[See final section for update] Richmond Council’s controversial twin track approach to secondary education in the Borough scored another success this week. At a meeting on Tuesday, the Council’s Education and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee voted to recommend the current plan to convert Twickenham’s Clifden Road site into a Voluntary Aided Roman Catholic secondary school and linked primary. For those not up to speed with the twin track approach, it involves El Brute being just a bit enthusiastic about wanting to see free schools and academies in the Borough whilst being much more vocal and active in its support of a Voluntary Aided Catholic school complete with the extra benefits that such a status brings. And of course, by establishing a co-located (i.e. linked) primary school as part of the plan, some might be wondering how that is consistent with the Council’s recent abolition of the link status between three Borough secondaries and a number of local primaries. Hey ho.

Anyway… the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) voted by 7 to 6 to recommend the proposals to El Brute for its Cabinet meeting on 24th May where it’s now almost guaranteed to get the go ahead. Voting at the O&SC went along party lines although it’s not only Councillors who sit on the committee. Of the 7 votes in favour, 5 came from Conservative Councillors, 1 from the Church of England diocesan rep and 1 from the Roman Catholic diocesan representative who felt comfortable voting on an issue in which the Church has such a vested interest. However, one co-opted member of the OSC (with no voting rights) did not take part in the meeting as they did feel that they might have a ‘prejudicial interest’ (as defined by the Council’s constitution) in the issue through their involvement in the plans for a new inclusive free school in Twickenham. The 6 voting against were the 4 Liberal Democrat Councillors and 2 local parent governors. One parent governor abstained.

The issue has certainly been a divisive one and as reported previously on here, the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (with support from the British Humanist Association) has announced an intention to mount a legal challenge. In the wake of the OSC’s decision, the RISC has said it will put legal moves on hold until after LBRuT’s Cabinet meeting next week.

That the Council will now approve the plans on the OSC’s recommendation there seems no doubt. It’s a real success for its twin track approach, but whether El Brute will be so supportive of any other bodies or groups wanting to set up Voluntary Aided ‘exclusive’ schools on town centre sites remains to be seen, but feel free to have a guess at the answer.

UPDATE 25 May 2012
As expected, Richmond Council approved the plans for Voluntary Aided Catholic schools (primary and secondary) on Twickenham’s Clifden Road site at its cabinet meeting last night (24th May). The session involved representations from those on both sides of the debate as well as contributions from Council members, El Brute’s education supremo Nick Whitfield and others. Those in favour of the school stressed the continuity of education from the existing RC primaries, the diversity that such a school would bring to the Borough’s range of schools and how such a school would be rooted in the community. Others talked about how some Catholic children were currently being ‘forced’ (yes, forced) out of the Borough for their schooling. The faith based admissions criteria would see pupils eligible to be selected for the school from each of the Catholic parishes across the Borough and the school’s advocates claimed this approach could potentially make it more diverse in its composition than any non-faith option focused solely on the local community.

Those against, including members of the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, presented clear and at times very passionate counter arguments. One speaker made the point that if the Borough was genuinely seeking to meet the interests of minorities then a proper needs assessment should be undertaken before committing to any particular option. Another, a west Twickenham resident, stated that creating more faith based schools would effectively exacerbate the current situation in which her Muslim sons already had significantly fewer school choices than other sections of the community. In her view, the proposals provided special privileges for a powerful minority. Ouch! Others talked of community cohesion and the importance of children mixing with pupils of different beliefs and backgrounds.

But, as we all knew, whatever the discussions on the night, the Council was always going to give the nod to the Catholic Voluntary Aided school proposals. As a result, the Clifden Road site will now be leased to the Diocese of Westminster for 125 years at a peppercorn rent in order to establish the school.

* RC Diocese of Westminster
* LBRuT schools page
* New Local School For Twickenham

* LBRuT Webcast. Final vote at about 3hrs 30mins in.

[note: now edited to clarify the abstention]