‘Ofsted swoops on more Jewish schools’ was the headline to an article in a well known Jewish weekly paper very recently, noting that, in the last few weeks, four state aided Jewish schools, as well as at least one independent charedi girls’ school, have been ‘swooped’ upon, that is, they have been the subject of no-notice inspections by Ofsted, as is their right. Indeed, it is clear that the head of Ofsted, Michael Wilshaw, was considering more, routine no-notice inspections...
Along with many other schools, Jewish primary schools have, over the years, offered priority in Reception for children attending the school’s own nursery. Indeed, for some of them it has been a central tenet of their existence. This had, many believed, been officially sanctioned, as it is now generally accepted that most children will benefit from some form of structured educational provision before starting school. Many maintained schools, free schools and academies have their own nursery provision and there are countless private options, too. Schools with their own nursery provision will naturally want those children in the nursery to progress to the school proper. There are many educational reasons why that is good for children. Not only that, but the Early Years Foundation Stage is written in a way that implicitly expects continuity from nursery to Reception where that is possible. After all, Nursery is FS1 and Reception is FS2.
Of course, set against this there will be parents who prefer private nursery provision and yet others who feel that they do not want to force their children into what they perceive is formal education until they are required by law to do so, at the age of ‘rising five’. For some families there are also practical concerns. The mobility of today’s society, with people, having to move in search of work and/or housing, is a real issue. A family, living in Manchester, where the breadwinner is offered a promotion to a position in London will surely want to be able to know that its children can obtain a Reception place in the type of school which fits with its life style and religiosity. Any admissions system that gives a high priority to those who are fortunate enough to have stability and the ability to plan their lives, will disadvantage those who are already in a vulnerable position.
In the light of all this, a recent article by Richard Gold, Solicitor, Consultant, Stone King LLP, someone familiar to many in the Jewish education world – and indeed beyond –is most timely. ‘Admission Priority for Nursery Pupils’, in the 2014 edition of the Education Law Journal, explains in great detail, but in a lucid style, the issues and challenges. Referring to the current School Admission Code, he states: The Code has no explicit provisions relating to nursery priority beyond a reference in para 15(d): ‘Published admission arrangements must make clear to parents that a separate application must be made for any transfer from nursery to primary school, and from infant to junior school’, a significant change from the previous edition, which was far more detailed, running to over ninety pages, as against some 30 plus pages in the current version.