Chief Rabbi: It’s ‘irresponsible’ to open two new schools

Chief Rabbi: It’s ‘irresponsible’ to open two new schools

Ephraim Mirvis said his office cannot lend support to 'Barkai College' amid two applications for new secondary schools

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

The Chief Rabbi has said it would be “irresponsible” for the Jewish community in London to try to open more than one new school after the government lifted a ruling limiting faith-based places to 50 percent.

His intervention comes amid intense debate ahead of a deadline for free school applications, with two proposals pending, and he acknowledged that the recent ruling “had changed the landscape of appropriate options” in London.

However, he said in a statement that opening more than one new Modern Orthodox school for Jewish students was unrealistic, and cautioned against attempts to do so.

“The creation of a new school requires a great deal of financial investment both from the Government and from within the Jewish community,” a spokesman wrote on his Facebook account.

“It requires a site of suitable size and location to meet local need and it also requires an immeasurable amount of hard work from dedicated volunteers. These requirements, taken together with the problems that an oversupply of places would cause, lead the Chief Rabbi to believe that it would be both irresponsible and impracticable to try to open more than one new school.”

His comments come after organisers behind a new Jewish secondary school are set to submit their application next week, following a turnout of almost 100 prospective parents at a meeting on Tuesday night.

The team behind Kavanah College – a five-form entry free school adhering to the United Synagogue ethos – say there is “overwhelming demand” in the South Hertfordshire, north-west Barnet and north Harrow areas and they will formally submit their forms to the Department of Education for a 2017 opening.

Maurice Ashkenazi-Bakes, speaking on behalf of Kavanah College, said the impetus to set up a new school stemmed from recent policy changes at Yavneh College to end the “feeder school” status of both Hertsmere Jewish Primary and Clore Shalom, as well as to meet the growing demand for more Jewish secondary school places in the area.

“Many parents were left high and dry due to the policy changes and we want to look after them. We need to make this happen,” said Ashkenazi-Bakes.

The team have identified three possible locations for the new school.

Meanwhile, a second bid for a Jewish free secondary school will also be made by Barkai College to the DofE next week.

Eve Sacks, chair of the Barkai team, said they plan to “create a school with an inclusive Modern Orthodox ethos”, which would accept students from Hertfordshire to Westminster.

The team will present their vision to parents later this autumn at open meetings in Hertfordshire, Hampstead and Edgware.

Kavanah College and Barkai Collge have discussed the possibility of merging their applications, but as yet remain separate, due to differences over the proposed school ethos.

However, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said in his Facebook statement: “We understand from proponents of the application for ‘Barkai College’ that they do not wish to operate under the aegis of the Chief Rabbi, since they expect that there will be elements of their ethos which would not meet with his approval and would not be consistent with normative United Synagogue practice. As such, the Chief Rabbi and the United Synagogue cannot lend their support to ‘Barkai’.”

He continued: “Proponents of ‘Kavanah College’ have indicated that they would like their school to operate under the aegis of the Chief Rabbi. We have had a number of constructive conversations with them in recent months and we look forward to continuing those and working closely with them as their application develops.”

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