Over the past month, some synagogues have been enjoying a swell in numbers for services. For many families, the process of applying to a Jewish school for September 2017 has started in earnest and they are busy collecting synagogue-attendance points to qualify for priority entry.
For first-time applicants, the road to a Jewish school can be studded with unfamiliar acronyms like SIF (supplementary information form) or CRP (certificate of religious practice). But getting to grips with the detail is less daunting than it may, at first, seem.
For state-aided Jewish secondary schools, the deadline for applications for entry in 2017 is October 31 this year. Applications go through your local authority, which allows you to rank your choice of schools in order of preference (the number can vary - Barnet permits six, for example, but Hertfordshire four).
In addition, each Jewish school will ask you to submit an SIF directly and this provides information to help allocate priority places. In some cases, they may want these in before the end of October - if you want to know more about individual schools, a helpful place to start is the Find A Jewish School website, www.findajewishschool.co.uk, run by Partnerships for Jewish Schools.
Jewish schools award priority to children with a requisite level of Jewish practice, as determined by the school. Along with the SIF, parents will usually have to submit a second form signed by a rabbi or another authorised official to show that they have met the conditions. It is most commonly known as a Certificate of Religious Practice.
Children will generally have had to attend synagogue on Shabbat a specific number of times in the months before the application. Alternatively, they must have had some Jewish education and either they or their parents must have taken part in Jewish volunteer work.
To notch up synagogue attendance records, you will need to register with the synagogue you plan to attend in advance. Borehamwood and Elstree, one of the largest United Synagogue congregations, advises registration at least three days before you show up.
You don't have to be a member of that synagogue to register. In fact, you don't actually have to be Jewish at all, even if you're applying to a mainstream Orthodox school such as JFS, you can still go to a Progressive synagogue. However, King David High School in Manchester gives priority to Orthodox synagogue attenders.
Such is the competition that there are more applicants with CRPs than there are places at most schools. So each school will use other factors -known as "oversubscription criteria" - to determine the pecking order for applicants. These could be how close the family lives to the school or whether the child has or has had a sibling there. But the criteria must be published in the school's admissions policy and, to comply with government directions, be objective, clear and fair.
Here is more detail about the year-seven admissions arrangements of some of the main Jewish secondary schools.
JFS, Yavneh College, Kantor King Solomon:
These three mainstream Orthodox schools under the aegis of the Chief Rabbi helpfully operate the same CRP policy. To get on the priority list, you need to score three practice points.
To obtain three, your child needs to have attended eight Friday night or Shabbat morning services at a synagogue (it doesn’t have to be an Orthodox synagogue) between May and the end of October this year. Note that festivals like Rosh Hashanah don’t count. Six attendances earn two points; three, one point.
Alternatively, one point is awarded if a child has had at least two years of formal education beforehand at a Jewish primary school, in cheder or with a tutor. Plus one point if either the child or parents have volunteered for a Jewish communal or charitable cause within the previous two years before the deadline.
Both JFS and Yavneh are heavily oversubscribed by “three-point” candidates. Both schools then firstly give preference to the siblings of current or former students – but with a slight difference. Yavneh counts former students who spent at least two years there; for JFS, siblings need to have spent a year there within the previous five years.
JFS reserves 10 out of 300 places for candidates living closest to the school, thereafter it chooses by random lottery. After siblings, Yavneh selects according to proximity to the school so those from Borehamwood stand a better chance than those in Watford. King Solomon has more places than Jewish applicants , while for non-Jewish students, it gives priority to those who practise a faith.
King David High School Manchester:
KDHS gives priority to those who attend an Orthodox synagogue, although without specifiying a minimum number of services. In the event of oversubscription, it favours those who have been to local Jewish primaries, including, firstly, its own junior school.
For this cross-communal high school, you need to have attended only four synagogue services in the six months before the application deadline to get into the priority pool.
Alternatively, your child must have had a minimum of three sessions of formal Jewish education in the previous six months; and your child or family must have taken part in at least three acts of Jewish volunteering in that time.
If it is oversubscribed, JCoSS gives preference to siblings or siblings of pupils who attended the school in the previous year, then to 10 children each from Akiva and Clore Tikvah primary schools and five from Clore Shalom, and then to 18 children living closest to the school. If there is still a waiting list, it resorts to lottery.
Hasmonean High School:
Catering for more observant families, the school expects a higher level of Jewish practice to qualify for priority. Families must score at least 13 points out of 16 on a questionnaire which asks, for example, whether they eat out only in kosher restaurants or consult an Orthodox rabbi on how to lead an Orthodox lifestyle.
Priority goes to siblings of existing pupils: then to applicants who are only children or the eldest child: and only then to siblings of former pupils.
Applicants need to score four religious practice points. To earn four, they need to have attended synagogue three or more times a month over the past year, had a year of previous Jewish education (which can include nursery), or you or your child needs to have acted in “a voluntary capacity” for a Jewish organisation.
As a private institution, the £16,000-a-year college holds an entrance exam in January with one-hour papers in English and maths. Scholarships can be awarded to high performers, as well as for art and for those who sit optional papers in science and Jewish studies. There are also means-tested bursaries.
Next week: primary schools