An application to open a Jewish free school in north west London, has been rejected, because its religious education (RE) allocation left too little teaching time for core subjects, Schools Week reports.
Barkai college had applied to open a five –form entry secondary school, but the application was rejected, after the Department for Education (DfE) criticised the free school’s decision to dedicate 20 percent of class time to Jewish RE lessons.
An application for another Jewish free school, Kavanagh College, was also rejected in recent weeks, but details of that decision are not yet public.
Barkai had proposed that pupils in years 7 and 8 should have six in thirty lessons a week, dedicated to two RE subjects, Jewish RE and Hebrew studies. Year 9 pupils would have the option of taking these for GCSE.
The DfE rejected the proposals, saying the amount of time dedicated to religious education was “disproportionate compared with the time allocated for core subjects.”
Barkai college had the option of teaching Hebrew as modern foreign language, which would have counted towards the EBacc school performance measure, and allowed a larger amount of class time for RE-related lessons. It is not known if Barkai had considered this.
The Jewish free school’s rejections follow not long after government ministers announced they wanted to change the rules about faith-based entry to free schools in over-subscribed areas, to allow for more new Catholic schools to open.
Eve Sacks, Barkai’s chair, told Jewish News that there was “no point in having Jewish schools without Jewish education. She commented:
“If a school offering a similar amount of kodesh (RE) as other top performing mainstream Jewish schools gets refused, the question for the DfE must surely be what is an acceptable amount and balance for the government?”
Wider commentary on the decision to refuse the Jewish free school’s to open, has expressed concern that the government is contradicting itself somewhat.
Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, the journalist Simon Rocker said it was “hard to fathom the DfE’s thinking” given that strict orthodox schools already open in the state system “allocate more time to Jewish studies than Barkai was proposing to do. He said:
“On the one hand, the government professes to encourage faith schools, which it sees as a force for good, but on the other it seeks to curb religious insularity.”
According to guidance issued by the New Schools Network, founders wanting to open faith-designated free schools have to include details of the “proportion of time spent studying RE or faith-related subjects”, as well as alternatives for pupils of other faiths.