Schools fight back on ad­mis­sions

Jewish schools tell the gov­ern­ment that clamp­ing down on en­try codes could threaten their ba­sic val­ues

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY LEON SY­MONS

JEWISH SCHOOLS have told the gov­ern­ment that the tighter con­trols it has ap­plied to ad­mis­sions codes could threaten their ethos.

They also called for the scrap­ping of the law that forces them to ac­cept non-Jewish pupils if they can­not fill all their places with Jewish chil­dren.

Gov­er­nors and heads of Jewish schools met schools min­is­ter Jim Knight in a meet­ing at the Board of Deputies’ of­fices in Lon­don last week. The meet­ing was called in the wake of the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to “name and shame” schools in three sam­ple lo­cal au­thor­i­ties — Bar­net, Manch­ester and Northamp­ton — that it said had breached ad­mis­sions codes.

Some schools were ac­cused of seek­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion from par­ents and re­quest­ing do­na­tions when chil­dren ap­plied for places.

Par­tic­i­pants said af­ter­wards that they were re­as­sured that the gov­ern­ment was not “out to get faith schools”, with the min­is­ter re­gret­ting the events of the pre­vi­ous week but blam­ing the me­dia for turn­ing it into a po­lit­i­cal story.

How­ever, some who were present have told the JC that prior to the meet­ing, they felt the gov­ern­ment had failed to grasp that Ju­daism was much more than just a re­li­gion.

Rabbi Avra­ham Pin­ter, prin­ci­pal of the Ye­sodey Ha­torah schools in Hack­ney, said: “What came up time and again was the sub­ject of the ethos of Jewish schools. Fam­ily val­ues are cen­tral to what Jewish schools are try­ing to im­part to their chil­dren. If you can’t ask a par­ent to up­hold the ethos of the school, you can’t teach the ethos.

“I had a feel­ing be­fore­hand that the peo­ple we were meet­ing had clearly not un­der­stood how cen­tral Ju­daism is to all of us. But I am happy that they left with a much clearer pic­ture that it is not just a re­li­gion, but a whole way of life,” added Rabbi Pin­ter, who also praised the Board for act­ing swiftly to ar­range the meet­ing.

His view was backed up by David Fuller, ex­ec­u­tive head at Has­monean High. In a let­ter in this week’s JC, Mr Fuller, who is not Jewish, said: “Jim Knight was rea­son­able and lis­tened to many valid points, but I could not help won­der­ing whether he and, more par­tic­u­larly, the civil ser­vants’ writ­ing pol­icy, un­der­stood what it means to be an Ortho­dox Jew.”

Mr Knight said that he recog­nised the ethos of Jewish schools and it was some­thing he did not want to lose. He also said he would try to iron out any mis­trust that had arisen. On the ques­tion of not fill­ing all places, the min­is­ter agreed to look again at the leg­is­la­tion, but said that it was im­por­tant to main­tain a level play­ing field for all schools and fam­i­lies.

Mr Knight said af­ter the meet­ing: “We are com­mit­ted to state main­tained faith ed­u­ca­tion in this coun­try. That’s why the gov­ern­ment and all the ma­jor faith groups, in­clud­ing the Board of Deputies, Agency for Jewish Ed­u­ca­tion and other Jewish school bod­ies worked so closely to­gether on the land­mark Faith in the Sys­tem doc­u­ment, pub­lished last year.

“Jewish schools are among the most suc­cess­ful in the coun­try. They are pop­u­lar with par­ents and play a vi­tal role in de­liv­er­ing ex­cel­lent ed­u­ca­tion. The Jewish com­mu­nity’s com­mit­ment to help­ing young peo­ple reach their full po­ten­tial and the high pri­or­ity ed­u­ca­tion is given at home is a model we can all learn from.” He gave a com­mit­ment to con­tinue work­ing with com­mu­nal agen­cies to make sure all schools com­plied with the law for 2009.

PHOTO: JOHN RIFKIN

One rabbi says that “fam­ily val­ues are cen­tral” to Jewish ed­u­ca­tion

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