The wait is nearly over. Next Wednesday parents up and down the country will know which state secondary school their children have been allocated for entry this September.
While there will be joy and relief in many households, for others the nail-biting will only just begin as, having failed to get their preferred options they must take a chance on the waiting lists.
In London last year, around 69 per cent of applicants received their first-choice school.
No one can predict whether this year there will be a repeat of the past two years, when there were Jewish children in north-west London without any local Jewish secondary school to go to. But Jewish education leaders are quietly hopeful extra places will mean room for all, even if not everyone gets their first choice.
JCoSS has increased its first-year intake from 180 to 210, while JFS may also expand from 300 to 330 depending on demand.
Applications to both Yavneh College and JFS have actually dropped this year — but that means little as both remain heavily oversubscribed.
The number of online applicants to JFS fell from 779 to 714 this year and from 545 to 492 for 150 places at Yavneh.
More than half the places at JFS last year, 166, went to siblings. Overall, 79 per cent of the places went to those who put the school as their first choice, 16 per cent second choice and around five per cent third.
At Yavneh last year, 66 out of 180 places went to siblings — but the school is not repeating last year’s one-off bulge class. Overall, 173 out of the 222 who put the school first preference got in, while just six who listed it second, and one third, were also successful.
Tracy Ellis knows how disappointing the lottery system used to determine places can be. In 2015, her son Alex, a pupil at Mathilda Marks-Kennedy Jewish Primary School, failed to get any of the four Jewish state secondary schools he applied to.
He eventually started Christ’s College in Finchley (Lord Sacks’s alma mater) with three other Jewish pupils in his year. “He was fine,” his mother said. But because of the uncertainty of his school destination, she said, “I don’t think that he felt able to enjoy the end of Year 6 as much as he would have liked.”
Then, out of the blue, three months ago, a Year 8 place became available at JFS and now Alex has moved there. It means his younger brother will be able to go there later as a sibling.
But sister Lucy was left without a Jewish school when she applied last year. She is now at Mill Hill County and although she is settled, her mother believes she would be happier at a Jewish school. “When Alex got the JFS place, people were saying ‘get the champagne out’ but I don’t feel able to do that until Lucy is sorted as well,” Mrs Ellis said. “It’s very frustrating, the randomness of it all.”
For families in a similar boat, she suggests “widen your compass” and look seriously at schools that may be less familiar. But if your child is on a waiting list, “be prepared for a bit of a bumpy ride”.
Sophia Jacobs had to wait several months until a prized place came up at JFS. She was finally successful only after the fourth admissions round in June.
“I was a bit calmer than my wife,” said her father Spencer. “We put down three Jewish schools and two local schools and we didn’t get any of them at first.”
Although they did consider the school Sophia was initially allotted, they felt it was not right for her. “Other parents told us to be patient, don’t worry, something will happen. But I still know people who did not get a place of their choice.”
And waiting for JFS cost him £2,000. As a precaution, his daughter sat the exam for the private Immanuel College and was offered a place there, which required the family to put down a non-returnable deposit.
But he is “delighted” with JFS and Sophia is “thrilled to bits”.
For families this year who may face a nerve-wracking few months, he says, “Keep your fingers crossed”.
The Etgar Challenge
The Etgar competition in July is a highlight in the primary school calendar. Now you can test your children’s knowledge in a new weekly quiz. Answers below
1. Spot the odd one out:
2 Isaac is to Abraham as Solomon is to whom?
3. In what century did the Chafetz Chaim live?
4. In every 19-year cycle, how many leap years are there?
5. What does the word Hatikvah mean?
a) The Dream
b) The Shield
c) The Mosquito
d) The Hope
e) The Future
6. Who are the Tannaim?
a) Special guests who come to visit us on Succot
b) The High Priests
c) Sages of the Mishnah
d) Early Zionist settlers
e) Medieval rabbis who comment on the Torah
Highlight the area below to see the answers...
1. c (the others are some of the seven species associated with the Land of Israel)