Schools set to expand to beat places crisis
● JFS and JCoSS to take 90 more pupils
TWO JEWISH schools have acted to ease parents’ concern over the lack of places by announcing plans for a major expansion from next year.
In a joint statement, JCoSS and JFS pledged to add 90 Year 7 entry places from September 2018, providing they can find the necessary funding.
If the plans go ahead, the cross-communal JCoSS will make its bulge class of 30 additional places this September a permanent feature, while the Orthodox JFS will add two extra forms next year.
But despite the prospect of more places, the sponsors of the New Jewish High School said they still intended to go ahead with their application to open a Jewish secondary free school in 2018.
Deborah Lipkin, executive head of JFS and Patrick Moriarty, head of JCoSS, said they believed their proposed expansion strategy would “solve” current under-capacity and “would have a positive impact on the long-term sustainability of Jewish schools”.
Citing research conducted by the
Institute for Jewish Policy Research — which published a new report this week — they said it was “likely that approximately 90 additional school places are needed from 2018 for children who wish to attend a Jewish school.”
JFS, which is already the largest Jewish school in Europe with almost 2,100 pupils, said it had secured a “substantial donation” that would go towards improving technical and vocational education at the school, as well as providing additional teaching spaces. Both schools added that they would seek additional state and private investment. Under the expansion plans, JCoSS, in New Barnet, London, would maintain this year’s increased intake from 180 to 210, while JFS would expand from 300 to 360 next year. JFS is currently considering whether to accept an extra 30 pupils this year.
But the expansion scheme comes amid increasing funding pressure on schools owing to planned changes in the allocation of government
money. Earlier this week, Mrs Lipkin warned parents that the combination of cuts and rising costs could lead to a £900,000 reduction in JFS’s budget by 2019. The prospect of a three per cent cut in state funding would be “untenable and would damage the education of students”, she said.
Some parents have already expressed concern about the prospect of more pupils at JFS, particularly after, earlier this month, it announced that it was having to make teachers redundant after budget cuts.
One mother, who did not wish to be named, said she was “not very happy about this. The school is already far too big and there seem to be lots of issues with teachers being moved around, affecting my child’s education. I can’t believe she will soon be at a school where there are 360 children in a year. It seems unworkable and, frankly, a bit ridiculous.”
Another said she was “not keen. My anxiety is where are they going to find the teachers?”
However, the move by the two schools was welcomed by the Jewish Leadership Council’s education division, Partnerships for Jewish Schools.
But Maurice Askenazi-Bakes, who is jointly co-ordinating the NJHS bid, said there was “still no guarantee” the extra places at other schools would materialise because of the funding. “I deal in definites, not maybes,” he added. “We are trying to solve a long-term problem.” He pointed out that neither JFS, in Kenton, north-west London, nor JCoSS, was in the best location for the growing Jewish population of Hertfordshire. “We ought to make the school accessible to where the community is expanding,” he said.
IN LESS than a week since the launch of a new bid for an Orthodox Jewish secondary free school, its backers have received more than 500 replies to their online survey. More than four out of five parents said they were worried about getting a place for their child at a Jewish school.
It is a gratifying level of encouragement to the promoters of the “New Jewish High School” for London, which was announced last week. Undeterred by the rejection of the previous free school bids from Barkai College and Kavanah College last December, the two teams have bounced back and united under a single banner.
While the date for the next free school application round has yet to be revealed, the NJHS team are “ready”, says Maurice Ashkenazi-Bakes, formerly co-ordinator of Kavanah, who is fronting the project with Eve Sacks, chairman of Barkai.
The New Schools Network — the charity that supports free school applicants — is “looking over our application to help us tweak it,” he says.
Although the Chief Rabbi and other establishment agencies argue the best way to cope with growing demand is to add extra places at existing schools, the NJHS team believe there is room for another school. While a bulge class at JCoSS and maybe at JFS this year may bring temporary relief, Mrs Sacks points out that, over the next few years, the graduates of six new Jewish primary schools in north-west London and Hertfordshire are due to come on stream. Meanwhile, the bulge classes of three primary schools will also be applying for secondary school in 2018.
“Repeating the [secondary] bulge classes would only help marginally, as there are six classes at the Jewish free primary schools,” she says. “Further, it was always our vision to add to parental choice at secondary school to complement the now very wide choice at primary level, which the increase in supply at the existing schools would not achieve.”
Mr Ashkenazi-Bakes foresees “a huge wave of demand”. Based in Hertfordshire, he observes “there are lots of families we know personally that would have loved to send their kids to a Jewish primary school but couldn’t get a place because they are completely oversubscribed.”
Both of them have a personal stake in the project as parents. Mrs Sacks, a tax investment manager, has one child at Hasmonean, another with a place at Hasmonean who is on the JFS waiting list this year and a third at a Jewish primary school. Mr Ashkenazi-Bakes, who runs social media channels for football and other sports clubs, has four children at a Jewish primary.
Joining forces was the natural way forward. “It was made clear to us for all sorts of reasons that the project had far more chance of success if there was going to be one bid,” Mrs Sacks said. “There was so much overlap between the projects anyway.”
Having received feedback from the Department for Education on the previous applications, they are confident they can address the criticisms made of Barkai and Kavanah.
Mrs Sacks said that as long as a school could show it was devoting sufficient time to core subjects, “the DFE don’t have issues about how much Jewish education you provide. They want to see five lessons of English, five lessons of maths and five lessons of science.”
Their educational advisers include two highly experienced former headteachers, Dame Helen Hyde, who led Watford Grammar School for Girls, and Alan Davison, who retired last year from Dame Alice Owens.
Mr Ashkenazi-Bakes is keen to have a strong emphasis on science, maths and technology and to introduce some of the “cutting-edge” ideas from academic institutions that he has encountered during his travels on business abroad. “Computer programming language is as important as a foreign language,” he says.
Whereas Kavanah carried the backing of the Chief Rabbi, the NJHS will not include formal rabbinical endorsement in its application. But if successful, it will seek the oversight of a “mainstream Orthodox rabbinic authority”.
Mrs Sacks said: “We want to make sure our school is inclusive for the whole community. We can see Hasmonean is just as oversubscribed as Yavneh, JFS and JCoSS.” Under what they call “big-tent Orthodoxy”, the school would have to appeal to children coming from primary schools such as Sacks Morasha and the Independent Jewish Day School.
At the same time, under the current system, free schools have to be open to children of other faiths, hence the NJHS’s planned programme of “community engagement” with public meetings outside Jewish centres over the next few weeks.
The site of the school would be somewhere in the north Barnet/south Hertfordshire region. Barkai had looked as far south as Cricklewood and Kavanah north to St Albans, but these locations would fall outside the optimal area.
If the next round of applications comes in spring, they would be unlikely to hear the outcome until autumn — leaving just a year to set up a school from scratch in time for September 2018. But they still hope they can make that date.
“We will pull out all the stops,” Mr Ashkenazi-Bakes says.
We want to make sure our school is inclusive’
Leading the campaign for a free school, Eve Sacks and Maurice AshkenaziBakes