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Parents at crisis point as school places dry up

Home-schooling and even emigration considered by desperate families

    The Ellis family are concerned that son Alex (left) would have to hide his Jewishness at a non-Jewish school
    The Ellis family are concerned that son Alex (left) would have to hide his Jewishness at a non-Jewish school

    Anxious parents have said they will consider home-schooling, or even emigrating to the United States or Israel, to avoid having to send their child to a non-Jewish secondary school, as the admissions crisis continues.

    This week, educational agency PaJeS wrote to families who had still not secured school places for September, urging them to consider sending their children to King Solomon High School in Redbridge .

    In his letter, Rabbi David Meyer, PaJeS's executive director, wrote: "I am pleased to inform you that King Solomon High School is looking into the possibility of offering a number of additional places for next year, and co-ordinating a bus service to facilitate travelling to and from school."

    But according to parents who live in north-west London - and who belong to a Facebook group made up of 29 families without school places - King Solomon's distance from their homes, coupled with its reputation as a school with fewer Jewish pupils - 43 per cent of the roll - made it an "impossible" option.

    One mother, who did not want to be named, said she will have no other choice but to home-school her son if he fails to secure a place at a Jewish school by the start of next term. She has applied to JFS and Yavneh and has appealed after being rejected.

    "I don't want to home-school him because I have to work. But if we don't get in I'll have to rearrange everything and do it," she said. "I never thought it would get to this point."

    She said King Solomon was "completely unreachable" for her family, who live in Bushey. "The idea of a bus is horrific," she said. "It would take my son two hours each way every day.

    "His two best friends are going to JFS and he is left out. He is absolutely gutted."

    According to the mother of two, the idea of sending her son to a non-Jewish, local state school was also out of the question. "Why should my son be the only one out of his friends who doesn't belong to a Jewish school?" she said.

    This year has proven to be unprecedented in the number of applications for Jewish secondary schools, with JFS, Yavneh College, JCoSS and Hasmonean reporting a record number of applicants. All schools have filled their places and have also held appeals to reconsider unsuccessful families on a case-by-case basis, and yet still have long waiting lists.

    Former education secretary Michael Gove at Yavneh. The school is oversubscribed
    Former education secretary Michael Gove at Yavneh. The school is oversubscribed

    While it is hoped that more places will become available next month, by which time parents holding two places will have to confirm whether they are opting instead for a private school, it is unlikely that the schools will know whether they have spaces to fill until September. This means some pupils may have to miss the first few days of school before they begin, if they manage to secure a spot at all.

    Julia Segal is another parent who said she had run out of options, after missing out on places at Yavneh, JCoSS and JFS, describing the situation as "crazy" and "disturbing".

    The mother of two, who is originally from Los Angeles but who now lives in Northwood, said she and her husband had considered moving back to the US after failing to secure a place at a Jewish school for her daughter.

    "It's a lot easier over there," she said. "Everyone goes to the local primary school. But here, because of choice, everything is more fragmented."

    Ms Segal, whose daughter attends Moriah Jewish Day School in Pinner, said she and her husband married in a United synagogue to ensure they could send their future children to a Jewish school.

    "We never anticipated any of this, and now it's too late to weigh up other options," she said. "There should have been more transparency about the lack of places from the beginning. They should have emphasised that you'll only get in if you're lucky.

    "It's absolutely awful for my daughter. I feel like her going to a Jewish primary school has almost made it worse as it promised her a pathway that doesn't exist."

    Ms Segal said she was against sending her daughter to a non-Jewish school because of anti-Israel feelings.

    Again, King Solomon was not an option owing to the "two-hour commute each way".

    Another mother, Tracy Ellis, who has been rejected by JFS, Yavneh, Hasmonean and JCoSS, said the prospect of her son Alex having to attend the non-Jewish London Academy was "concerning" as he would be the only Jewish boy in a school with a Muslim majority. "The school itself advised us that if Alex left school early on Fridays, he would draw attention to himself," she said. "So if he went there, he might have to try to hide his Jewishness in order to fit in."

    For Gilead Limor, the founder of a support group, the situation has reached crisis point. He said there must be a more standardised process for assigning places to Jewish pupils for Jewish schools.

    He said: "None of the three big schools in north-west London are showing any interest whatsoever in opening a bulge class.

    "I think this should be imposed, not offered or suggested. The whole system also needs to be broken up and put back together so that there is a uniform code across the board. Otherwise we're going to have these problems repeated every year, and they will only get worse as there are bulge classes in younger years."

    Mr Limor said that he still knew of around 30 families who had not secured a place for September.

    He also said King Solomon was too far. "My daughter would have to travel 90 minutes in each direction," he said. "And things like socialising, working on group assignments and play dates would mean an additional commute there and back."

    "It has to be recognised that this is a very difficult situation," said Rabbi Meyer, who will be gathering parents on Monday to argue the case for considering King Solomon.

    "I know they are very stressed, and I can absolutely understand that the school is not the first option for parents, but I do believe it is worth exploring. And particularly if they have cohorts of 10 or 12 families who get together from north London - that would work well."

    Rabbi Meyer suggested that people held a false impression of the Redbridge school, wrongly believing it to be only Jewish in name, and not in practice.

    "Unfortunately, a number of parents - without having visited the school - have determined it is not Jewish enough for their children," he said. "The reality is that there is a percentage of children at King Solomon who are not Jewish, but its ethos and curriculum are absolutely Jewish."

    Rabbi Meyer said he had been co-ordinating with King Solomon's head Matthew Slater, as well as the heads of north London's over-subscribed Jewish schools, to offer more places in Redbridge.

    "I can understand the reticence," he said. "But I cannot say I have any other options for those who won't consider it."

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