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.