A Jewish high school in Leeds could stem the exodus of young families to larger Jewish centres.
It was second time lucky for the proposers of the free school, after an initial application was rejected in 2011. It will open next year, growing to a 175-place school with sixth-form provision in the heart of the local Jewish community in Alwoodley.
Around £250,000 is said to have been approved by the Department for Education for a scheme to modify existing buildings for secondary schooling on the Brodetsky Jewish Primary campus. Brodetsky head Jeremy Dunford will become the executive principal for both schools.
“A first step is moving the whole of the primary school to the top end of the building and clearing the space for the high school,” Mr Dunford said. “But our main focus for the next two or three months will be a marketing campaign. No parent will say ‘yes’ to sending their child until they are convinced the school will be there.”
Mr Dunford said the project was key to securing the long-term future of Leeds Jewry. “If you want families to live in Leeds, you need to offer the whole range of services.”
During the application process, doubts about the viability of a Jewish high school in Leeds were voiced by Joshua Rowe, governors’ chair of Manchester’s King David High. Mr Rowe had also highlighted the potential impact on King David, to which 90 pupils from Leeds currently commute. This week, Mr Rowe said the Leeds project was “great as a concept and we wish them every success.
“The serious concern is that, as a free school where, if it is oversubscribed, only a maximum of 50 per cent of places may be allocated to denominational pupils — that it does not end up like King David Liverpool.” Just 15 per cent of the Liverpool KD pupils are Jewish.
However, the Brodetsky primary has experienced rising intakes in recent years. And Councillor Daniel Cohen, who is behind the Leeds school plans, said worries over non-Jewish pupils were based on a misunderstanding.
“If a free school is oversubscribed, 50 per cent of places are allocated on normal admissions criteria. Given that we sit in the heart of a Jewish community, I’m confident the admissions criteria will give us a Jewish school perfectly suited to our community.”
Three of Anne Pliener’s six children commute to Manchester KD. Another child is committed to attend KD and the oldest is at university. But the Alwoodley mum said her sixth child would definitely attend the Leeds secondary. Her children at KD had made their social life in Manchester “and it is hard for parents. I do love King David — it’s fabulous and has been great for my kids — but we need it here. We need the community to live on, which it won’t do without a Jewish high school.”
Zoe Cohen, whose daughter is eligible for the first year, said it would be “a crying shame if not enough parents support the school. But it has to be right. The school needs to give us something to sway people from King David in Manchester and the Grammar School and Allerton High in Leeds.”