Is there a need for a new Jewish school?
It’s a question we’ve been asked time and again since we started this project over a year ago. In our view, the answer is a resounding yes. That yes is based on our own analysis of the demand as well as the recently released report from the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, Will My Child Get A Place?.
However, the need for a new Jewish school goes far deeper than the numbers. We have set out from the beginning – first as two distinct teams, and now as one joint effort – to widen the choice available for parents. The New Jewish High School will give families a new option for their children’s Jewish education.
The school will have an inclusive modern Orthodox ethos, with a warm and nurturing environment. Along with a science, maths and technology specialisation, it will be a place where students can learn about Jewish values, culture, and texts. Social responsibility and interfaith work would also feature in the curriculum. In short, a new Jewish secondary school would create a new option for families, not recreate a school that is already in existence.
The JPR report confirmed our belief that there is enough demand from Jewish families to fill a new secondary school.
The revolutionary expansion of Jewish primary schools in London has resulted in more families than ever choosing to educate their children in a Jewish setting. Over the past 10 years, six new Jewish primary schools in Barnet, Haringey and South Hertfordshire have opened, several voluntary-aided primary schools in Barnet have expanded and a further independent primary school is currently seeking access to the state sector. Their remarkable popularity shows that “if you build it, they will come.”
The first classes of leavers from the majority of these schools are only now starting to come through. Many, if not most, of these children will choose to continue their education at a Jewish secondary school. While existing Jewish schools have said they plan to increase their capacity, offering 90 additional places from 2018 onwards, there may still be many children left without a place. Research also shows that parents overwhelmingly prefer smaller schools.
As we know all too well, securing a place at a Jewish school is a major worry for parents. In 2016, 1,057 children put one of the four maintained Jewish secondary schools in north-west London and Hertfordshire as their first choice preference. With only 857 places available across the schools, 207 children were left without a place. The JPR study aimed to look at the final result of these children’s efforts to secure a space, and found that after adjustments for those leaving the waiting lists, and those who had a place at an alternative maintained Jewish school, 64 children were left without a place. This figure would have been higher still had Yavneh and Hasmonean stuck to their official pupil admission numbers.
The JPR report’s middle estimate is that over 100 additional children will apply for spaces by 2022 compared with 2016, resulting in a shortage of places equivalent to a six-form entry school.
We are in an exceptional and enviable position compared to Jews in other parts of the world. Our Jewish schools boast some of the top results in the UK, while also giving our children a solid understanding and appreciation for their faith. State funding means they are accessible to the entire community, making Jewish education a reality for many who would be unable to afford the high school fees that feature at Jewish schools in the United States, Canada, Australia and elsewhere.
We have already witnessed the impact of Jewish primary free schools, funded by the Government, on our community. A new secondary free school would deliver badly needed spaces, without draining community resources.
It is a central tenet of Judaism that a community has a responsibility to educate its children. Thanks to the free school scheme, we may be able to do just that.
Eve Sacks is jointly leading the bid for the New Jewish High School