pressure off HJPS and allow them to admit more children from Radlett, Shenley and other local communities,” Mr Harris added.