In an ideal world, the application rules for Jewish primary schools would be standard everywhere and parents' lives a lot easier.
Jewish primaries, however, show a greater diversity in entry policies than secondaries. That is largely because there are many more primary schools - close to 30 state-aided Jewish schools in London as well as four independents serving the mainstream sector, not to mention an increasing number of Charedi independents. Outside the capital, there are eight state-aided Jewish primary schools in the Midlands, north of England and Scotland.
Individual primaries may cater for a particular local community - a few are linked to particular synagogues -which is reflected in their admissions rules. And since primary schools have a smaller intake than secondaries, they may need a more finely graduated entry policy to sift candidates.
But there is plenty of time to get on top of the details. The deadline for applications for places in reception at state-aided primary schools for autumn 2017 is not until January 15.
The Find A Jewish School website, run by Partnerships for Jewish Schools, is a helpful directory which links directly to the schools' own sites. The vast majority have published their admissions policies for next year online.
In the first instance, schools give priority to those who qualify as Jewish according to a practice test operated by the particular school. That might involve a required minimum number of synagogue attendances a year or involvement in a Jewish educational or communal activity.
The further right you go, the more stringent the practice test becomes. For example, Avigdor Hirsch Torah Temimah, a state-aided Strictly Orthodox primary in north-west London, asks parents to guarantee, among other things, that children have no access to TV or the internet. Another Charedi-orientated school, Menorah Foundation, questions parents whether they tovel keilim (ritually immerse new utensils) or observe shmirat lashon (avoid gossip).
Since most schools have more Jewish applicants than places, they will then use other criteria to decide who takes precedence. This will commonly be "looked-after" children (who have been in care); children with special needs who have an educational and health care plan that specifies the school in question; children of staff or siblings of existing pupils
The order may vary from school to school. Some will also include siblings of former pupils. And then, in each category, if there are more applicants than places, the school will use a "tie-break" system, usually decided on who lives closest to the school.
In the past, schools often gave preference to children who had attended their nursery but this has become far less frequent since the Office of Schools Adjudicator, the body which regulates schools admissions, tends to regard it as unfair.
Certificate of religious practice
A number of central Orthodox schools use the Certificate of Religious Practice approved by the Office of the Chief Rabbi in order to prioritise Jewish entrants. They are Etz Chaim in Mill Hill, Hertsmere Jewish Primary in Radlett, Mathilda Marks-Kennedy in Mill Hill, Michael Sobell Sinai in Kenton, Moriah in Pinner, Simon Marks in Stoke Newington, Wohl Ilford, Wolfson Hillel in Enfield and Yavneh Primary, Borehamwood.
The CRP for primary schools differs from secondaries. To gain the maximum four points for priority, families must attend a synagogue service on eight different Shabbatot between May this year and January 7, 2017. According to the rubric, the parent or child has to attend the service rather than simply turn up for a fleeting appearance on the day.
Alternatively, attending four synagogue services amounts to two points. If a parent, child or sibling has taken part in Jewish educational activity once a month over the previous six months – for example, attending nursery or a synagogue lecture – that is worth two points.
Two points can also be scored if the parent has done voluntary work for a Jewish organisation at least 12 times during the two years before the application (excluding fundraising).
As with secondary school CRPs, they need to be counter-signed by a rabbi or other official.
Whereas most Jewish schools can reserve all their places for Jewish pupils, this does not apply to the new wave of free schools that have emerged: three Orthodox primaries in London – Rimon in Golders Green, Etz Chaim and Yavneh and three cross-communal, Eden in Muswell Hill, Alma in Finchley and the only Jewish school in south London, Mosaic.
Free schools are permitted to award only half their places on the basis of faith. The remainder are allocated on other grounds such as living near the school. So it remains possible for Jewish children to gain a place even if they are not part of the 50 per cent faith intake.
A question of priorities: what different schools require
The following examples illustrate how schools may differ in some of their entrance requirements. It is not a comprehensive list of schools or of their admissions policies.
The only school in the country defined as Progressive - as opposed to pluralist or cross-communal - gives priority to children who have attended services on at least seven different Shabbatot at a Reform or Liberal synagogue or the New North London (Masorti) Synagogue between May and the end of October this year. Or, alternatively, to a child who has attended a Reform or Liberal nursery or the NNLS nursery Gan Alon for two terms before the end of the year.
After siblings and children of staff, extra priority goes to families who have notched up 15 synagogue attendances.
The cross-communal free school operates an unusually broad practice test. Parent or child must attend a minimum of seven synagogue services during the year before the application deadline, or the parent must have taken part in seven acts of learning or communal activity over the 12 months, which could be anything from Limmud to Mitzvah Day. Otherwise the child must have spent at least six months in Jewish education over the past year or the parent must have volunteered within the Jewish community monthly for a year during the previous two years.
Beit Shvidler, Edgware
Priority goes firstly to children who "regularly attend and participate" in the independent Edgware Adath Yisroel Synagogue. "Regular" is defined as davening an average three times a week, which must include Shabbat, for a year before entry and being involved in learning programmes. After EAYC families, priority goes to other Orthodox synagogue regulars.
Clore Shalom, Shenley
The pluralist primary gives priority to those who have attended a Reform, Liberal or Masorti synagogue 40 times this year; then, to those who have attended such a synagogue five times over the previous four months; and then to those who have been once in four months to any synagogue. Applicants can only count two synagogues in their attendance record.
Hertsmere Jewish Primary, Radlett
After siblings, the oversubscribed primary awards places to those living in six specified areas. A maximum of 40 per cent go to those within the WD6 postcode from Borehamwood, 15 per cent in WD6 from Elstree and so on.
Independent Jewish Day School, Hendon
A parental questionnaire asks if they observe Shabbat and Yomtov strictly, pray and learn regularly, eat only at kosher restaurants and agree to dress appropriately (for example, men should generally wear a kippah and women avoid leggings). The next tier of priority is for those who have attended an Orthodox synagogue at least 30 times during the year.
In the event of oversubscription, 60 per cent of places are then reserved for those living within a mile radius of the school and the remainder allocated by lottery.
Kerem, Hampstead Garden Suburb
After siblings of existing pupils, the £9,000-a-year Orthodox private school gives priority to siblings of former pupils whose families belong to the local HGS United Synagogue and "demonstrate commitment" to Orthodox Judaism and the Jewish community; thence to the first child of HGS members: then to the siblings of HGS children who have not attended Kerem: then to the first child of other Orthodox synagogues.
King David Junior School, Manchester
Priority is given to those who attend Orthodox synagogues, then to those who attend non-Orthodox synagogues, but without any specified number of visits.
North-West London Jewish Day School, Cricklewood
Applicants are asked to fill out a questionnaire about their Shabbat and kashrut observances, attendance at prayer and daily learning. Priority is given to those who score 34 out of a maximum 35 points in their response and attend Orthodox congregations within three miles of the school. The form has to be signed by the rabbi of the synagogue where the family regularly worships - "regular" defined as at least four times a month over the previous 12 months. For those who score under 34, priority goes to regular Orthodox synagogue worshippers.
Rimon, Golders Green
Priority goes firstly to parents who attend at least 30 Shabbat morning services at Golders Green United Synagogue plus one weekday service a month (including Friday night), then to those who attend 20 Shabbat services and one monthly weekday at Golders Green and then to 20 Shabbat services at Golders Green. Next in line are those who attend a similar number, in the same order, at other synagogues.
Rosh Pinah, Edgware
The Orthodox school uses its own CRP test, different from those of other schools under the Chief Rabbinate. Priority goes firstly to those who score six points, then to three points. For six points, attendance at 12 Shabbat services is required over the previous year; eight Shabbatot earns three points. If a child's parent attends adult education three times during the year, that scores three. And volunteering for a Jewish organisation at least a dozen times over five years is also worth three.
Sacks Morasha, Finchley
To qualify for priority, a parent must have attended at least 18 Shabbat services on Saturday between June 25 and December 26 this year. Precedence goes firstly to those who have worshipped at least 13 times at Finchley United Synagogue; then to those for the same number at Woodside Park United Synagogue; and then at any other Orthodox synagogue.