Wanted: governors who last the course
EARLIER THIS month Ruth Renton resigned as chairman of governors of JFS after just two terms. Parents were told she was leaving in order to devote “full attention” to her work as an employment lawyer and more time to her family.
The tenure of her predecessor Steven Woolf, a barrister, was not much longer. He stepped down last summer after less than two years in office.
JFS is one of the community’s major institutions, with a school roll of more than 2,000 and budget of around £16 million. If organisations such as the UJIA or Jewish Care were struggling to retain leaders, that would prompt questions. Some wonder if the role has become too demanding, at least for someone with a full-time career.
The former governor of one Jewish school told me that the optimum period of service for a chairman would be three to five years. But such are the responsibilities that come with the size of a school as big as JFS, he said, that “if you are not retired, it is almost impossible to do the job”.
Another person long involved in Jewish education ventured that it ought to be a paid position, adding: “I don’t believe it can be done properly as a voluntary add-on.” While it might suit someone semi-retired, she added, “we need new blood — and people who are at the top of their profession. It’s Catch-22.”
The growing pressure on school budgets has added to the challenges facing governors. JFS has already had to cut staff, although it reached agreement with unions to avoid compulsory redundancies. If the next government continues with funding plans proposed by this one, then the financial pressure will increase.
There have been suggestions that JFS is looking to become a multiacademy trust, putting it potentially at the head of a United Synagogue network that might incorporate primary schools. It is also considering expanding its annual intake from 10 to 12 classes in 2018 in order to meet a projected shortfall of Jewish secondary school places in London.
But it is going to need strong leadership to see these through. JFS must hope its next chairman of governors is in for a longer run.