Green light for Jewish school in Muswell Hill

New school would satisfy desire for Jewish school and help with lack of primary school places in the borough

The group behind the Haringey Jewish Primary (Haringey JPS) free school – which would be independently run and not have to follow the national curriculum but would be government funded – are looking at three potential areas around Muswell Hill, Crouch End and Highgate but say the Muswell Hill site is currently “most interesting”.

As well as fulfilling the desire amongst the Jewish community for a primary faith school in the borough, the project could help to ease the lack of primary places in Haringey.

The council this week admitted 39 families were still waiting for one of 18 slots left available, despite the autumn term beginning this week.

Haringey JPS could take 30 children as early as September 2011 and more than 150 have already signed up via a website and word-of-mouth – two on the list for 2015 are not even born.

Critics of the scheme say free schools are expensive to run and could open in wealthy areas, draining resources from other schools.

The school is one of two Jewish schools to be set up in London following Education Secretary Michael Gove’s announcement on Monday and comes in the same week a leading north London Rabbi condemned faith schools.

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But since the idea of Haringey JPS formed in September 2009, Peter Kessler – one of those leading the project – said there had been an “overwhelming public desire” for the school, which will be independent of any particular denomination. The school will permit 50 per cent of its pupils on faith grounds.

“We will welcome children from across the spectrum of Jewish life – and beyond it too – on an absolutely equal basis and that is an environment that large numbers of families, Jewish or otherwise, see as ideal for their children,” said Mr Kessler.

“We believe our community will benefit from better interaction with the wider world, and children from the wider community will also benefit from what we have to offer.

“Our children will learn what it means to be Jewish in a community of many faiths, but they will learn it in a supportive Jewish environment.’

The group says Haringey Council have been “supportive of the idea from the start” but a spokeswoman for the council said no-one was available to comment on the issue.

Mr Kessler said: “Haringey is short of primary places, and it has a growing Jewish community, so from the borough’s perspective, Haringey JPS helps to fulfil two needs in one.”

The group are now searching for a headteacher and are focussed on three sites: a vacant primary school, a school-sharing option with a primary that has switched from two to one-form entry and a plot of land for a new building.

This week a senior Rabbi at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in north London said faith schools were “not ideal” in a multicultural country.

“Schools should be made up of people of different faiths, races and religions and part of the ethos of education should be helping children discover how to get on with people who are different from them,” she said.

“I don’t think you can just ban faith schools, but they’re not ideal.”