To all Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign supporters

Hi there,

Here's what you'll find in this edition of the RISC update. And don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Fair Admissions Campaign - national launch, with RISC as founder supporter
Primary school offers - more data, but information on faith-based admissions not yet available
Vince Cable appeals for more inclusive admissions at local church schools

Discrimination against siblings of non-Catholic children - at Teddington primary mirrors problems elsewhere
New free schools & implications
Sutton Trust report highlights impact of faith-based admissions on social segregation

Fair Admissions Campaign - national launch
The new national "Fair Admissions Campaign" was launched today (6th June). It aims to end the unfairness of religious selection in state school admissions, and its consequences in terms of religious, ethnic, social and economic segregation. 
Like RISC, the new campaign does not take a position on the state funding of faith schools. We're really pleased to see this initiative. It will always be an uphill struggle for local groups such as RISC to fight the unfairness of faith-based discrimination while successive national governments continue to support it. Time for a change. 

The speakers at the launch in central London were Rabbi Jonathan Romain (Chair of the Accord Coalition, which has supported RISC from the beginning), Professor Ted Cantle (founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) and author of ‘The Cantle Report’), Pavan Dhaliwal (from the British Humanist Association) and Jeremy Rodell (from RISC). Among the other national organisations already supporting the campaign are British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Liberal Democrat Education AssociationLiberal Youth, the Socialist Educational Association, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the Association of Teachers & Lecturers, and the Runnymede Trust has just signed up. Apart from RISC, two other local campaigns have affiliated to it: Fair Admissions Lancashire and the Tudor Grange Admissions Policy Campaign (Solihull). Do sign up on the Fair Admissions Campaign website.
Three new findings were highlighted at the launch:
  • Religious selection is allowed through an exemption in equalities legislation, but it may constitute indirect racial discrimination, which is illegal.
  • Initial results from mapping work showing how much more socially segregated faith schools are than other schools in the same areas - something we've highlighted in Richmond.
  • Good news from the Church of England’s London Diocesan Board for Schools which has said that ‘Our policy is to encourage our Church of England Schools to have half open places and half foundation places. For the new schools we are promoting we are going for all open places’. 
The campaign's website already contains a wealth of useful information.

Primary school offers
We made a Freedom of Information request for all the data on primary school offers for Sep 2013. Unfortunately the Council were "unable to provide information on admissions criteria as we do not hold a complete record of this information". Of course, we wanted to know how many offers at each school were on the basis of religious criteria. We'll follow-up to see how this information can be provided. In the meantime, you can see the data for each school here

There were 6% fewer places than applicants this year. Over a third of places at borough primaries are at schools that apply a degree of faith-based selection if they are over-subscribed. And 10 of the 16 faith schools were over-subscribed on the basis of 1st preference applications alone for 2013. 

While 75% of children secured a place at their 1st preference school, and 88% at one of their top three, that still left over 200 children either allocated places at schools to which they had not applied, or with no initial offer at all. The quotes on our website from local parents tell the tale. For example: "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..." The pain is not evenly spread. For example, the area in central/west Twickenham covered by Archdeacon Cambridge, St.James', St.Richard Reynolds, Stanley and Trafalgar primaries had over 450 applicants for 390 places. And nearly half those places (46%) were at schools that apply a degree of faith-based selection, with St.James' effectively closed to all non-Catholics. 

Supply and demand will no doubt come more into balance over the coming months as some parents decide to go private.
Many will do so unwillingly, and sometimes with financial hardship, because they can't get a place at a reasonable state school close to their home. Arguably this is the safety valve that enables the Council to get away with under-provision of places, essentially at the expense of local parents. The whole thing is made worse because faith-based selection means that some parents have more choice - and more chances of securing a place at a decent nearby school - than others.  

Vince Cable appeals for more inclusive admissions at local church schools 
In his latest email update, Vince Cable has weighed in on the side of more inclusive admissions at local faith schools. "
I have always been a defender of faith schools because of the extra choice it gives to parents, respecting their religion. But we are getting into difficult - and nasty - competition for places. In a band from East Twickenham to Teddington there are now five faith schools (three CofE, two RC), and two non-denominational schools which are also bursting at the seams. Local residents are finding that they cannot get places and are passed over for church goers who live much further away. I am appealing to the church authorities to be community minded on admissions."
Discrimination against siblings of non-Catholic children
If you've been following us on Facebook or Twitter, or read the Richmond & Twickenham Times, you'll know that we've been highlighting an issue at Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School in Teddington. Non-Catholic parents who secured places in Sacred Heart's bulge class last year have found that their younger children may be unable to join their older siblings.  That's because the school's admissions policy, in line with most other local Catholic primaries, follows a Diocesan directive which says "The governing bodies of Catholic schools shall always give priority to Catholic applicants above all other applicants"
Paradoxically, Catholic schools in the independent sector, such as St.Catherine's in Twickenham and St.George's in Weybridge, are often more flexible, with an emphasis on respect for the school's ethos rather than religious commitment. So it's clear that this highly discriminatory policy is a matter of choice for the Diocese. 

The issue is certainly not unique to our borough. Following a similar incident at a Church of England school in Camden - which then changed its admissions policy - their Council Cabinet Member for Children wrote to both the Catholic and Anglican Diocese "to ask for their support in reviewing the admission criteria...It is absolutely vital that our admissions policy is administered in a fair and transparent manner."     
Rabbi Jonathan Romain, as Chair of Accord, was quoted in the Richmond & Twickenham Times as saying: “A humane, and also a religious response would be to find room for siblings of existing children and not to use religious discrimination to split families. That does not sit well with the values of most faiths."
Some of the parents involved in the Sacred Heart case are now aiming to enlist the help of Vince Cable. It remains to be seen whether the school's governing body will be willing to amend their policy.

New free schools
The Education Act 2011 made free schools/academies (the same thing for new schools) the default first choice structure for all new schools. The latest list of free school approvals issued by the government in May included, as expected, two new secondaries in the area: Turing House (Twickenham) and The North Kingston Secondary School (presumably they'll come up with a better name later), both scheduled for 2014 opening. This is good news in terms of overall secondary capacity, as the Council's forecasts - and RISC's - had already assumed both schools would go ahead. The announcements therefore make no difference to our concern about the impact of the Council's decision to give the Clifden Road site to the Catholic school on the overall provision and choice in the borough. 

The next step is to find sites for the new schools. That's the job of the Education Funding Agency, not the schools. It's easy in the case of the North Kingston school: the North Kingston Centre adult college - next door to Tiffin Girl's school - was earmarked by Kingston Council a long time ago. The school is scheduled to open in 2014, which presumably means they will have to start by using the old buildings. 
Turing House is more of a challenge for the EFA as the original choice of site - Clifden Road - is, of course, no longer available. According to a report in the RTT the then-preferred location of the National Physical Laboratory may not be available because it’s earmarked for a new laboratory building. But the process is still at an early stage, so we’re not going to speculate on where it will end up.
At the same time, the Council and Richmond College are progressing with plans to establish a new secondary on the College site to open in 2017, also assumed in their and our forecasts. The next issue will be funding. Under the Education Act, Councils can no longer decide to establish schools directly. In the case of Kingston, the Council's involvement is as a minority partner in Kingston Educational Trust which proposed the free school. A similar model will almost certainly apply in the case of Richmond. So there are a number of steps to be gone through before the school is formally approved and funded by the Department for Education, but we're assuming it will go ahead.
Meanwhile, two local primary free schools are due to open in September 2013: Thomson House in Mortlake and St.Mary's Church of England Primary in Hampton. St.Mary's is a fine illustration of the fact that faith schools don't have to have exclusive admissions policies; and there are plenty of other examples.

Sutton Trust report underlines social impact of faith-based selection
The Sutton Trust is a respected charity that promotes social mobility and won a £125m contract from the Department for Education to help boost standards among disadvantaged schoolchildren. It has recently issued a major report by Sir Peter Lampl about the way in which our school admissions systems inhibit social mobility by preventing equal access to good schools. Not surprisingly, it highlighted the role of faith-based selection. 19% of comprehensives are faith schools nationally, but 33% of the top 500 are faith schools, and the number of children attending them who are eligible for free school meals (FSM) - the standard measure of deprivation - is lower than the national average.

We have our local examples: St.James' Catholic Primary has 2% of children eligible for FSM, while Stanley Primary has 9% - both in Stanley Road in Teddington. Similarly, there is St.Edmunds Catholic Primary at 4% and Nelson Primary at 10% - within about 150 yards of each other in Whitton. 

It's ironic that the Sutton Trust has funding from the Department for Education. This is the same department that intervened - perhapsy decisively - in our court case last year against the Council's decision to go ahead with the Voluntary Aided Catholic schools at Clifden Road. The big issue was the secondary, with its 100% faith-based over-subscription criteria, and the explicit rejection of the 50% compromise proposed by Vince Cable, which was in line with the rule for new free schools/academies. The Department claimed it was a policy objective of the Education Act 2011 (but not one that was clearly stated anywhere) “to make it easier to establish voluntary aided schools” specifically because “In some cases…religious organisations will not wish to establish an Academy … mainly because only 50% of places can be prioritised on the basis of faith if that Academy is oversubscribed.” In other words, the DfE have officially defended a loophole to enable new schools to get round the 50% cap on faith-based selection. The Council and the Diocese wanted - and got - 100%. And the same thing can happen elsewhere.
RISC Core Team