OK, so you’re bored with the same old discussions and arguments on here about new schools in the area. Even if you don’t admit it to yourself, we can still sense it from the way your eyes are already glazing over as you read these very wordzzzzz. We’ll be brief, so very brief. More brief than a lawyer, carrying a brief case whilst sporting a particularly brief pair of briefs. A bit like Michael Mansfield QC in Speedos. It’s a troubling image, you’ll surely agree.

Friday 1st March was ‘national offer day’ for places at state secondary schools. It’s probably the kind of day when the captain of the Tracy Island chess club, Michael Gove, pats himself on the back and, as a reward for a job well done, vows to make ‘O’ Level Ancient Greek a compulsory part of the national curriculum. In our fair town it was the day when many parents and their Year 6 children found out which schools they will be attending next September (well, only the children will be attending, obviously). El Brute was happy, issuing a press release to confirm that 72% of children secured places at their first choice of school and that 91% were offered a place at one of their top three preferences. That’s good news, and both figures are higher than their equivalents last year.

But there’s a weird thing too. And that weird thing is that places at St Richard Reynolds, the new Voluntary Aided Roman Catholic School, were offered to children who, not only didn’t have it as a first choice school, but in some cases didn’t have it on their list at all. Eh? Yes, you’re correct, the inference from that is that St RR was undersubscribed. Most people seem confident the school will become a success – we hope it will be – but cast your mind back to the campaign to get it established in the first place; thousands of petition signatories, the Blue Baron and others in York House at pains to point out the huge level of pent-up demand, the rejection of suggestions that 50% of places should be open to all rather than be allocated on faith-based criteria. Against that background it’s odd that the school’s 150 or so Year 7 places seem to be so undersubscribed. Sure, not everyone supporting the proposal happens to have a child ready to go there in September 2013 but it does seem a little bit weird. Perhaps it was first night nerves about a not-yet-open school, or uncertainty caused by the judicial review, or even that the end of the ‘link status’ improved the chances of children leaving local RC primaries gaining places at the popular (and oversubscribed) Orleans Park and Teddington schools. Whatever the reason there does seems to be a disconnect between the Council line about the need for the new VA school and what just happened. Ah well, we’re sure the Council must know best. Surely?

Meanwhile the local free school brigade are making progress with their plans. The folks behind Turing House School (as it’ll be called) have been invited to the Department of Education for an interview about their application. Although they had initially been eyeing up sites in Twickenham, the current preferred location is at NPL in Teddington. The meeting at the DoE is a positive sign and if things continue to progress, we could see the new school open in September 2014. If it does eventually get the go-ahead, it will be interesting to see how Turing House fares in next year’s national offer day. The meeting with the Ministry takes place on March 8th.

And of course, if you want to comment on the Council’s plans the Egerton Road site, presently home to Richmond College, you’ve only got until 11 March to do it. One of the components in that plan is to use part of the site for a new non-denominational secondary school, most likely a free school, which would help tackle the shortage of secondary places that is building up in the Borough. Sounds pretty sensible from where we are now.

There are plenty of challenges around providing sufficient primary school places too, both now and increasingly so over the next few years. Some schools have taken on additional classes and the new St Richard Reynolds will also be taking on a class at its Clifden Road site. National offer day for primary school places is 17th April.

* Richmond Council Press Release
* Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign
* St Richard Reynolds Catholic College
* Turing House School
* twickerati item on Richmond College site consultation