Family & Education

The new digital route to school admissions

The new Covid-enforced rules for school entry next year couldn't come soon enough for many parents


For the past few months, parents of children applying to go to school next year have had to wait in limbo.

Many Jewish schools use a system whereby if they are oversubscribed, priority goes to children who have collected a certain number of Certificate of Religious Practice (CRP) points. Commonly, this involves attending a number of synagogue services in the months before the application or taking part in educational and volunteering activities.

But thanks to Covid-19, shuls and other institutions have been closed, depriving families of the usual route to acquiring points.

Since points collection normally starts on May 1, many parents have wondered how they were going to get points for 2021 entry. The past few months have been “a very anxious time” with “no direction as to what is happening,” said Sheryl Ruth Barker, who hopes to send her daughter to Wolfson Hillel Primary.

But with deadlines for secondary school not so far away — the end of October, primaries are mid-January — special new guidelines were at last released last week by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.

“Things don’t look too different,” said the OCR’s director of communications, Mark Frazer .“[We’ve] just moved to doing things digitally rather than in person.”

One relief for parents is that the new rules, applicable to United Synagogue and other schools under the umbrella of the OCR, don’t require children with siblings already at the school to obtain a new CRP.

Parents can now choose to collect points by attending digital synagogue services for Kabbalat Shabbat or erev Yomtov or taking a new United Synagogue Jewish online education course. Administered by Tribe, the six-week course explores a variety of topics from the Jewish calendar to creation to mitzvot. It starts on August 26 and all six sessions need to be attended to be eligible for the points.

Some families have already been participating in digital programmes through lockdown in anticipation. Laura Weiskopf Pincus, who hopes to get her son into JFS or JcoSS, said he has been “attending cheder online,” although they “have not been collecting points consciously” yet.

The guidelines took a while to appear because changes in admissions policy have to be cleared with the Department for Education, a process that can take up to 18 months. To save time, the OCR prepared a group submission. Rachel Fink, headteacher at JFS, said that despite the delay perceived by parents “the collective submission has made the process extremely smooth”.

JFS will follow the rules set out by the OCR and Mrs Fink is confident that “all parents [will be] able to complete their applications successfully and in time for the admissions deadline.”

The cross-communal JCoSS, which does not fall under the auspices of the OCR, announced as early as May that it would be running a new “virtual cheder” in summer and autumn. Attending four out of five cheder sessions will give applicants enough points for their application. Around 30 participants registered for the first course and the same number are expected for the second course, which runs over September and October.

Clore Shalom Primary in Shenley is another school which stated early in lockdown that screen shots to prove attendance at digital services would be acceptable.

Deborah Rizzuti from Edgware, who is applying to Mathilda Marks and Rosh Pinah for her daughter, had been concerned about primary schools “doing different things. There hasn’t been very good communication to families about what is happening, which may mean that we don’t attend the classes and don’t have enough points.”

Charlotte Blumenfeld from Borehamwood agreed. “I hope that given the lack of communication, the expectations and deadlines will be able to be met.”

However, some parents worry about convincing a three-year-old to sit through multiple online sessions, or 11-plus students suffering from Zoom burnout. Simi Bennett said her daughter “has no interest in online services… I’m not sure how we can collect our points if she can’t sit to watch a service through a screen.”

Screengrabs of the services would not be necessary under the OCR rules. “We are still operating on the trust system,” Mr Frazer said, adding that he and the schools hoped parents and children would take the CRP seriously.

Kirsten Jowett, chief executive of the Jewish Community Academy Trust, which oversees five Orthodox primaries, believed the modified CRP “allows parents to demonstrate their commitment to Judaism within reasonable parameters in unprecedented times”.

For parents still concerned there won’t be enough time to collect the requisite number of points between now and October, Mr Frazer is reassuring: “We don’t think that it will be necessary to extend the deadlines in part because it will actually be easier to collect points this year,” he said.

They are, however keeping this under review, as at the heart of the new policy is an attempt to “make life as easy as possible [for applicants]”.

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