Rethink on academies may prove a blessing in disguise

May 19, 2016 11:22

The twists and turns of education policy can be hard to follow. While there may seem to be no specific Jewish interest in the government's climbdown over academies, it could have a hidden benefit.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, although still wanting state schools to switch from local authority control to academy status, has dropped the demand for "blanket conversion".

Instead, only underperforming schools will be required to become academies, while good and outstanding schools will retain a choice of whether or not they do so.

If the government had pursued its plan for forced academisation, then local councils, faced with the extinction of their education departments, would have been less likely to take on board new faith schools. And that could have been bad news for the more Orthodox wing of the Jewish community.

When it comes to establishing a new state-aided faith school, doing it under the local authority umbrella has one big advantage: you have greater control over admissions. You can reserve all the places at the school for members of your own faith.

The cap on admissions is blocking school providers

By contrast, faith schools which are set up under the newer free school system are limited to allocating only half their places on the basis of religion.

In practice, most children at Jewish free schools are Jewish. This is because in addition to those admitted through the 50 per cent religion quota, other Jewish children can enter on different criteria such as living close to the school.

The restriction on entry rules, nevertheless, has deterred more Orthodox groups from applying to open free schools.

Charedi schools are already under pressure as a result of the expanding Orthodox population. Since the cost of maintaining independent schools is high, the attractions of securing state support for education are obvious.

One right-wing Orthodox girls school, Menorah High, took the plunge last year and became the country's 50th state-aided Jewish school when Barnet council approved its application. Other Orthodox schools could be tempted down the same track.

If the government had pressed ahead with its original academy plan and sidelined local councils altogether, then the only option for a new state-aided faith school might have been as a free school. At least now there seems to be a little more mileage in going down the council route.

There is another course of action which would appeal to the strictly Orthodox sector and that is for the government simply to relax the entry conditions for faith free schools.

Indeed, the New Schools Network, a charity which advises on setting up free schools, is lobbying for just such a change. NSN director Nick Timothy, has commented that "although well-intentioned, the current 50 per cent cap on admissions is actually blocking existing high-calibre school providers creating the much needed places that parents want".

May 19, 2016 11:22

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