Schools set to ex­pand to beat places cri­sis

● JFS and JCoSS to take 90 more pupils

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY SI­MON ROCKER

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

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