RISC triggers a consultation
- As a result of a legal challenge from RISC, the Council were forced to deny that they had offered the site to the Church without going through the proper decision-taking process.
- Following this change of position, and opposition to the Clifden Road plan from the Lib Dems, Richmond Council agreed to hold a borough-wide consultation on the decision to use the Clifden Road site for a Catholic School.
- In the meantime, there were high profile disagreements on the extent to which the new school should be able to select its pupils using faith criteria.
- Having obtained the required consent from Michael Gove, the Diocese of Westminster published its VA schools proposals.
- The proposals outlined a 5-form entry VA Secondary school, with an admissions policy that would exclude non-Catholics from almost 100% of its places in the highly probable scenario of it being oversubscribed. (Note: if its undersubscribed by Catholics then there's a legal obligation to offer leftover places to anyone who needs them. However, that's not the same as openly welcoming community admissions as a matter of policy, as many Church of England schools do).
- The proposals also outlined a 1-form entry VA Primary School, with just 10 community places. These community places will be sorely needed in Central Twickenham, which is anecdotally a 'black hole' for community primary admissions.
- The Council’s borough-wide on-line consultation began, running in parallel with the Church’s own statutory consultation. Launching it, Lord True said the documentation explained why a Catholic school was a “necessity”. The Council made clear that the consultation was not a referendum but would be an input to its decision.
- Local MP Vince Cable wrote to council leader Lord True to say he thought the new school should cap its faith-based admissions at 50%.
- RISC published a detailed briefing explaining why the Local Authority’s Secondary School forecast was severely underestimating future demand for community secondary school places.
- A group of local parents began promoting the idea of a new Community Free School, and said they’d be interested in using the Clifden Road site if the consultation process led to it being opened up to rival bids. This alternative suggestion was not specifically referred to in the council’s consultation document. Although the group’s bid to open their school in September 2013 was not successful, they have since evolved into the Turing House School proposal, and now have DfE backing to open in 2014 instead. They have lots of local support, including council support, but to date they still don’t have a secure site option.
- RISC asserted that the new Education Act 2011, which came into force on 1st Feb, required the council to formally invite Academy proposals if they felt a new school was needed, before they could accept Voluntary Aided proposals from the Diocese. This was significant, because if the Diocese proposed an academy it would not be allowed to select more than 50% of its pupils on the basis of faith.
- Richmond’s Director of Education rejected RISC’s interpretation of the new Education Act.
- As the council’s consultation drew to a close it was revealed that the Education Secretary Michael Gove had said in a letter to Vince Cable, that he agreed the new Catholic school should voluntarily cap its faith-based admissions at 50%.
- The Lib Dem opposition reiterated their view that the Clifden Road site should be used for a Community School.
- The Conservative administration announced that they were now considering a new Community School at the Richmond College site, but there were no details on feasibility or timing. (Now we know the current plan is to open the school in 2017).
- A Freedom of Information request revealed that council leader Lord True actively intervened to urge the Diocese of Westminster to reject Vince Cable’s suggestion of a 50% cap on faith-based admissions.