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The Jewish Chronicle - - EDUCATION - BYSIMON ROCKER

A SE­NIOR Jewish ed­u­ca­tion fig­ure, wel­com­ing the ap­point­ment of Damian Hinds as Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary this week, told me, “We are in a new world”.

His pre­de­ces­sor Jus­tine Green­ing may not have been hos­tile to faith schools but she did noth­ing par­tic­u­larly help­ful for them ei­ther, even if she met the Chief Rabbi early in her ten­ure.

The re­jec­tion on her watch of both ap­pli­ca­tions for a Jewish sec­ondary free school in Lon­don a year ago, even though it was a de­ci­sion taken by Depart­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials and not by her, hardly went down well within the Jewish com­mu­nity. One won­ders if the same would have hap­pened in the days of Nicky Mor­gan or Michael Gove at the head of the DfE

A test of Mr Hinds’s faith-school friend­li­ness will be whether he fi­nally acts on the Con­ser­va­tive pledge to lift the re­stric­tions on en­try to free schools, which are per­mit­ted to se­lect only half their pupils ac­cord­ing to faith.

The Catholic Church in par­tic­u­lar has lob­bied for the re­moval of the cap and Mr Hinds sup­ported the Church in a Com­mons de­bate three years ago, ar­gu­ing the cap was “in­hibit­ing the cre­ation of new qual­ity schools”.

But the Con­ser­va­tives are clearly con­strained by the loss of their ma­jor­ity last sum­mer. Since any change will be op­posed by those who feel faith schools al­ready en­joy enough priv­i­leges as it, the gov­ern­ment may be less in­clined to push for­ward con­tro­ver­sial mea­sures if it can pos­si­bly help it.

In the­ory, eas­ing the en­try rules for free schools could ben­e­fit the Charedi com­mu­nity, en­abling more of its schools to en­ter the state sys­tem and re­liev­ing the fi­nan­cial pres­sure. How­ever, there are still con­di­tions at­tached to be­com­ing a free school — such as agree­ing to teach evo­lu­tion — that would re­main un­wel­come for parts of the Or­tho­dox right, and Mr Hinds is un­likely to re­lax those.

He could choose, how­ever, to ad­dress some of the Charedi griev­ances oa­gainst Of­sted by amend­ing in­spec­tion guide­lines so that schools would no longer be ex­pected to talk about sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

No doubt, his door will be open to the Chief Rabbi. But a change of min­is­ter could make lit­tle dif­fer­ence since the big­ger is­sues of school fund­ing and univer­sity tu­ition fees at the top of his in-tray may not leave him time for much else.

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