Spare a thought for the parents waiting to know next week whether their child will have won a place at a Jewish secondary school this autumn. The chances are that many will have to wait a little longer until a satisfactory offer comes up as the places merry-go-round spins again.
No one wants a repetition of last year when a number of Jewish children in north-west London – estimates are around 20 to 30 – were unable to find a place at one of the state-aided Jewish secondary schools in the area.
But the fear remains that the squeeze on places will start to get worse when more children graduate from Jewish primary schools in two years.
We are also going to have to wait to see if the sponsors of the proposed new Kedem high school put in their application to the government next week or postpone it at least another six months until after Partnerships for Jewish Schools (Pajes) has finished its number-crunching and produced its assessment of future demand.
Even if the Pajes data suggests there is room for a new school, the question then becomes what kind of school should it be. Pajes chief executive Rabbi David Meyer recently observed, “We have got to understand that there are some who would want to go to cross-communal schools, some to mainstream and some to the more Orthodox schools. Once you start splitting those up, you start getting numbers like 40 or 50 in each group, which is not enough to be setting up a new school for.”
Will there be some co-ordinated attempt to reach consensus and come up with a plan for a school that can satisfy different constituencies? Or will various groups go it alone and hope they can convince the government of their case?
Planning a new school also has to take into account that if you want a new state-aided school, almost certainly the only viable option now is a free school.
There is one critical difference between free schools and the existing Jewish state schools like Hasmonean, JFS or JCoSS set up under old regulations. With a free Jewish school, you can only guarantee half the places go to Jewish children.
Other Jewish children may be able to enter on different grounds such as living close to the school. But you can’t plan a Jewish secondary free school on the basis that you will only take Jewish children.
As the New Schools Network, a charity which advises free school bids, emphasises, “An application to open a faith free school is first and foremost an application to open a school that is inclusive of and beneficial to the whole community. The Department for Education will be assessing groups on how they plan to be inclusive and how they plan to attract pupils from all backgrounds and faiths.”