Free school ques­tions ‘Sig­nif­i­cant rise’ in men­tal health is­sues


FOR PAR­ENTS await­ing the re­sult of their chil­dren’s sec­ondary school ap­pli­ca­tions in less than a month, the prom­ise of up to 60 ex­tra places in the Jewish sys­tem in Lon­don will be re­as­sur­ing.

While there is no guar­an­tee of sat­is­fy­ing ev­ery Jewish ap­pli­cant, bulge classes at JCoSS and, if need be, JFS are ex­pected to meet de­mand for 2017.

But the longer-term so­lu­tion to cope with the fore­cast in­crease in num­bers re­mains to be set­tled.

Part­ner­ships for Jewish Schools (Pa­jes), the Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil’s ed­u­ca­tion di­vi­sion, is confident that ex­ist­ing schools will rise to the chal­lenge and en­sure enough places in fu­ture years. For Pa­jes, ex­pand­ing schools is prefer­able to open­ing a new school, not least be­cause it may prove a cheaper op­tion.

Sec­ondly, if de­mand falls off in fu­ture years, schools may then be able to re­duce their in­take ac­cord­ingly. They will be able to pre­serve what Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has called their “im­mer­sive Jewish at­mos­phere” — they will not have to ac­cept chil­dren from other faiths in the event that there won’t be enough Jewish pupils to go round.

How­ever, the Pa­jes plan is not yet con­crete enough to con­vince sup­port­ers of a new Jewish free school to aban­don their am­bi­tions.

The Ka­vanah Col­lege team are plan­ning to re-ap­ply in spring. If they or an­other group are suc­cess­ful this time round, that would ob­vi­ate the need for ex­pan­sion by other schools.

Al­ter­na­tively, if the De­part­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion ap­proves a new Jewish free school, Ka­vanah could pull out later, should other Jewish schools com­mit them­selves to more places.

But ques­tions re­main about the free school op­tion, fol­low­ing the De­part­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion’s ini­tial re­jec­tion of Ka­vanah and the sec­ond bid­der, Barkai Col­lege, partly on the grounds that they were of­fer­ing too much He­brew and Jewish stud­ies.

By the next round of free school ap­pli­ca­tions in spring, the gov­ern­ment is ex­pected to change en­try rules so that, in fu­ture, a free faith school can pri­ori­tise all its places for chil­dren from one faith.

Yet, at the same time, the gov­ern­ment ap­pears to want free faith schools, in the­ory, to be open to ap­pli­cants from dif­fer­ent faiths. Hence, the DfE’s ap­par­ent de­sire ei­ther to curb the amount of re­li­gious stud­ies within the cur­ricu­lum — or stip­u­late that al­ter­na­tive cour­ses must be avail­able.

MORE THAN 80 per cent of Jewish schools have re­ported an in­crease in men­tal health prob­lems among stu­dents over the past cou­ple of years, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey car­ried out by Part­ner­ships for Jewish Schools.

While 44 per cent found a “sig­nif­i­cant” rise in their in­ci­dence, for 41 per cent it was mar­ginal.

But none of the 32 pri­mary and sec­ondary schools in­volved said there had been any de­crease.

Schools en­coun­tered a full range of men­tal health is­sues, par­tic­u­larly “high lev­els of anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion, anger man­age­ment is­sues and low self-es­teem”.

They also dealt with eat­ing dis­or­ders, self-harm, abuse, ex­treme stress and sleep dis­or­ders.

Around one in five schools said they lacked the re­sources to train staff to tackle such is­sues, while most of the avail­able ser­vices in the area were un­known to many of them.

Pa­jes has now es­tab­lished a work­ing party of lead­ing pro­fes­sion­als to plan how­toim­prove­men­tal­healthandwell­be­ing across the Jewish school sys­tem.

Rachel Fink, head­teacher at the Has­monean High School and a mem­ber of the new work­ing party, said: “As with any new chal­lenge, the key to a res­o­lu­tion is through good ed­u­ca­tion. That is why schools are at the fore­front of tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Our young peo­ple in the Jewish com­mu­nity are no less af­fected by men­tal health chal­lenges than their peers na­tion­ally and we have a duty of care in school to help guide them back to a ful­fill­ing and men­tally healthy life.”

She said schools re­quired “fur­ther in­vest­ment from the com­mu­nity both in terms of time, ed­u­ca­tional re­sources and fund­ing” if they were suc­cess­fully to ad­dress the need.

While the ma­jor­ity of schools of­fered parenting cour­ses, they were of­ten poorly at­tended and had min­i­mal im­pact, the sur­vey found.

Rachel Fink

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