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The politics and numbers lying behind the bid for a new school

    Nicky Morgan is likely to see one wish fulfilled. Last month the then-Education secretary told a Jewish fundraising dinner that she would like to see more Jewish free schools. Well, now no fewer than three are planning to put in a bid to the Department for Education to open a new Jewish secondary free school in London in 2018.

    We may see anything from one to three applications in the end, depending on whether the three groups choose to combine forces. But it is likely that only one of the Kedem High, Barkai College or Hertfordshire Jewish Free School (HJFS) groups will succeed.

    A new school would bring relief to many Jewish parents anxious to ensure that their children will have a Jewish secondary school to go to. But not everyone is ready to welcome the prospect.

    Firstly, some question whether there are the numbers to justify an additional state-aided, mainstream Jewish secondary school in London. Then there are those such as Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis who do not favour the current free school model since it can only guarantee half its places to Jewish children (although in practice more Jewish children would be able to attend).

    Rabbi Mirvis has already been lobbying for the government to lift the 50 per cent cap on admitting children on the basis of religion to free schools. When Theresa May came round to his house for dinner on Tuesday, no doubt the Chief Rabbi had a word in the incoming Prime Minister's ear.

    If the free school rules change, the Chief Rabbi might be minded to back one of the applicants, although the Barkai College proposal, on the modernist flank of modern Orthodoxy, might seem a little too edgy for some of his rabbis. In the meantime, his office has kept a lid on what other school options he might be investigating.

    One mooted alternative is to relocate King Solomon, which has a minority Jewish intake, from Essex to North London. As a voluntary-aided rather than free school, it has complete control of admissions and could give all its places to Jewish applicants if there were enough. That could solve the problem - for those for whom it is a problem - of having a multi-faith Jewish school.

    Essex parents, of course, may have rather different ideas about the desirability of moving their local school.

    Some existing Jewish schools are also worried about the potential impact on their own numbers from a new school and there are those in the Jewish educaitonal world who still believe it preferable to try to create more places within the current system. Hasmonean High School, for example, hopes to expand from 180 to 210 a year if it can relocate its boys' division next to the site of its girls'.

    Depending on how you read the numbers, the latest projections suggest that there could be anything from 90 to 150 too few places in the state-aided Jewish sector in north-west London over the next five years.

    The HJFS group believes that, in addition, there is an untapped market in the northern part of Hertfordshire, which they cite as an argument for locating any new Jewish secondary school there.

    Longer-term, however, outside the Charedi community, the numbers of Jewish school-age children are projected to fall, which could leave Jewish schools struggling to fill places with Jewish children within a generation, especially with the addition of another school. But parents with a child now at a Jewish primary school in London can be excused from thinking that far ahead.

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