Friday, June 26, 2009

Schools for Scandal

TEACHERS, and no doubt parents, have been worriedly discussing whether members of the far-Right British National Party(BNP) should be allowed to teach in schools. BNP leader Nick Griffin has been answering questions from the Equalities Commission about his party's racial criteria for membership. But a school in north-west London has been found in breach of race relations law when it refused a boy admission.

Three judges in the Court of Appeal were unanimous in ruling that the Jews Free School (JFS) in Kenton acted unlawfully when it discriminated against the boy because of his mother's ethnicity. The boy, referred to in court as M, is the son of a Jewish father, and a mother who converted to Judaism. According to Jewish tradition descent is reckoned from the mother. But M's mother's conversion was not recognised as sufficient for the school's rules of admission because it took place in a Progressive synagogue.

Although the Jews Free School is within the state sector, and might be expected to take any pupils whose parents wish them to have a Jewish education, it operates an admissions policy determined by the Office of the Chief Rabbi, which insists the child's mother must be Jewish, and does not recognise other than Orthodox conversions. In one case we heard of a woman who had been converted in Israel, and who taught Hebrew in the school was told that her son could not be enrolled as a pupil because they did not recognise her as Jewish.

In a Jewish New Year television broadcast last year Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks went to a Jewish school, the King David in Birmingham where, though the Israeli flag was displayed and children were being taught about the Jewish religion, they included youngsters from Muslim and Sikh families who evidently considered it a good school. This helped the school make up numbers, as well as reflecting its multicultural surroundings, and it helped Sacks portray a cuddly, open and friendly image for his brand of Judaism. Only months earlier, while the bombs fell on Lebanon, the same Chief Rabbi had been proclaiming his pride in Israel, at a rally held at the Jews Free School.

The United Synagogue, which Chief Rabbi Sacks heads, spent £150,000 fighting this case, and claims it represents a threat unless overturned. M's father had appealed against an earlier High Court judgement which said the JFS entry policy was "entirely legitimate". Urging the school not to pursue another appeal, John Hallford, the lawyer representing M.'s father,said:
"We have never sought to interfere with the right of Orthodox Jews to define for their own religious purposes who they do or do not recognise as Jewish. However , it is unlawful for a child's ethnic origins to be used as the criterion for entry to a school. Such a practice is even more unacceptable in the case of a comprehensive school funded by the taxpayer."


The JFS is not unique in mean-spiritedness or discrimination. Some years back I heard of a particularly nasty case involving a toddler with special needs being refused a place in a suitable place because the parents could not provide the grandmother's ketuba, or religious marriage certificate. They pointed out that this grandparent was from Germany, and her documents had gone up in smoke along with the rest of her family.

But the case of 12-year old M. should prove a test case. And while attention is drawn to the JFS, perhaps someone will examine other special features of this state-funded comprehensive - like the allocation of time to training as propagandists for the State of Israel, or the activity in school of a well-heeled religious cult called Aish, about whose influence some parents are concerned.

I'm against faith schools, on which this government has been over-keen, and I wish people would not send their kids to them. But while such places exist, and draw public funds, people should know what they're letting their kids in for, and we are all entitled to know what is going on in them.

Jewish Chronicle report on JFS case:

Jewish Socialist article about Aish:

Copland cops it

A couple of days before the news about JFS, another school in the North West London Borough of Brent was in the news for different reasons. We reported before how three teachers from Copland community school in Wembley were being suspended, following a row over excessive payments to the head. Subsequently the three were reinstated, while it was the turn of the head, Sir Alan Davies and his deputy to be suspended.

It did not stop there. Here is the latest from the Harrow Times:

Copland school board of governors suspended

Tuesday 23rd June 2009

By Jack Royston

THE board of governors has been suspended at a Wembley school where the head was paid £130,000 in bonuses.

Brent Council is investigating claims close to £1m was dished out to a range of staff, including Sir Alan Davies, headteacher at Copland Community School, on top of their salaries.

Sir Alan and two senior managers were suspended in May and the authority has now asked Ed Balls, the children's secretary, to appoint an interim board to run the Cecil Avenue technology college.

Mr Balls said: “It is in the best interests of the school, pupils and parents. Robust governance and management must be established as soon as possible at Copland.

“I have considered arguments on all sides very carefully, including representations that opposed Brent Council’s application to replace the governing body - but there is no alternative in putting Copland back on track.

“I am very concerned about these very serious allegations and am pleased that Brent has acted decisively in putting new management in place.

“I am being kept in touch closely with Brent’s ongoing investigation.”

The council's inquiry centres around two dossiers of information compiled by Hank Roberts, a union rep at the school.

They contain allegation that close to £1m was paid out over seven years in bonuses to a range of staff, including £20,000 allegedly paid to Sir Alan's son Gareth, the caretaker.

Deputy head Dr Richard Evans and bursar Columbus Udokoro were also suspended in May, and Philip O'Hear, head of Capital City Academy, was drafted in to run Copland during the investigation.

The council, which also suspended the budget it gives the school, said suspending senior management was a “neutral act” often undertaken where allegation of this nature are made.

The chairman of the board of governors stood by Sir Alan when the accusations were originally made."


Unfortunately what the government has not suspended is its policy of letting schools like Copland have relative autonomy or pouring support into City Academies, run by private interests, even as the private interests become less keen on putting their money in.

And so to SOAS

And so to a different kind of school, London's School of Oriental and African Studies
(SOAS),a part of the university which I always assumed was there to train anthropologists and spies, but whose students have acquired a bit of a name for militancy in recent years, whether deserved or not, because of their natural concern for the stormy events and human tragedies in the Middle East.

The SOAS students recently had an education in struggles for humanity and justice nearer home, as college cleaners, employed by a company called ISS,fought to achieve the London living wage. First a Unison branch secretary who had organised the cleaners was sacked, and then one morning cleaners were called to a 6.30 am meeting only to find immigration officers waiting. Nine of the cleaners were taken away, and we heard six were deported.

After protests by SOAS students and teachers, management has agreed to review its practices and to write to the Home Secretary asking for "exceptional leave to remain" for those who were detained. SOAS will also ask that those deported be allowed to return.

Well done to the cleaners who fought for a decent living in return for their work, and well done to the students and staff who acted in solidarity with those less secure or well off.

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