Yavneh College in Borehamwood is to welcome an additional 30 students from September, in a move that will set Jewish parents’ minds at ease following concerns about a shortage of places in areas with large Jewish populations.
In an increasing sign of a demographic shift, Yavneh found itself heavily oversubscribed this year, with 541 applications for only 150 places. Chair of Governors Sue Nyman said she recognised the need to accommodate a bulge year had become “urgent,” prompting the high-performing school to take action.
There is currently an ongoing review of places, projecting expectations from 2018/19, but parents have expressed alarm that children looking from places in Jewish schools may have to travel great distances before then.
Yavneh’s announcement comes as Jewish educators reacted with “considerable concern” to Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement that all state schools must assume academy status by 2022, in a radical shake-up with potential implications for Jewish schools.
All schools are to become academies independent of local authorities, he said on Wednesday, to “set schools free from the shackles of bureaucracy”. Academies have more powers over budgets, curriculum, staff, term times, and length of school day.
But in the immediate aftermath of his announcement, there were concerns and questions about the impact on the Jewish ethos of schools across the country.
“This will present opportunities for schools, however it may further increase pressure on headteachers,” said Rabbi David Meyer of Partnerships for Jewish Schools.
There were “considerable concerns surrounding the protection of the ethos of schools through the academisation process and the joining of multi-academy trusts,” he said, and community groups were in discussion with DfE officials “to ensure that schools have sufficient protection in this regard”.
The Board of Deputies said “schools’ attitudes on assuming academy status will largely depend on how this is defined, particularly with regard to admissions and funding… It is a concern that multi-academy trusts can continue to maintain a Jewish ethos [but] we will know more when there are concrete proposals.”
Patrick Moriarty, headteacher at JCoSS, seemed less concerned, saying: “The announcement is not a surprise, and the deadline gives ample time for planning… We are confident that ways can be found to safeguard the ethos of our schools within multi-academy trusts,” he said, addressing the private fears of many.
While there were “challenges and questions to face,” he said “there is no reason why trusts – any more than Local Authorities – need to insist on an identical ethos across all schools. That is true of some academy chains, but there are other models. [Our] schools are robust and resilient enough to thrive in the new environment”.