Do we re­ally need a new school?

The Jewish Chronicle - - DIARY - Jonathan Boyd THE VIEW FROM THE DATA

IS THERE a sta­tis­ti­cal case for a new Jewish sec­ondary school in North West Lon­don? The most up-to-date fig­ures are now in, and the an­swer is clear. Maybe. There is no ques­tion that more peo­ple are ap­ply­ing to Jewish sec­ondary schools in the area than the ex­ist­ing schools can ac­com­mo­date. There is also no ques­tion that the gap be­tween the de­mand for places and the avail­able sup­ply has been grow­ing over time. It is also clear that the cur­rent level of un­der­sup­ply is pro­jected to con­tinue at the same level over the next few years, if not in­crease.

How­ever, the fig­ures in the new JPR/ PaJeS re­port on this topic should be read very care­fully. The only way to mea­sure the level of de­mand for places is by ex­am­in­ing the data that lo­cal au­thor­i­ties col­lect when par­ents sub­mit their sec­ondary school ap­pli­ca­tion forms.

These data al­low us to see pre­cisely how many peo­ple have ap­plied to the Jewish schools in the area as a whole, and to each of the schools in­di­vid­u­ally.

They re­veal that, in 2016, there were 254 ap­pli­cants who iden­ti­fied one of the Jewish sec­ondary schools in the area as their first choice, but who failed to gain a place in that school. So case closed, right? That must mean that there is suf­fi­cient de­mand for a new school?

Not so fast. First of all, the ev­i­dence sug­gests that close to 40 per cent of those ap­pli­cants are be­ing ac­com­mo­dated by the Jewish school sec­tor. They may not have re­ceived an of­fer to their pre­ferred Jewish school, but they did ac­cept an of­fer from an­other Jewish school.

The re­main­ing 60 per cent or so ended up in non-Jewish schools, pri­vate or state. Yet, of these, about half have taken them­selves off the wait­ing list for their pre­ferred Jewish school, sug­gest­ing a de­gree of con­tent­ment with their sit­u­a­tion.

In short, our as­sess­ment would lead us to be­lieve that, in 2016, there were about 80 cases of chil­dren who ap­plied to a Jewish school or schools, failed to get a place at any of them, and re­mained ea­ger to ac­cept one if it be­came avail­able. Our pro­jec­tions in­di­cate that this sit­u­a­tion is ex­pected to con­tinue over the com­ing years, if not be­come even more acute.

But does this jus­tify the es­tab­lish­ment of a new school? The fig­ures sug­gest that the cur­rent and pro­jected gap be­tween sup­ply and de­mand is prob­a­bly not suf­fi­ciently large to ne­ces­si­tate a new school of the size of JCoSS or Has­monean, for ex­am­ple (five or six form en­try), but there may be a case for a smaller one.

How­ever, with some of the ex­ist­ing schools now an­nounc­ing plans to cre­ate booster classes, even that case be­gins to look a lit­tle weak.

Nev­er­the­less, a case can be made for the “build it and they will come” po­si­tion. Pref­er­ence lev­els for Jewish school- ing have risen con­sis­tently for decades, and while this trend can­not con­tinue in­def­i­nitely, there is no par­tic­u­lar rea­son to think it will change in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Yet in pur­su­ing this ap­proach, it is very im­por­tant to recog­nise that the Jewish schools in Lon­don com­prise an ecosys­tem. The ac­tions of one school have a knock-on ef­fect on the oth­ers.

To see ev­i­dence of this, one only has to look at how the at­trac­tive­ness of JCoSS to Jewish chil­dren from Red­bridge has af­fected de­mand for places at King Solomon. A new Jewish sec­ondary school in North West Lon­don would cer­tainly ease the un­der­sup­ply is­sue, but it will af­fect de­mand for places at the ex­ist­ing schools too.

So, what to do? Prob­a­bly the most sen­si­ble and cost-ef­fec­tive next step is for some of the ex­ist­ing schools to ex­pand their pro­vi­sion slightly, adding two or three classes across the sec­tor as a whole, as now seems to be hap­pen­ing. This mea­sure alone should ad­dress any ex­ist­ing prob­lem.

At the same time, sta­tis­ti­cal de­vel­op­ments should be mon­i­tored very closely to ex­tend and im­prove nu­mer­i­cal pro­jec­tions. If, upon ex­am­i­na­tion, the prob­lem of ex­cess de­mand con­tin­ues, there would be a clear case for a new school, although any ex­panded ca­pac­ity at other schools would prob­a­bly need to be re­moved at that stage. What type of school that should be, or where it should be lo­cated, re­quires fur­ther re­search. That’s my best read­ing of the ex­ist­ing data — hope­fully pol­icy-mak­ers will ex­am­ine the fig­ures closely and find the most ap­pro­pri­ate ways to re­spond.

It is very im­por­tant to recog­nise the schools com­prise an eco-sys­tem

Jonathan Boyd is Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Jewish Pol­icy Re­search

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