Legal Conflict with Richmond Council

Over Proposal for new Catholic School

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Richmond Council will be unable to go ahead with its current plans for Voluntary Aided Catholic schools on the Clifden Road site in Twickenham because they conflict with the new Education Act 2011 according to grassroots campaign group RISC.

Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign has written to the Council’s Chief Executive pointing out that the new Act requires Councils that need a new school first to try to set up a new Academy or Free School, not a Voluntary Aided school. There are transition arrangements for Voluntary Aided schools already in the pipeline, but these only apply if formal proposals were published by 1st February. That has not happened in the case of the Catholic schools proposed for Clifden Road.

The Catholic Diocese of Westminster received the Secretary of State’s consent to publish proposals for a full-scale Voluntary Aided secondary school, along with a small primary, at the end of 2011. Its “pre-statutory consultation” finishes on 17th February. After that it will “decide whether or not to publish Statutory Proposals”. So it has missed the 1st February deadline.

Meanwhile the Council’s own consultation on the use of the Clifden Road site runs until 16th March. It proposes that the site should be used for the Catholic Voluntary Aided schools.

RISC spokesman Jeremy Rodell said “The Council is now in the untenable position of consulting on a plan that doesn’t comply with the law. They should end the current process and start a new one in line with the new legislation. What that means in practice is that they will have to try to establish an Academy or Free School. The Catholic Diocese can still propose a new Academy. In fact they are already planning to convert some of their existing Voluntary Aided schools to Academy status, such as Gumley House. The big difference is that brand new Academies can only have a maximum of 50% faith-based admissions.”

RISC argues that it is wrong for any new school set up in the borough to be able to turn children away because of their parents’ beliefs. But Mr Rodell conceded that “The best use of this valuable site would be for a high quality inclusive school. And we have recently seen that one of the Free School proposers, the New Local School for Twickenham, has said it would like to use the site for an inclusive secondary. Maybe there will be others. But if no inclusive options come to fruition, a Catholic Academy with 50% of places open to the community as a whole would be better than the exclusive Voluntary Aided school currently proposed.” This compromise was in fact suggested last year by Vince Cable, and would be in line with the Council’s policy to turn all its schools into Academies. But it was rejected at the time by the Catholic Diocese.

The Council’s consultation on whether to go ahead with Voluntary Aided Catholic schools on
the Clifden Road site is available at Council Consultation

February 13, 2012

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