To all Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign supporters
Here's what you'll find in this edition of the RISC update:
Local news & analysis:
- Primary school place offers for September 2013 - not quite as rosy as some would like us to think; quite a few parents face an anxious wait for news.
- Secondary school place offers & forward look - our analysis, using data obtained from Freedom of Information requests, underlines the risk the Council is taking.
- Go ahead for new faith-based Foundation places at St.Stephen's primary - and a former governor's reaction.
- Reactions to the Council's "Education: quality, choice and diversity" glossy brochure.
- Flower arranging could get you a place at the London Oratory and the potential knock-on effect locally
- A disingenuous reply from the Minister for Schools, David Laws MP to Rabbi Jonathan Romain in response to an open letter about fair admissions.
- What do we have in common with Estonia, Ireland and Israel (but not others)? Faith based discrimination in state school admissions.
LOCAL NEWS & ANALYSIS
Primary place offers for September 2013
Offers for places at primary schools were issued on 17th April, with 92% of children getting into one of their preferred schools according to the Council. Here's their press release. As you can see, the Council inhabits a world in which there is only good news. But we think there are around 170 children who didn't get a place at any of their preferred schools. Here are some of the comments we've picked up:
- "We applied for our 2 nearest schools plus the next nearest non-Catholic school which is a C of E. We got none of them and were allocated [a school] which is about twice as far away as the nearest two over subscribed state secular primaries....."
- "We have not been offered a place at any of the six state schools we listed. We are on the waiting list hoping a place will be found... Our closest schools are COfE and Catholic. We are not church going/ practising."
- "I am also one of the 8% despite living 400m from the new Sir Richard Reynolds school....SRR was our first choice. We're not Catholic, but went for the safe choice based on proximity to home."
- "I have just been told that my son is not being offered a place at primary school (at this time). I .....feel that the fact that 4 out of my 6 closest schools are church schools and my lack of faith has been a major contributor to this. I applied to 3 of those 4 schools (plus 3 others) as they are my local schools..."
What we don't know is how many parents felt obliged to fake interest in their local church in order to secure places, or how many didn't indicate a preference for a nearby church school because they're not churchgoers.
Secondary place offers & forward look
As we reported before, 1st March was "National Offer Day" for secondary school places. Following responses to Freedom of Information requests submitted by RISC supporters, we can now take a look at how well the Council is doing compared to the detailed forecast of secondary place uptake it issued in October 2011 (the most recent). Of course, the picture may change between now and September as waiting lists shift and appeals take place, so more families will get their preferred schools. But here are our preliminary conclusions.
2013 an easier year due to a temporary dip in demand
Fewer children came out of borough primaries in 2013 than in 2012, so no-one expected an overall shortage of secondary places this year. And indeed a higher proportion of borough resident children were offered a place at one of their preferred schools than in previous years. So that’s welcome news. The snag is that there are big increases in numbers coming down the track each year for 2014 onwards.
Offers to out of borough children go up instead of down
Grey Court in Ham has just been awarded an "outstanding" from Ofsted. That's wonderful news, and a tribute to Maggie Bailey and her team. The only snag is, the Council forecast that a third of the places at Grey Court would be freed up for Richmond children in 2015. They thought North Kingston parents would prefer a new school their side of the border, which is expected to be open by then. But Grey Court is likely to remain a first choice for many in the foreseeable future.
Supply of places lower than forecast
The Council forecast there would be 35 spare places on the Twickenham side of the borough in 2013 (all at Twickenham Academy) and 87 at Richmond Park Academy (RPA) in Sheen, and denied that any children would be forced to travel to RPA from Twickenham side.
That was partly because they also expected an additional 100 places would appear at a new Free School opening in 2013 somewhere on the Twickenham side, which didn't happen. The Turing House Free School team now seem confident they will secure approval and funding in May to open in 2014, assuming a site can be found (they had originally wanted to use Clifden Road of course).
The Council also forecast a new 150 place/year community school in 2016, but the plan is now for it to open in 2017 (on the Richmond College site). Yet by 2016, 400 more children will come out of borough primaries than in 2013.
A strange first year for St. Richard Reynolds Catholic High School
The only reason why no children from Twickenham are being sent to RPA in 2013 is that there are spare places at the new Catholic secondary school, St. Richard Reynolds High School (SRR), this year.
This is a strange year for SRR for three reasons: the school does not open until September 2013; last year’s court case created uncertainty; and this is the first year that children from Catholic primaries have had an equal chance of a place at the borough’s community secondaries following the Council’s decision to drop the Linked School scheme, which favoured children from feeder primaries. So we don’t think it would be fair to draw any general conclusions from the applications and offers made for 2013. Nevertheless, it is perhaps surprising after all the insistence on the part of parents at Catholic primaries about the need for a Catholic secondary in the borough, of the 250 or so children emerging from Catholic primaries this year, only 75 actually applied for the new school’s 150 places. Of the remaining places, offers were made to 22 other children from Catholic families, some from outside the borough, 23 to non-Catholics who had expressed a preference for the school, plus a further 23 who were allocated places at the school by the Council, although they had not expressed a preference for it. Some of them are fine with that, others are unhappy
We welcome the opportunity for non-Catholics to attend the new school if they wish. The snag is that it’s likely to be short-lived. As soon as the school is fully subscribed, Catholic families will have absolute priority, even if they don’t live in the borough. And in future years the Council’s forecast that they will fill SRR entirely is likely to prove correct. So even the younger siblings of non-Catholics entering SRR this year can’t bank on getting in.
In the chart: "other Catholic" = children from Catholic families at schools other than borough Catholic primaries (including from outside the borough); "allocated" = places offered by the Council to parents who did not include SRR among their preferences.
On the basis of the 2013 offers, unless there’s a big reduction in offers to out-of-borough children, there may not be enough places at preferred secondary schools by 2015 and 2016. As we've said before, the Council took a big and unnecessary risk in using the Clifden Road site for an exclusive Catholic school.
Go-ahead for new foundation places at St.Stephen's Primary in St.Margaret's
Six may not sound a lot (out of 60 places) but it means that all potential parents feel under pressure to start going to church to maximise their chances.The letter on the left shows what a former governor (and ex-parent, and ex-pupil) thinks about it.
Reactions to the Council's "Education - quality, choice and diversity" brochure
The Council spent £7400 sending every household in the borough a glossy brochure promoting the Council's education achievements, all under the imprint of the Director of Education, Nick Whitfield. Not surprisingly, this prompted a rather negative reaction, notably from the LibDem opposition on the Council, who also highlighted some dubious handling of the data, as reported in the Richmond & Twickenham Times. The response from Cllr Geoffrey Samuel, the Deputy Leader of the Council, was "There is no political content in this factual publication. To suggest otherwise is a disreputable slur when it is signed by the director of education, a public servant of impeccable integrity". It looks like we're already in the run-up to the May 2014 Council elections.
There is indeed plenty to celebrate in our local education system, some of it to the Council’s credit. But there's also a negative side. In particular the brochure doesn’t mention the risk the Council took with secondary places in coming years when it decided to give the Clifden Road site to St. Richard Reynolds' Catholic College.
Flower arranging could get you a place at the London Oratory
According to this piece in the Times Educational Supplement, the London Oratory School in Fulham (probably the capital's most prestigious Catholic school) has been pressured by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator to drop helping with church cleaning from their admissions criteria. But they're kept a lot of other stuff, including assisting in church services through flower arranging, bible reading or playing a musical instrument, or helping with good works in the parish. As an academy, it's fully funded by the taxpayer.
The Oratory is the closest Catholic secondary for many families living in the eastern side of the borough, but they often struggle to build up the 'points' necessary to compete for a place. That was one of the factors in the demand for a new Catholic Secondary at Clifden Road. So the Oratory's highly exclusive admissions policy may have a knock-on effect locally.
A disingenuous reply from the Minister for Schools, David Laws MP
Back in December 2012, The Guardian published a joint letter from Rabbi Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, and a number of other signatories, including RISC. The letter called on the Government to end faith-based discrimination in state school admissions. David Laws MP, the Minister for Schools has recently replied to Rabbi Romain - you can read his response here. Unfortunately the reply is misleading in two ways:
Firstly, it implies that schools that select 50% of their pupils on the basis of faith are “inclusive”. OK, 50% selection is better than 100% selection. But truly inclusive schools, including many faith schools, don’t have faith-based selection at all. That's 0%!
Secondly, the response ignores the fact that the Department for Education have knowingly left open a loophole so that religious organisations can get round the 50% cap on faith-based admissions anyway. We've seen with SRR, which was deliberately set up as a Voluntary Aided school rather than an Academy so that it could, if over-subscribed, select up to 100% on the basis of faith (new Academies/Free Schools are limited to 50%). In fact the Department for Education intervened in our court case against the Council last year in order to emphasise that this loophole is intended to be there. David Laws must be well aware of this, but chose not to mention it in his response.
What do we have in common with Estonia, Ireland & Israel (but not others)? Faith based discrimination in state school admissions
A paper published last year by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & development (OECD) indicates that we are one of only 4 out of 35 developed countries reviewed that permits faith-based discrimination in admissions to state-funded schools. The others three countries cited at Estonia, Ireland and Israel. Countries that we might consider "religious", such as Poland, Spain and Italy, apparently don't have faith-based selection. The irony here is that the Catholic Diocese of Westminster said that the rapid expansion of the Catholic population in Ealing - resulting from immigration from Poland - was one of the main reasons why they needed additional Catholic school capacity in west London, and therefore supported the establishment of the new school in Twickenham. But these same parents would not be able to choose an exclusive Catholic state school back in Poland.
RISC Core Team