Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, has defended the exposure of schools in breach of the government’s admissions code despite anger among Jewish schools at his decision to name them.
Writing in today’s JC, Mr Balls says: “I do not think that keeping all this information a secret would have been possible or the right thing to do in the public interest.”
Representatives of Jewish schools were expected to air their grievances at his actions at a special meeting with Schools Minister Jim Knight due to have taken place at the Board of Deputies last night.
They were particularly incensed at “cash-for-places” headlines in the national media following Mr Balls’s announcement last week that several Jewish schools had sought donations from parents on their children’s application form.
Other schools had fallen foul of the government’s guidelines by asking parents about their marital status or occupation on entry forms.
But in a letter to Mr Balls at the end of last week, Henry Grunwald, QC, president of the Board of Deputies, wrote: “I want you to know that I am not aware of any Jewish school that refuses admission to a pupil because of an inability to make such a contribution.”
The government carried out checks on 570 schools in three boroughs to test compliance with its new admissions code, which came into effect in February last year. One in six schools were found to have broken the code in some way, including all 13 state-aided Jewish schools in Barnet and Manchester.
Five of the six schools identified by Mr Balls as having asked parents on application forms to confirm their willingness to pay contributions were Jewish.
In his article in the JC today, Mr Balls makes clear that state-aided schools are entitled to seek donations for religious studies or security — as long as requests are “kept entirely separate from the admissions process”.
The headteachers and the chairmen of governors of all 39 state-aided Jewish schools in England were invited to yesterday’s meeting with Mr Knight.
Jon Benjamin, the Board of Deputies chief executive, said that trust between Jewish schools and the government had been eroded. “Jewish schools perform exceptionally well, by any measure of success, and many head teachers and governors will have formed the uncomfortable view that they are being specifically targeted for attention.”
Rabbi Abraham Pinter, principal of the strictly Orthodox state-aided Yesodey Hatorah Girls High in Hackney, said: “We need a lot of convincing that it was just a coincidence that two of the three boroughs selected by the department — Barnet and Manchester — just happen to have the highest and second highest number of Jewish schools.”
Educational philanthropist Benjamin Perl said that the message had gone out that either Jewish schools were “enriching themselves or were excluding poorer pupils. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Joshua Rowe, chairman of governors of Manchester’s King David High School, criticised “naming and shaming. You are not dealing with gangsters, but people who give their time for the benefit of the community.”