School Debate Update: Everyone a Winner?

Orleans Park School

UPDATE: A quick reminder that any comments on ending the link status need to be made by 13th January.
The great school debate continues in this most leafy part of suburban London. So what are El Brute up to now you say? Well, since you ask, two things. They’re consulting on whether to end the link school status that exists between some local (and localish) primary schools and three of the Borough’s secondaries and they’re also busy saying that everyone will be a winner when it comes to secondary education. Good news? Perhaps it is… if you can understand it all and depending on your point of view in the first place, of course.


Link School Change
El Brute’s consultation on ending link school status is currently live. Among the twickerati, the people most affected by this will be those with children at primaries which currently have a link connection with Orleans Park or Teddington Schools but don’t live close to them. But it will also have a knock on effect on admissions more generally. The other secondary school affected is Grey Court in Ham. What the link means is that children at linked primaries get a higher priority in admissions to that secondary school than pupils from non-linked schools. The result here in Twickenham is that a child at a linked school (say Archdeacon Cambridge) may get a place at Orleans Park School at the expense of a child at a non Orleans-linked school (say Trafalgar) despite that Trafalgar child living closer to OPS. Meanwhile Trafalgar has link with Teddington which can lead to Twickenham kids going there at the expense of children who attend non-linked schools over in TW11. Ending the link school status would produce a straightforward system whereby more school places are allocated on the basis of distance from the school. Simples.

Is that fairer? Probably. Well, it’s certainly more logical. Attending your nearest school seems like a pretty fair way of doing things although it will raise the usual “selection by postcode” criticisms. It won’t be good news for people who had hoped to get their children into Orleans Park through a linked school despite living on the fringes of its “catchment area”. They might find themselves looking at Twickenham Academy instead. Getting more Twickenham children into the Twickenham Academy would please El Brute who want to ensure the new academies are nice and full but its early days for Twickenham Academy and it’s still unproven. Will those Twickenham parents who had been banking on places at Orleans or maybe Teddington be happy with that outcome? We could ask some. Or, if you are one, you can add your comments below.

El Brute’s consultation is currently available for your comments and runs until 13 Jan 2012. If adopted as it stands, the changes would be effective for admissions in September 2013. This is quite a quick turnaround giving parents only a few months to consider their options. Given that El Brute are hoping that the three secondaries will convert to academy status by 2014 anyway (at which time they can start to muck about with their own admissions policies) it looks as if this could be something of a one year wonder. Is it worth the effort for a year of two of admissions? Probably not. So perhaps it’s got more to do with the other changes coming our way, which leads us on nicely…

Everyone a Winner?
At a recent council meeting the issue of secondary schools was debated yet again. And it’s great news for all, if you’re drinking Bacardi. Or rather, if you believe the Council Press Release. Plenty of places for every child, sixth forms, free schools, a Catholic secondary and a new community school (if required, of course) by 2016. A non-existent survey for this site revealed that most people just want good local schools rather than endless bogus options. The idea of choice sounds good but doesn’t always deliver in practice. School admissions criteria have to be broadly open to all although there are one or two exceptions locally in the form of Kingston’s grammar schools (exam based) and the planned RC secondary (parents attendance at Church). With limited ability to select their pupils, all these different types of school will have to try to attract the “right sort of pupil”. When this happens the good schools become the popular schools at which point the old postcode lottery kicks in again and all these specialisms (which already exist for some schools) count for next to naff all. What good is Orleans Park’s maths specialism if you live in Teddington or Teddington’s arts expertise if you live in Richmond? You’re just too far out, man.

Meanwhile the Council’s support for free schools hasn’t exactly been met with a flood of viable applications. There has been a bit of interest, the most recent being the Maharishi Free School proposed for Hampton. A school that places meditation high on its list of attributes may not appeal to all. Needless to say the Council has to sound gushing in its support but one wonders if that’s what it envisaged as being at the front of the queue when it looked for viable new free schools. Perhaps the efforts to grow support for a science and engineering focused free school is more what they had in mind. Who knows?

Meanwhile the slightly euphoric press release from the Council seems to have two purposes and one side effect. The first is to remind residents that the Council is taking education seriously. The second is to draw some of the fire from the proposal for a selective Catholic school by saying there will be plenty of good school places for everyone around the Borough. Why object to that when there are good schools for all? And the third, inadvertent side effect is to re-inforce just what a confusing state of affairs we’ve got ourselves into in this country when it comes to the type of state funded schooling we offer our children.

LINKS:
Consultation on Link School Status (ends 13 Jan)
Schools for All
Government page on school types

P.S. Linked Primary Schools in 2011
Orleans Park: Archdeacon Cambridge, Chase Bridge, St Mary’s, St Stephen’s, and from Hounslow The Blue Primary, Worple Primary & Ivybridge.

Teddington: Collis Primary, Sacred Heart, St John the Baptist, St
Mary’s and St Peter’s, Stanley, Trafalgar, & St Paul’s (Kingston)

15 Comments

Filed under Council, Local Issues & News, Schools

15 responses to “School Debate Update: Everyone a Winner?

  1. The RTT says today: ‘Twickenham’s Catholic school consultation starts tomorrow (Friday) ‘ . . Within the proposal, a third of the inset places at the primary school would be reserved for non-faith pupils – a proportion secured into the secondary school and into the sixth form.
    The secondary school would follow the Catholic admissions criteria for voluntary aided schools, where Catholics will be given priority places . . ‘

    http://www.richmondandtwickenhamtimes.co.uk/news/richmondnews/9478964.Catholic_school_consultation_starts_tomorrow/?ref=eb

  2. ‘Promoting a Community Science & Engineering Academy for the Twickenham area’ is at: http://sciengschool4richmond.btck.co.uk/

    ‘ . . Do you have a site in mind?
    As the school would have a minimum size of 5-forms of entry, we would need a site of significant size. We are aware of the impending consultation regarding the usage of the Clifden Road site, and would express an interest in that site should it become available for use as a community school. We have no other site identified at present. However we are aware that the council is seeking another site for a future community school and we will monitor that process as it develops.

    Would your school have a particular faith ethos?
    Our school would be non-denominational, and open to children from all faiths and none . . ‘

  3. Pat, please tell your friend that the council is consulting on removing the Linked School policy right now! See http://www.richmond.gov.uk/home/council_government_and_democracy/council/council_consultations/consultation_details.htm?id=C00870. All schools have been notified of the consultation, and they should have sent the information out to parents. My concern is that the council will launch its consultation on Clifden Road in January, before the result of the Linked School policy has been decided. If Catholic primaries aren’t even notifying their parents about this very significant change, then of course they are going to want their own Secondary School.

  4. Pat Pending

    Over Christmas I was chatting to a St James parent. She was commenting on how St James has no link status which makes it harder for children there to get into certain schools. Perhaps that is a factor in this Council’s consultation? If so, surely it should be looked at as part of the wider debate on secondary school choices, including the special privilege of an RC secondary, and not rushed through early.

  5. “The Secretary of State for Education has granted permission to allow the Diocese of Westminster to propose the establishment of a voluntary aided Catholic Secondary School in Richmond upoon Thames”. According to: http://www.richmondinclusiveschools.org.uk/files/view/press-cuttings/Council_press_release_following_Gove_decision_-_6_Jan_2012.pdf , they will launch their promised consultation “later this month”. The Diocese are also legally required to conduct their own consultation.

  6. Yes, Pat Pending, I agree none of us want our children to be guinea pigs. Twickenham parents tend to be highly mobile and will move house rather than take a risk with their children’s education. However, the Kunskappskolan approach will also bring equally mobile people in to the borough, who don’t have the baggage of the school’s past reputation. I have seen comments in online discussions with people considering exactly that.

    Personally I’m trying to keep an open mind, and have time on my side, but its hard to hear other parents in the schoolyard automatically declare “My child is NOT going there” when they know little about the changes that the school has been going through.

    Regarding the idea of children being sent to RPA, that is not as fanciful as you suggest. If you trust the council’s forecasts then it won’t happen. However, both the Lib Dem opposition and the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign have equally credible numerical forecasts which show that school places in Twickenham could run out as early as 2014, with spare capacity remaining at RPA.

  7. Gareth Roberts

    Hello Pat, I was out at a festive drinks do earlier this week and the chatter was about people with kids currently at primary school worrying that by the time their kids are old enough that Hampton Academy will be oversubscribed; such is the confidence that parents have in the new system. One of the things that was often raised when I was out on the stump encouraging voters to choose me was the fact that, though experimental, Hampton and Twickenham Academies will become Kunskapskollan’s shop window in the UK and therefore they’ll be throwing everything including the kitchen sink at the schools to ensure success.

    • I agree with Gareth. I think that once TA finishes its building project then so long as it is showing a consistent improvement in exam results it will rapidly become oversubscribed. Then people in Central Twickenham will find themselves unable to get into it, and being offered places at Richmond Park Academy instead. At that point they may well wonder why their children are being required to travel to the far end of the borough while Catholic children are travelling in the opposite direction to Clifden Road.

      • Pat Pending

        Schools can change for the better (and worse) over a relatively short period and so if Twickenham Academy works then that’s great but it’s not a risk I’m going to take. Others might and others might have no choice. A school’s success also require input from the parents and the children as well as the management and teachers. As for the idea that Twickenham kids won’t get into either a good Twickenham Academy or OPS but have to trek over to Richmond Acdemy, it is possible but they’d have to be pretty unlucky with their post code. But if the choice was that or the proposed school especially for Catholics then I’d have to consider becoming one of the many people who suddenly re-discover religion just before school admissions are due. We all know them.

  8. Pat Pending

    Although I want the Academy to be a success I don’t want my child to be part of an experiment to see if the new version can be better than Whitton School. Sorry! And I know several people who feel the same. Although my child should still be ok for Orleans School based on distance, I know people who have talked about moving house to guarantee a place there. Ending the links may also increase demand for Waldegrave places and so their unofficial catchment area could reduce too.

  9. Gareth Roberts

    It’s also worth adding to Jeremy’s comments on the Sixth Forms that they intend to spend between £25 MILLION and £40 MILLION to achieve this goal. All this at a time when we’re being told that cuts must be made – Twickenham Day Centre for Older People, Tangley Hall Dementia Centre, Outskirts Youth Magazine, Heathfield Library, etc, etc

  10. It’s even worse than that. The Council’s press release is aimed at persuading the unwary that no-one is going to be disadvantaged if they give the only available/financed site for a new secondary school (Clifden Road) to the Catholic church for a school that 90% of the borough’s children won’t stand any chance of getting into. It’s a tough sell, so they’ve brought in the spin doctors.

    How about this for a bit of spin: the press release promises “expansion within the Council’s five maintained schools on top of the addition of sixth forms”. Sounds good, until you realise that the net “expansion” of places for 11 year olds in these schools is actually zero. All they’re doing is avoiding the schools’ needing to reduce their intake when they introduce 6th Forms by giving them funding for additional space to compensate. And they’re adding a new form of entry at Christ’s School, but removing a temporary increase at Grey Court. Putting all that together and their own figures show that entry capacity at these five schools in 2011 is 1000 and in 2013 onwards it’s 990. If that’s an expansion, then Greece is a thriving economy.

    Meanwhile, there’s huge uncertainty in the forecast demand, which they’re deliberately underplaying to make their picture work.

    Whatever you think about the principle of a new exclusive Catholic secondary, with this level of uncertainty, it just doesn’t make sense to throw away the flexibility that comes with using the Clifden Road site for a secondary school that’s open to everyone.

  11. Anyone wanting to follow the great Mumsnet debate about local secondary schools can find the latest postings here: http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/local_richmond_upon_thames/1352220-New-Secondary-Schools-for-Richmond-2. The previous thread reached 1000 messages so we had to start a new one.

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