The executive headteacher of JFS has dismissed the need for a new Jewish school at the same as seeking to reassure parents about plans to expand her own.
Deborah Lipkin wrote to parents following last week’s announcement of the proposal to increase year-seven entry to JFS from 300 to 360 in 2018 in order to meet an expected rise in demand in the Jewish system.
But supporters of the New Jewish High School, who hope to apply shortly to open a Jewish secondary free school in north-west London, maintain theirs is the better option.
Mrs Lipkin argued that the increased number of Jewish primary schools would not necessarily translate into hundreds of new applicants to Jewish secondary schools in future.
While JFS currently accepted around 100 students annually from non-Jewish primaries, she anticipated this figure would drop as a higher proportion of children instead went to Jewish primary schools. “The result of this uncertainty is that the true level of need is uncertain and therefore does not necessitate the opening of a new school,” she said.
She contended any new school would need to raise “many millions of pounds” within the community beyond any government support. “This is alongside a major fundraising drive to rebuild both Hasmonean and Kisharon — there is only so much money to go around.”
Increasing the intake of existing schools would enable “more control over the long-term supply of Jewish school places”, given the pool of mainstream Jewish children is forecast to contract after five years.
“We do not believe a new school should be built to meet a short—term and unspecified demand,” she said.
Parents were promised “full consultation” on the JFS expansion plan, while a working party after Pesach will begin exploring funding and logistics such as the provision of public transport. “We do anticipate that there is sufficient demand and support from both central and local government to address many of these challenges,” she said.
Addressing concerns over the size of JFS, she said its leadership was being organised so that “all areas of school life can be compartmentalised into three smaller schools within a school”.
If the school expanded, it would receive additional income and produce “increased economies of scale”, she said.
Meanwhile, it has had to lop over £1 million off its budget of more than £16 million — despite raising nearly £1 million from its gala dinner and from other gifts from philanthropists and parents.
The school has experienced a drop in local authority payments for special needs as well as the loss of tax relief on parental contributions towards Jewish studies. While its central government grant has remained static, it has had to cope with increased national insurance and pension contributions for staff.
Mrs Lipkin said a recently secured donation could be used only for building additional classrooms and not to prevent redundancies among staff.
Besides the proposed expansion of JFS, JCoSS plans to make its bulge class of 30 extra places this year permanent.
But Maurice Ashkenazi-Bakes, joint leader of the free school bid, said that on the basis of last week’s report on school numbers from the Institute of Jewish Policy Research and the current level of demand, “we don’t believe that 90 additional places is sufficient. Further, we want to use the opportunity of the shortage of places and the free school scheme to enhance parental choice.” The NHJS team also believed “parents prefer smaller schools.”
While some JFS parents have expressed unease about expanding it, the mother of one sixthformer there said this week: “The school has been around a long time and weathered many changes. It is a well-run ship. I think they’ll adapt and I have every confidence in the leadership.”