Family & Education

Noam told it must rewrite entry policy

Admissions watchdog says synagogue membership cannot be used to decide priority for places


Britain’s newest state-aided Jewish school has been told to revise its entry policy for next year after it was criticised by the admissions regulator.

Noam Primary School in Wembley, which became state-aided at the beginning of the year, was told that its criteria for choosing children did not comply with the requirements of the Schools Admissions Code to be clear, objective and fair.

The Office of Schools Adjudicator said the school could not use synagogue membership as a basis for allocating places.

It also said requirements for parents regularly to attend synagogue services or take part in Jewish learning were too vague.

Many Jewish schools have been forced to revise their entry policies by the OSA over the past few years.

Noam will now have a couple of months to revise its arrangements before applications are made for entry in September 2020.

Opened as an independent school in 1999, it was approved for state aid by Barnet Council last November.

It plans to expand its roll of around 180 pupils to 200 after it moves from Wembley Synagogue to its purpose-built new building in Burnt Oak early next year.

The OSA said the school had not been entitled to use religious criteria to select pupils in September last year because it had not received the requisite clearance from the Department for Education to operate as a faith school in time.

But this had no practical effect because “fortunately” the school was undersubscribed last autumn, the OSA said.

The regulator also said that governors should have published its entry policy for 2020 in March this year rather than finalising it in July.

Although Noam converted from an independent to a state school in just a month, the short time did “not excuse the governing board from its duty to determine and publish admission arrangements as required by the code,” the adjudicator Phil Whiffing said.

He found problems with a clause giving priority to children “where both parents are members of an Orthodox synagogue”. It would be unfair, he said, “to discriminate against a child if one parent was dead, or absent for another reason such as separation or divorce”.

Membership of a synagogue could not be used to allocate places in any case because it usually involved a payment — and the admissions code ruled out taking into account financial contributions to a school or associated body.

Even though Noam’s policy later suggested that membership might not mean formally joining, the adjudicator ruled it out of order because it was not one of the religious activities listed as suitable for determining entry by the Office of the Chief Rabbi — the school’s religious authority.

As for synagogue attendance, it was not enough for parents to be told they should “regularly participate” in services, Mr Whiffing said. They “must be told whether this is, say, one or more times a week or a month and how long this level of participation must have been going on for”.

Similarly, there was “no indication of the amount of time a parent must give to learning or charitable work, or the length of time that these activities should have been followed”.

He also objected to a question about compliance with modest dress because it was too general. “What one person considers to be modest may not be considered to be modest by another even within the same religious community,” Mr Whiffing said.

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