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Will George Osborne's academy plans help or harm Jewish schools?

    George Osborne
    George Osborne

    George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced last week that all schools must become academies by 2020, or have official plans in place to do so. This, he argued, would "set schools free" from local council bureaucracy.

    But what do the changes mean?

    The model gives headteachers greater control over budgets, salaries, staffing and curriculum, seemingly giving power back to schools.

    But Rabbi David Meyer, executive director of Partnerships for Jewish Schools (Pajes), warned that the new system could be an extra burden for heads, who are first and foremost educators, and do not necessarily have the skills to be CEOs.

    "This initiative will present opportunities for schools; however, at the same, it may further increase the pressures on headteachers," he said. "Pajes will be looking to work with schools in order to help them through these challenges.

    Rabbi David Meyer
    Rabbi David Meyer

    "There are considerable concerns surrounding the protection of the [Jewish] ethos of schools through the academisation process and the joining of multi-academy trusts [a group of schools]. Pajes is currently in discussion with the DfE to ensure that schools have sufficient protection in this regard."

    Specifically, concern has been expressed about Jewish primary schools. While secondary schools should be big enough to cope with the changes, primary schools - especially those with a one-form entry - tend not to have the same kinds of resources. As such, they will inevitably rely on the trust that takes control of them.

    Rabbi Meyer explained: "It becomes impossible for small primary schools. Without the support from local authorities, they are really going to struggle. These schools will have to join a multi-academy trust, which for all intents and purposes will have complete control of the school.

    "For our community, that poses a real problem because the trust could decide they want to see a change in the ethos of the school."

    Less worry has been expressed by the heads of secondary schools.

    "Having been trailed at the general election, the expansion of the academy programme was expected," JFS head Jonathan Miller said. "In planning for this transition, we will ensure that the school's strong Jewish ethos is preserved."

    JCoSS head Patrick Moriarty agreed: "The announcement is not a surprise, and the 2022 deadline gives ample time for planning. The main impact would be technical ones to the financial and administrative department and there will be no significant change to our teaching and learning."

    There is every possibility that the community's schools will thrive as academies but that depends on the proviso that they are permitted to maintain their Jewish ethos. Worryingly, this is not guaranteed.

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