I had the pleasure of being invited to hear the Prime Minister’s address on Friday. It was significant that she had chosen education as her first major speech in the UK, and her vision for the future sounded impressive.
There were four key strategies for the future development of schools, and I thought it would be useful to consider their potential impact on Jewish schools.
1. University involvement in schools:
This is an interesting idea and presents opportunities that many schools would welcome. We suspect that the main focus is likely to be on supporting Secondary schools. It presents the potential for developing programmes, especially for gifted and talented students, and for support and CPD for teachers. It could also potentially reinforce the pathways for students and broaden their outlook when considering Higher education.
2. Removal of the 50% rule for faith schools:
PaJeS has been in discussion with the government regarding this rule and consulted in the Casey review. We highlighted the many positive examples of a mixed faith intake that are showcased within our community’s schools. However, we also raised concerns that the objectives of the ruling are not being achieved, and that sectors of our community and indeed other faith communities have been significantly disadvantaged by this ruling.
We were delighted that the government has listened to our argument and revised this ruling.
Coupled with this change will be a requirement for greater interaction between faith schools and the wider community. We would be interested to hear more on this proposal and will look to work with schools to help ensure they can meet this requirement.
3. Independent schools:
The Prime Minister announced that the charitable status of these schools will be reviewed with a requirement that independent schools must be able to demonstrate how they impact and support the wider community.
We await the guidance on what the requirements will be but the majority of our community’s independent schools already offer opportunities for disadvantaged children and we would expect this to be something instilled within the ethos of our schools.
4. Grammar schools:
This is an area that could spark particular interest for some schools in our community. There is the possibility that state funded secondary schools may consider establishing themselves as grammar schools,
However, the relatively small number of schools in our community and the selective nature of grammar schools may result in a significant challenge when considering provision planning across the whole community. Furthermore, there may be issues surrounding the admissions criteria, and whether it would be possible to prioritise and fill the intake with Jewish students.
It would be interesting to see whether there would be the opportunity for independent schools to convert and establish themselves as grammar schools, and whether this would be considered by any of our community’s schools.
One further issue that was raised by the prime minister was the funding formula supporting children on Free School Meals. This is an area that we have been discussing with the government, and we welcome their willingness to review this provision. There are a significant number of lower income families within our community who do not qualify for FSM but are in need of support. We hope that the new guidelines will address this important issue.