Cabinet to consider the responses to the consultation on the proposals to lease the Clifden Road site to the Diocese of Westminster for the establishment of a voluntary-aided Catholic secondary school and a voluntary-aided Catholic primary school, and asks Cabinet to decide whether or not the proposals should be approved, conditional on completion of purchase of the site and on Cabinet’s separate approval of the Diocese’s statutory proposals.
Cabinet considered a report of the Cabinet Member for Schools which summarised the responses to the consultation on the proposals to make the Clifden Road site available for new voluntary aided Catholic Schools.
The Leader confirmed that this item would, for the purposes of public representation and debate be taken in conjunction with Item 11 – Statutory Proposals to establish a voluntary aided catholic secondary school and a voluntary aided primary school. The decisions however, would be taken separately.
The Right Reverend Bishop John Sherrington on behalf of the Diocese of Westminster addressed Cabinet alongside Mr Paul Barber, Diocesan Director of Education in support of the proposals. Bishop Sherrington explained that a firm Catholic foundation was provided at primary level within the borough that could not be continued at secondary level. He noted that the increase in demand for places in out of borough Catholic Schools would soon begin to impact on the choices available for Richmond residents. He noted that Catholic Schools placed a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusivity and already contributed fully at primary level to the family of schools within the Borough. Mr Barber re-iterated the impact of rising birth rates in West London on the future availability of out of borough secondary places for Richmond children which had already become evident at primary level.
Patricia Howell, a parent of Catholic children in the borough addressed Cabinet in support of the proposals. She noted the educational and community impact of children travelling out of the borough for secondary education, in particular the lack of participation in extra curricular activities. In particular, the impact was noted to be greatest for children with Special Educational Needs.
Christine Brett, Headteacher of St Elizabeth’s School, addressed Cabinet in support of the proposals. She provided an overview of the recent increase in admission numbers to Catholic primary schools within the borough. She explained that the Catholic ethos focused heavily on community cohesion and children regularly took part in charitable activities, outreach work and worked with their peers across primary schools within the borough and more widely. In response to questioning, she noted that Richmond pupils often were not able to access summer school sessions organised by the transferring secondary schools due to the small numbers of pupils transferring across as many as 15 secondary schools.
Andrew Cole, Richmond Local Authority Representative of the Diocese of Southwark, addressed Cabinet in support of the proposals. He noted the positive benefits which the proposed new voluntary aided primary and secondary school would provide for Richmond families. He supported the view that additional community places were not required at secondary level at this time in the borough. In response to questioning, Mr Cole explained that the admissions policy for the primary school would include 10 community places based on home to school distance. The secondary school admissions policy would be based on random allocation across 20 parishes, with admission from both the Middlesex and Surrey sides of the river. Places unfilled by Catholic Children would then be available to remaining children based on home to school distance criteria. He further clarified that it was likely pupils in the primary school would be given priority to transfer through to the secondary school but this would be a matter for future determination.
Tracey Cotterill, a parent of Catholic children in the borough addressed Cabinet in support of the proposals. She noted the impact of daily travel to out of borough schools to be significant, particularly on children’s friendships and ability to be fully involved in the Richmond community. The high Ofsted gradings of the existing six Catholic primary schools within the borough for their contribution to the local community was highlighted.
Doctor Helen Clark, a parent of children attending school in the borough addressed Cabinet to oppose the proposals. She explained that in her view, the proposals for a voluntary aided Catholic primary and secondary school would further exclude children, in particular boys from having equal access to education provision across the borough and learning together with their peers. She argued that public funds should be used to provide education accessible to all.
Gaurav Mathur, a parent of children attending school in the borough addressed Cabinet to oppose the proposals. He stated that in his view, the equalities information supplied with the report was not current or comprehensive and that children should not be further separated from their peers at school. He noted that a part-Catholic School with an inclusive admissions policy would be a suitable compromise.
Jane Nicholls, a parent of children attending school in the borough addressed Cabinet to oppose the proposals. She supported the view that a Catholic Academy with an inclusive admissions policy would be a more acceptable proposal and that the existing proposal, provided Catholic children with more options than non Catholic children who would be unable to attend the proposed school. In response to questioning, Councillor Hodgins explained that the proposal had been submitted by the Diocese of Westminster and as such, had to be determined as proposed.
Lawrence Hudson, a parent of a pre-school aged child, addressed Cabinet to oppose the proposals. He explained that all children’s educational needs were equal and as such, should not be defined by their religious upbringing. In his view, it was discriminatory to have a faith based admissions policy for the proposed school. In responding to Mr Hudson’s address, the Leader explained that in law, provision had long existed in England for the type of school which had been proposed by the Diocese.
Julie Courtis, a parent of a child attending school in the borough addressed Cabinet to oppose the proposals. She challenged the Authority’s judgement that no further community secondary school places would be required until 2016 and the risks associated with school place planning. It was her belief that using the Clifden Road site for the Diocesan Proposals would reduce future flexibility.
Natalie Raja, a parent of children attending school in the borough addressed Cabinet to oppose the proposals. She highlighted the view that faith based criteria should not be used to decide the education of pupils and stressed the focus on financial variables in the current economic climate. She noted the time taken to progress school based building programmes.
Councillor Evans presented the views of the Education and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee following the meeting held on 15 May 2012. He explained that the issues of inclusivity and diversity had been raised by individuals on both sides of the discussions. The Committee had focused discussion and debate around the changing demographics in West London and the future reduction in school places available out of borough for Catholic families in Richmond and on issues relating to funding. He noted that the Committee had considered and accepted the figures on school place planning which had been provided by officers. Following a vote taken at the meeting held on 15 May 2012, a majority had been in favour of the Diocese proposals.
Councillor Knight addressed Cabinet. He noted support for all schools across the Borough and an appreciation of the desires of Catholic parents to educate their children locally. He highlighted the assumptions on which the pupil place planning for the future had been based and expressed concern that utilising the Clifden Road site now, could prejudice the delivery of community places in future years. In response to questioning, he noted that in making the decision, the desires of the Catholic families in the borough needed to be considered against the needs of the wider population in Richmond. However, he did not agree with the arguments by those opposing faith schools in principle.
Nick Whitfield, Director Education, Children’s Services and Culture, and Matthew Paul, Head of School Commissioning, addressed Cabinet. Mr Whitfield noted that capacity within voluntary aided schools had been increased by the same percentage as community schools in recent years. Other options for future school expansion to meet projected need for community places in 2016 / 17 were being explored by the Local Authority. He reported that recent Central Government announcements regarding monies for school rebuilds would not have included schools within the vicinity of the Borough, due to restrictions on use of the monies.
In addressing Cabinet, Mr Whitfield noted that pupil place planning had proven to be accurate to date and despite the many variables, he was confident that plans were being developed to fulfil the local authority’s statutory duty to provide education for all children within the Borough.
Mr Paul provided the Committee with information regarding the equality impact of the proposals, including consideration in respect of faith, race, disability and community cohesion which supported the information previously provided. Mr Whitfield reported that discussions had taken place with the Diocese regarding provision for SEN being available on the site should the proposals be accepted. This would have positive benefits for all SEN children within the Borough.
In responding to questions from Cabinet Members, Mr Whitfield noted that increasing the number of community secondary school places at the current time would be damaging to those schools in the borough currently improving the quality of provision. He clarified that the admission number of 150 proposed by the Diocese would not meet the needs of all Catholic children in the borough but would provide equal opportunity for all pupils across the borough to gain a place.
With regard to the issue of Free Schools, Mr Whitfield noted that these schools would provide additional choice for parents within the Borough, with arrangements being put into place to manage those which received early approval. He explained that despite free school applications, additional community places were not required at the current time in the secondary sector.
The integrity of the consultation process in addition to the statutory consultations was questioned by Members. Mr Paul explained that the consultation had been wide ranging and thorough and had elicited many detailed responses which demonstrated that residents had taken the opportunity to give their considered views.
In concluding the discussion, the Leader noted that the key issues of debate had focused on projected demand for places at primary and secondary level, parental and pupil choice, inclusivity in admissions, equality in education and quality in delivery of education to enable all children across the borough to fulfil their potential. He particularly commented on the increase in provision included within the proposals for children with special educational needs.
The Chief Executive reconfirmed the advice listed as part of the report that the report should be treated as urgent and exempted from call-in.
Resolved: That Cabinet:
Updated: 18 September 2013