Many governors, parents and members of the general public, will have heard of the Office of School Adjudicator (OSA). They may even have read about her recently published annual report, as it was widely reported on in the press. But what did Dr Elizabeth Passmore, the Chief Adjudicator actually say and, more to the point, what could it mean for Jewish schools?
But first, some background: what is the OSA and what does it do? The Office of the Schools Adjudicator is a tribunal and until its abolishment in August 2013 was supervised by the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council. Once published, decisions can only be challenged through the courts. Whilst independent, adjudicators are paid through the Department for Education.
Adjudicators resolve differences over the interpretation and application of legislation and guidance on school admissions and statutory proposals concerning school organisation. In relation to all state-funded schools adjudicators: rule on objections to and referrals about determined school admission arrangements. In relation to maintained schools (and all Jewish VA schools, free schools and academies fall into this category) adjudicators: decide on requests to vary admission arrangements, resolve disputes relating to school organisation proposals, or on the transfer and disposal of non-playing field land and assets and also determine appeals from admission authorities against the intention of the local authority to direct the admission of a particular pupil.
This year, one of her main findings was: ‘ The practice of some primary schools of giving priority for admission to the reception year to children who have attended particular nursery provision has been found to be unfair to other local children’. She went on to say that: ‘the Department for Education should consider issuing guidance for schools and local authorities so that there is fair access to schools for all children on reaching compulsory school age in order that children are not disadvantaged by any decisions their parents make about the care of their children prior to compulsory school age or by access to specific child care.’
The writer of a major article in the Times recently starts by asking the question ‘For ambitious – and even atheist – parents, faith schools are still the best alternative to private schools. Is it time for a crackdown? She then goes on to quote Rebecca Allen at the Institute of Education, who found that the sheer complexity of rules surrounding entry to faith schools put off all but the most determined and educated parents. The article then quotes Olmo Silva, from the London School of Economics and his 2011 research. But when asked if he would consider a faith school when he had children, he tellingly responds: “Well, the system of admissions to a faith school sometimes sounds less unfair that the selection by mortgage you get for good community schools. What is more fair, the ethical discomfort from faking religious belief or being barred by the fact that you can’t spend that amount on a house?”
Now, you might think that the writer of the article was taking into account the thousands upon thousands of children in faith based schools located in the poorest areas of our inner cities. You might also think that the writer had looked at the many thousands of families claiming free school meals or the many others too proud to claim them. But you would be wrong. She also forgets that the ‘complexity’ of the system about which she writes – without first hand knowledge – is a by-product of legislation and Supreme Court judgements, not something deliberately sought by the hapless faith schools . So ‘job done’ then? It’s all the fault of those pesky faith schools and their cunning parents? Well - not quite.