Department for Education officials are seeking an urgent meeting with a Jewish school in an attempt to defuse a dispute over its admission policy that has seethed during the past month.
A group of five parents at the nursery of Clore Shalom, a pluralist primary in Hertfordshire, were furious when proposed changes to its entry rules meant that their children would be left stranded without a place in the reception class next autumn.
In the past few years, almost all of the 30 children in the nursery have gone on to the infant school the following year.
In August, the school was told by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, which regulates schools admissions, that it could no longer give priority to children who attended its nursery, or who belonged to a synagogue, after a complaint was made against its entry rules.
But, as a result of amending the entry criteria, five of the parents at the nursery were told that their children would now lose priority for a reception place in September. One of the children has since left the nursery.
In a letter to parents, Clore Shalom chairman of governors Irene Blaston wrote: “We asked the Board of Deputies to petition the Department for Education on our behalf, for permission to delay the implementation of these changes until 2014.”
Despite that, she said the school had now received “a very clear edict from the DfE”, headed by Education Secretary Michael Gove, that the new rules must take effect from September 2013.
But further inquiries to the department by the JC have revealed that the school has more room for manoeuvre. A DfE official stated this week that it had written to the school “clarifying that — as set out in the Admissions Code and reiterated by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator — changes should be made as quickly as possible but no later than April 15  following the decision.
“It is up to the school what changes are needed to comply and when they come into effect, given their individual circumstances.
“We will be inviting the school to meet senior officials at the Department to discuss the issue and ensure the matter can be resolved for all concerned.”
If the revised admissions policy were not introduced until next spring, it would not apply until entry for September 2014, sparing the children currently at the nursery who would have been hit by the change.
David Prever, whose four-year-old son Barney is one of the nursery children affected, said: “If the new criteria can be delayed until 2014, then the governors should immediately revert to the admission criteria that were in place when our children started at the school. I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t want to do this. It will be a huge injustice if it turns out our children cannot continue at the school where we want them to.”