Clifden Road Site, Twickenham
[UPDATE: If you want to express interest in the proposals for a new community secondary then you need to do it by 24th. It does not involve a commitment. See end of item for links.]

Well, Richmond Council said they’d consult on their intention to establish a Voluntary Aided Roman Catholic secondary school in the Borough and now they are. After the petition wars and great Council chamber debates of 2011, and not forgetting the gangs of placard waving supporters (of both sides) outside York House, the next step in the process is finally underway. But just like an episode of the classic cartoon series Wacky Races we’ve got a late entrant appearing out of nowhere just as we approach the finish line.

Richmond Conservatives have stated their longstanding commitment to setting up a Roman Catholic secondary school in the Borough. Apparently we are one of only two London Boroughs not to have a Catholic secondary. Ergo, we need one. But of course this won’t just be any Catholic secondary. It will be a Voluntary Aided (VA) Catholic Secondary. (And it might well have a primary school attached too). This VA status means the local authority pay all the running costs and 90% of the capital costs but the school decides who can and can’t attend. Faith-based admissions criteria will obviously take precedence. As a result, we could see RC children attending from further afield before any other local children get a look in. In the Council’s world, the ideal place for this school is in Clifden Road, Twickenham…

One of the possible stumbling blocks for the school has been overcome now that Michael “New Royal Yacht” Gove has given the RC Diocese of Westminster approval to pursue the idea. The RC DoW are currently running their own consultation (ending 17 Feb) to see if they really, really do want a school in Richmond although the final decision lies with the local Council.

Meanwhile El Brute’s own consultation (ending 16 March) is a mix of seeking views on the Catholic school idea and on the use of the Clifden Road site more generally. Perhaps one of the most telling aspects in the questionnaire is when it regularly points out that if the Council were to set up a non-faith “community school” then, under the provisions of the Education Act, it would need to be an academy. In other words, any new school ought to be an academy (or a free school) with an open admissions policy apart from this one which has extra special status because the Council flippin’ well says so. “Pulling up the drawbridge” seems like a reasonable analogy.

Demand for school places in the Borough is growing. This is especially true at primary school level and, making the bold assumption that children get older over time, this will soon flow through to the secondary school system. The government has made a great thing about academies and free schools providing choice, raising standards, and having inclusive admissions policies. Perhaps our own local authority should put that to the test.

Community School Alternative?
Amid all of this, arriving on the scene at the eleventh hour, there is growing momentum for a new community school in Twickenham. It would be a free school and, through having a specialism in science, its backers believe it could provide an option for children wanting to focus on these subjects within a broad curriculum. It points out that Waldegrave School already has a science specialism but as we know, boys aren’t particularly welcome there hence their idea for a mixed community school in downtown ‘Nam. Expressions of interest from prospective parents are required by 24th February. Whatever you think about the national education policy of devolving the future of schooling to companies, faith groups and collectives of super-keen parents, the establishment of a community school with a science focus seems to be just as valid as a plan for a Catholic school.

The whole free school thing already provides for the establishment of faith schools. Them’s the new rules. Any Roman Catholic secondary should go into the mixer with the proposed Twickenham community school, the Marharishi school in Hampton and the rest of the free school ideas. All should have an open admissions policy and the ability to stand or fall on their own merits. The Council should not be pushing hard to give a special status to one particular school, finding a site for it and supporting an admissions policy that is more exclusive than those of the other existing or proposed schools in the Borough.

* Richmond Council’s Clifden Road / Catholic School Consultation (runs until 16 March 2012)
* Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign
* New Local School For Twickenham (wants expressions of interest by 24 Feb 2012)
* Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster Consultation Page (runs to 17 Feb 2012)
* Wacky Races (YouTube)