Why I ex­posed school en­try flaws

Faith schools can ask for vol­un­tary do­na­tions, but they must not be a con­di­tion of ad­mis­sion

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS - ED BALLS

JEWISH SCHOOLS PLAY a vi­tal role in de­liv­er­ing ex­cel­lent ed­u­ca­tion for young peo­ple in this coun­try. The Jewish com­mu­nity’s com­mit­ment to en­rich­ing and em­pow­er­ing young minds — shown by the high pri­or­ity ed­u­ca­tion is given in Jewish homes and its cen­tral role in Jewish life — is a model we can all learn from. As a child I went to Sun­day school ev­ery week — my fa­ther was one of the teach­ers. We stud­ied all the sto­ries from the Old and New Tes­ta­ments. We learned about be­ing a good neigh­bour, about gen­eros­ity and tol­er­ance, and the power of faith to tackle in­jus­tice. And we read and dis­cussed the in­spir­ing story of the strug­gle of the Jewish peo­ple to­wards free­dom from slav­ery in Egypt — which will soon be re­mem­bered in the fes­ti­val of Passover.

So I know the im­por­tance re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion and iden­tity can have in shap­ing at­ti­tudes and in­still­ing val­ues that stay with you for the rest of your life.

Since I be­came Sec­re­tary of State for Schools last sum­mer I’ve been in close touch with all the dif­fer­ent faith com­mu­ni­ties. I be­lieve the joint work that my de­part­ment and I have done with the Board of Deputies and the Agency for Jewish Ed­u­ca­tion on Faith in the Sys­tem has been hugely im­por­tant.

Faith schools are suc­cess­ful, thriv­ing and pop­u­lar with par­ents — and we want them to stay that way. As I said when we launched that land­mark doc­u­ment — and as I re­peated in an in­ter­view in th­ese pages just a cou­ple of months ago — I strongly sup­port the his­toric and im­por­tant role that Jewish schools and all faith schools play in our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and wider so­ci­ety. Many Jewish schools are amongst the best in the coun­try, pro­vid­ing an ed­u­ca­tion that is sec­ond to none and set­ting a great ex­am­ple that other schools could learn a lot from.

Our shared goals for all schools — faith or non-faith alike — are to de­liver ex­cel­lent teach­ing and learn­ing for all pupils, pro­mote com­mu­nity co­he­sion and en­sure fair ad­mis­sions for all par­ents. That’s why, with cross­party sup­port in Par­lia­ment, we in­tro­duced the School Ad­mis­sions Code last year to en­sure a level play­ing field for all par­ents and ban un­fair prac­tices like in­ter­view­ing par­ents or ask­ing them for fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tions as part of the ad­mis­sions process.

A few months ago, my de­part­ment’s of­fi­cials un­der­took a spot-check of ad­mis­sions ar­range­ments. Three lo­cal author­ity ar­eas were cho­sen on the ba­sis that they rep­re­sented a Lon­don bor­ough, a metropoli­tan bor­ough, and a shire county, and where the in­de­pen­dent watch­dog, the Schools Ad­ju­di­ca­tor, had re­ceived no com­plaints about ad­mis­sions rules.

When I was pre­sented with the find­ings, I must ad­mit I was taken aback. The ev­i­dence showed that one in six schools in the ar­eas sur­veyed were in breach of the Ad­mis­sions Code — 18 of them on more than three counts.

Af­ter tak­ing ex­pert and le­gal ad­vice, it was clear we had no op­tion but to pub­lish the find­ings for par­ents. It wasn’t pos­si­ble to ver­ify in­for­ma­tion on breaches of the Ad­mis­sions Code with over 100 schools with­out mak­ing pub­lic what we were do­ing. Only af­ter sev­eral weeks of check­ing this in­for­ma­tion di­rectly with all the schools and gov­ern­ing bod­ies did we pub­lish the fi­nal re­sults of the sur­vey last week. Of the 570 schools in the sam­ple, 13 were Jewish schools. There were also 32 Catholic schools and 42 Church of Eng­land schools, as well as other non­faith schools.

I do not think that keep­ing all this in­for­ma­tion a se­cret would have been pos­si­ble or the right thing to do in the pub­lic in­ter­est. And while I fully recog­nise the pub­lic at­ten­tion this work in­evitably brought has been stress­ful for some of the schools con­cerned, our ob­jec­tive was not to fo­cus on any par­tic­u­lar school or type of school but to sup­port fair ad­mis­sions for all.

There have been some mis­in­formed com­ments in re­cent days, so let me be clear: I am not say­ing that schools should be pre­vented from ask­ing for vol­un­tary con­tri­bu­tions. Of course they can. But it’s only fair that this is kept en­tirely sep­a­rate from the ad­mis­sions process.

Se­cu­rity is clearly a top pri­or­ity for Jewish schools and I sup­port the right of schools to ask par­ents to make a vol­un­tary con­tri­bu­tion for this nec­es­sary cost, as well as for ex­tra re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion.

It’s a sad re­al­ity that an­tisemitism still ex­ists and that’s why I’ve al­ways been a strong sup­porter of the ex­cel­lent work the Com­mu­nity Se­cu­rity Trust does to help pro­tect and de­fend Jewish peo­ple in this coun­try. Last year we an­nounced ex­tra cap­i­tal fund­ing for schools in ev­ery part of the coun­try and made clear to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties that se­cu­rity mea­sures for any Jewish schools in their area must be a top pri­or­ity for this new money.

I’m grate­ful for the sup­port which Henry Grun­wald and the Board of Deputies have shown in re­cent months as we work to en­sure fair ad­mis­sion ar­range­ments in all schools for par­ents and chil­dren ap­ply­ing later this year.

I am de­ter­mined that we con­tinue our work to­gether to sup­port Jewish schools — and recog­nise some of the ex­tra chal­lenges they face. They make a re­ally im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem — and long may that con­tinue. Ed Balls MP is Sec­re­tary of State for Chil­dren, Schools and Fam­i­lies

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.