You have to wonder if when the Conservatives started pushing for voluntary aided Roman Catholic secondary school in the Borough they thought there would be a few ripples of dissent and that it would “all be over by Christmas”. If they did, then they got things wrong. In fact, rather than all being over by Christmas it could be turning into a long, long campaign. The latest news from the front is that the issue is now going to court. Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) has announced that it’s seeking a judicial review of El Brute’s plan to pursue the exclusive, Voluntary Aided (VA) school route before first seeking proposals for an academy or free school as required under the Education Act. (OK, that’s not quite “in the dock” but it certainly made a better headline).
The case is being brought jointly by the RISC and the British Humanist Association. And why have these hippy types got involved, you might well ask. Well, according to BHA chief Andrew Copson, it’s all about challenging the practice of religious providers making arrangements directly with local authorities rather than properly exploring the alternatives. So, a bit of a test case then. Interesting. RISC spokesman Jeremy Rodell said of the BHA’s decision: “We know that the Council and the Catholic Diocese are playing the system to secure the most exclusive type of Catholic secondary school possible. And it has become increasingly clear that the Council has no intention of changing its plans, whatever the outcome of its recent consultation. Only a legal challenge will make any difference, but RISC does not have the resources to mount one. So we very much welcome the BHA’s involvement.”
Meanwhile both El Brute and the RC Diocese of Westminster have criticised the move. The Council has called it “premature” whilst the Diocese has issued a statement saying they believe that “Richmond Council have acted entirely properly in respect of proposals for the establishment of new Voluntary Aided Catholic primary and secondary schools in the borough”.
We can’t help but wonder if El Brute’s persistence on pushing ahead with its support for a Voluntary Aided school with an exclusive admissions policy on a prime school site in Twickenham is going to become its version of the swimming pool saga for the previous Liberal Democrat Council. Obviously not everyone is fretting about schooling in the Borough but then again not everyone across Richmond was bothered about the pool site in Twickenham, but divisive issues can prove damaging at the polls. Just ask the Lib Dems about that.
Stayed tuned for more news on the battle of Clifden Road.