No cap on religious studies gives new hope to parents
THE DEPARTMENT for Education has said there is no cap on the amount of religious studies that can be taught in a free faith school, in an attempt to allay concerns within the Jewish community.
The Board of Deputies has been pressing the government to clarify its policy following the rejection of applications to open a new Jewish secondary free school in London from Barkai College and Kavanah College two months ago.
A DfE spokesman said on Wednesday: “All schools are required to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. We do not set a requirement on how much of the curriculum should be dedicated to any particular subject.”
However, both Barkai and Kavanah had been turned down partly because of the amount of time they planned to devote to Jewish studies and Hebrew.
Barkai, which planned to allocate 20 per cent of the curriculum in the first two years to the subjects, was told that the amount of time was “disproportionate” compared with that for maths and English.
Phil Rosenberg, the Board’s director of public affairs, said: “It is our understanding that the
DfE continues to welcome applications for Jewish free schools and that there is no prescription on the amount of time allowed for religious studies.”
A government source last month suggested that the main reason for rejecting the bids was that the authorities did not want to decide between them: a single bid would have been more welcome.
While the government is planning to lift restrictions on the number of places free schools can allocate on the basis of faith, it seemingly still wants a faith school to be open to pupils from different faiths.
In discussions with the DfE last week, Barkai representatives were asked what arrangements they would make for non-Jewish pupils if the school closed at lunch time in winter because of Shabb at.
Eve Sacks, chairman of Barkai, said the question highlighted an expectation that the school would be “equally attractive to children of other faiths and of no faith”. The DfE, she said, “would expect a Jewish free school to run an optional extra curriculum club on Friday afternoons in the winter until normal school closing time”.
Kavanah has indicated it will bid again in spring, but Barkai has yet to decide.
Mr Rosenberg and Judith Nemeth, National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools director, were among faith school representatives who met Education Secretary Justine Greening last week.