Failed by such a shoddy ruling

November 24, 2016 23:22

The "Fair Admissions Campaign" (FAC) is 18 months old. As befits a child of the 21st century it has multiple parents, among which are the British Humanist Association, which claims it objects to state funding of faith schools but which is actually opposed to all faith-based education, believing "schools should not bring up children in a particular religion when they are too young to make up their minds," and the Accord Coalition, whose leader, Rabbi Jonathan Romain, claims he supports faith schools provided pupils are admitted to them regardless of faith.

In 2013, the BHA, along with Accord and other like-minded groups, brought forth the FAC as a weapon in the war they declared against the intrusion of faith into the English educational system - or rather, against the part played by religion in the admission arrangements of taxpayer-funded faith schools. Now the campaign can claim its first victories. In the case of the cross-communal Jewish Community Secondary School, the campaign has managed to persuade the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) that it is unlawful to use parental synagogue membership as an entry requirement. In the case of the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School, the OSA has issued a far more damning set of rulings, for which the FAC is only partly to blame.

The FAC claimed the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School was in breach of the School Admissions Code (SAC) inasmuch as its entry criteria included inappropriate (indeed, allegedly unlawful) references to matters of parental lifestyle (such as the use of television and the internet, and even the mode of dress adopted by the fathers of intending pupils), and that its "oversubscription" rules gave preference to charedi girls recognised as such by the rabbinate of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations over "other charedi Jewish girls." In fact, in its "Determination", the OSA gave only partial support to these objections. The OSA ruled, for instance, that references to dress code, the internet and television were in principle permitted by the SAC (as it reflected the school's overall religious ethos), but only if the school was oversubscribed. If not, non-charedi families could apply, and would be entitled to have their applications considered without reference to these lifestyle considerations.

Whether any non-charedi family would want their daughter to attend the school is a moot point. So, at first glance, the FAC victory appears incomplete. But, in the course of its judgment, the OSA considered other matters, some of which had not initially been raised by the objectors but which struck the OSA as odd, not to say illegal.

For example, the school claimed its faith-based oversubscription criteria operated with reference to guidance issued by the UOHC's rabbinate. "I had asked (the Adjudicator explained) for copies of any such guidance… but none had been provided… the school told me that there was guidance but that it was not written down."

It’s probably too much to expect a public apology now

Different definitions of "charedi" were apparently provided in different documents provided by the school and in correspondence. The school had purported to impose the condition that a girl already in attendance might be required to leave should the UOHC's rabbinate decide that her parents no longer met its lifestyle desiderata. The Adjudicator deemed this be a breach of the law.

Scarcely less serious were the requirements - also now deemed illegal - that the "Supplementary Information Form" that accompanies a formal application had to be signed not merely by both parents (in fact only one is necessary) but also by the girl on whose behalf the application was being submitted. This form also asked for the name of the primary school attended; the Adjudicator could see no good reason why.

The Determination of the OSA in the case of the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School amounts to a sad litany of bureaucratic infractions, shoddy administration and downright illegality.

From the school it is probably expecting too much to ask for a public apology. But the National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools cannot stay silent. And the case for intervention from the Board of Deputies is surely overwhelming.

November 24, 2016 23:22

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