Family & Education

The options for King Solomon


No one can second-guess the outcome of the review of the Kantor King Solomon High School (KKS) in Redbridge, which has just been announced by its governors.

But its result will be closely watched beyond the immediate Essex community since it may have implications for the wider Jewish school system.

The governors themselves have stated no agenda other than to conduct "a far-ranging review into the future of Jewish education in north-east London" and revealed no preferred course of action.

But earlier this year the idea of relocating the United Synagogue school from Essex to north London was floated by the educational philanthropist Benjamin Perl, the president of Yavneh College. He saw it as a way to solve a shortage of Jewish secondary school places in north-west London which is expected to get worse over the next five years.

It was an idea that appealed to some within the US, too. While other groups pursued the option of opening a new Jewish free school, free schools had one catch for the Orthodox establishment: they can only guarantee half their places on the basis of faith.

Redbridge Jewry has dropped by almost a third since 2001

However, a voluntary-aided school like KKS or JFS is able to maintain full control of admissions.

Meanwhile, the Jewish intake at KKS has dropped to around a third each year and a considerable number of Jewish children from Essex are already being bussed to JCoSS and JFS in the north. This year, for example, 28 children went from the Clore Tikva Primary in Redbridge to JCoSS in Barnet, compared to 21 to KKS.

Since Mr Perl made his suggestion, the educational picture has changed. The government's recent announcement that it was planning to lift the cap on faith admissions to free schools removed the Chief Rabbi's objection to free schools. The US went on to back one of the two free school bids in north-west London, Kavanah College (the other applicant is Barkai College).

Nevertheless, the King Solomon transfer option remains on the US table. Whether the idea will gain sufficient traction among Jewish parents in Redbridge is a different matter.

At one time, KKS benefited from a stream of Jewish pupils from north-west London who were otherwise unable to gain a place at a Jewish secondary school but that dried up with the opening of Yavneh and JCoSS over the past decade. KKS's recent expansion from a five-form to a six-form entry in recent years has also conspired to reduce its proportion of Jewish pupils.

Another has been the Redbridge Jewish community's significant demographic decline. At the end of the 1970s, it was reckoned to be the third or fourth largest Jewish population in Greater London, numbering over 19,000 souls.

But by the time of the last Census in 2011, it had dropped to little over 10,000- a fall by almost a third from the previous Census in 2001.

Here are some possible options:

1. Stay put in Essex

● The school's leadership may hope its good Ofsted report and improved GCSE results will persuade more local Jewish families to send their children there rather than bus them to JCoSS or JFS in north-west London.

Additionally, the local Jewish population decline could slow down if more young couples choose to remain in the area because of the prohibitive cost of housing elsewhere.

But even if the Jewish roll does not increase at KKS, the King David High School in Liverpool has shown for many years how to operate as a Jewish school with a much smaller proportion of Jewish pupils than at KKS.

2. Transfer KKS to north London

● This is how it might pan out. The United Synagogue would give up the site of KKS to Redbridge Council to run as a general school in return for having a new voluntary-aided Jewish school, probably somewhere in the east Barnet area which would be accessible to Jewish families in Essex.

It would be a complex deal to pull off, involving two local councils and the Department for Education. But the US might argue that it represents better value for the state than simply funding a new Jewish free school from scratch.

Timing is critical, since the result of the two free school bids is due in March. While always possible that neither will succeed, the expectation is that one will. But then there would be no point in moving King Solomon north as well and further negotations would have to follow to see if both parties could come to an arrangement.

3. Change admissions policies at other schools

● The number of children going from Essex to JCoSS in Barnet looks set to drop after the cross-communal school cut the number of priority places for the Clore Tikva Primary in Redbridge from 20 to 10.

If JFS were also to change its admissions policy to give greater priority to children in the north-west and JCoSS removed Clore Tikva's feeder status altogether, that would force more Essex parents to look locally. However, that is not a change that is likely to go down well among those Essex parents who have already chosen the north-west option.

4. Change ethos of King Solomon

● King Solomon would remain as a Jewish school in Essex but the United Synagogue would give up control. The reason for doing this would be to encourage more of the children currently going from the cross-communal Clore Tivka to JCoSS rather than King Solomon. It is not an option likely to be top of the US list and there is no guarantee it would work, anyway.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive