Wanted: gover­nors who last the course

The Jewish Chronicle - - EDUCATION - BY SI­MON ROCKER

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.

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