Do we really need a new school?
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