Experts failed to see this school-places shortfall coming

November 24, 2016 23:06

The competition for Jewish secondary school places has clearly caught the community's educations leaders by surprise. With little over two months to go to the start of the new school year, you might have found a handful of children still waiting for places at this stage in the past few years. But there appear to be at least a classful this year.

What has fuelled anguish even more is that many of these children are at Jewish primary schools and had expected to go on to Jewish secondary schools. It must be galling to have invested in your children's Jewish education and be left in the lurch, when other, less committed, families may have clinched places through the entry lottery simply by turning up to synagogue a few times.

The opening of two new state-aided Jewish secondary schools in the north-west London area in the past decade - Yavneh College in Hertfordshire and the Jewish Community Secondary School in East Barnet - had led to fears of the opposite problem: too few Jewish pupils to fill them. Instead the reverse has happened in a relatively short space of time.

While there has been no fresh research on the attitudes of Jewish parents, past surveys have emphasised the high premium they place on academic standards. Year after year the government's league tables have confirmed the good exam results collectively achieved by Jewish schools - Yavneh was England's best-performing non-selective state school at A-level last year.

Take into account the financial squeeze since 2007 that has put private education beyond the reach of more families, and Jewish state schools must seem an attractive option. Faced between the choice of an academically sound Jewish school and a local comprehensive with iffy results, even the most assimilated family might plump for the former.

Academic quality apart, Jewish schools are also perceived as a safer environment than some state alternatives. Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush recently remarked: "If you don't live in a leafy suburb like Richmond, you just won't send your children to the local schools. They are rife with problems - bullying, violence, drug-taking, racism...If you can't afford to send your child to an independent school, I wouldn't recommend anyone in Borehamwood to send their child to anywhere other than a Jewish school because the results are so good."

Jewish schools have a suction effect - the more Jewish children who choose them, the fewer there are left to go to the general system. Many parents will not send a child to a non-Jewish school if they are likely to be the only Jewish boy or gir l, or one of a tiny minority, in their year - which only increases the swing towards Jewish schooling.

Fears of rising antisemitism and hostility towards Israel are also cited by parents as a further reason to choose the protective enclaves of a Jewish school.

Jewish children are deserting the general state system. The UJIA runs its Jams (Jewish activities) programme in 31 general schools across the country, but only seven of these are state schools and they include academically selective schools such as elite Henrietta Barnet in London.

So what can be done for the unlucky children without a place? Schools say that not until the gates open next term should parents give up hope but families obviously can't rely on that. Pre-Yavneh and JCoSS, north-west London parents were happy to bus their children to King Solomon in Essex but are more reluctant to do so now, complaining of the distance and the school's inferior exam results, compared with JFS or Yavneh.

Reportedly there are more sibling entrants to some Jewish secondaries in the coming year, leaving fewer places available for those without a brother or sister already at the school.

Far from easing, demand is only likely to increase. In three years, an additional 120 children will graduate from bulge classes from Jewish primary school systems that year. Then there is the potential impact of five new Jewish primary schools opened in north-west London.

In the meantime, JCoSS will cut the number of priority places given to its three feeder schools from 75 to 50 next year.

That could leave a few more places open to north-west London children next year, while forcing more pupils from its Essex feeder, Clore Tikvah, to consider King Solomon.

November 24, 2016 23:06

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