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Plan for two new Catholic schools in London under threat

By on Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The High Court has granted a judicial review of the plan following a legal challenge by campaigners (Photo: PA)

The High Court has granted a judicial review of the plan following a legal challenge by campaigners (Photo: PA)

Plans for two new Catholic schools in south-west London are under threat after the High Court granted a judicial review of the scheme.

In May Richmond Council gave permission for the Diocese of Westminster to open a secondary and primary school on a site currently used by an adult training centre. But last week the High Court granted a judicial review into the council’s decision following a legal challenge by the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC), and the British Humanist Association, which claim that the Government’s new Education Act meant the council first had to consider proposals for an academy or free school, which can only enroll a maximum of 50 per cent of pupils based
on their religion. The hearing is expected to start in October.

Lord True, leader of Richmond Council, said he was disappointed by the decision, and said the council’s own survey found 67 per cent of parents and residents supported the move.

Paul Barber, director of education at Westminster Diocese, said: “We are disappointed. Litigation is always an uncertain area, but we’re confident that this has been done properly.”

Richmond is one of only two London boroughs without a Catholic secondary school despite Catholics comprising more than 10 per cent of the local population, and Mr Barber said they had public opinion on their side. “If you look at the Catholic community, there is an overwhelming desire, and most people support what the Catholic
community is doing.”

He said that while there were “totally understandable” concerns among parents who were worried about finding a place, some people “have an ideological agenda, and it is generally one not shared by most people in Richmond”.

  • la catholic state

    Secular schools may be open to everyone….but not everyone wants them.  What’s so difficult to understand?!  Apart from anything else…secular education (which is government controlled education in the main) is inferior.  It is embarrasing and deeply sad to see a young person, ‘well educated’, being corrected on matters of general knowledge by a senior citizen whose education at a Catholic establishment preceeded secularisation of the curriculum.  I saw this happen last week.  Our young people (our greatest hope) deserve better.

    As a humanist,  you are trampling on our fundamental right to educate our children as we see fit. 

  • Liz

    Localparent, Richmond’s Catholic community should recognise that their Diocesan leaders and the council have let them down badly by pursuing a VA school over an Academy.  A Catholic Academy would have been the modern, appropriate, legal solution and would not have sparked anything like so much anger.  RISC haven’t caused the problem, they’ve only pointed it out.  Its the council, and their support for the out-of-date puritanical principles of the Diocese of Westminster that have caused the problem.

  • Liz

    Noninoz, other groups are free to set up Faith ACADEMIES if they wish.  Only the Catholic Diocese of Westminster is trying to set up a VA Faith school.  You’re not understanding the subtleties of the issue here.

  • Liz

    Also, when it converts to Academy status, the church will no longer make the 10% contribution to ongoing maintenance costs.

  • Jeremy Rodell

    You have that right (though it’s sad to see the use of “we” to mean “my tribe” rather than the community we all live in). You just don’t have the right to expect the state to pay for it.
     And I think there would be some extremely unhappy parents, pupils and teachers at the excellent existing local state schools – just look at the latest results – to see the claim that they  provide an “inferior” education compared to  any Catholic school. Will Catholic parents really want to go for an unproven Catholic school if they can get their daughters into Waldegrave?In fact the data suggest that most of the differential in results between selective faith and non-faith schools – which does exist at a national level – is down to social selection, rather than any mysterious “ethos”. That can be seen locally, where the % of Free School Meals (the standard measure of deprivation) at borough Catholic primaries is only 4% compared to the borough average of 10%. (At St James’s in Twickenham it’s about 1%, one of the lowest in the country, while at Stanley school, almost next door, it’s 10%.) I’m afraid the message you’re giving is not only a desire for the privilege of a school only for children of Catholics, but also a school that will have a high level of social exclusivity. The only difference between that and a private school is that it’s paid for by the state. You have the right to argue for that, of course, but don’t be surprised at the reaction.(And if Catholic schools really are so good, why not give everyone the opportunity to benefit? )

  • la catholic state

    One minute you are talking about our plural society….then you are castigating me for identifying with my ‘tribe’.  Well plural societies by definition are made up of different ‘tribes’.  It’s called diversity.  And we don’t want a one size fits all secular education system….because in a plural society one size doesn’t fit all the different ‘tribes’

    And by the way….the state pays for nothing.  It’s taxpayers that pay for their own schools….and we should not be dictated to by government over what education system we should want. We pay for it after all. Let’s have diversity!

  • Jeremy Rodell

    local parent – you raise a number of important points here. 
    1. Selection: There is no equivalence between selecting children on the basis of their parents’ religion and making it easier for children to attend the school that’s nearest to where they live. Everyone wants high quality schools that are nearby. It makes no sense deliberately to set up a system where a child has to make the difficult journey from, say, Ham to central Twickenham when they could walk to what is now a high quality school (Grey Court). In fact “difficult journeys” was one of the principal arguments put up in favour of the Catholic school. Can’t have it both ways.
    2. Affluence: only 4% of children at borough Catholic primaries are eligible for Free School Meals compared to the borough average of 10%. At St.James’s it’s around 1%, while Stanley (almost next door) it’s 10%. On this basis, local Catholic primaries on average have a far more “affluent” profile than all the others, and that would surely be reflected in a new secondary. I’m afraid the data on black and minority ethnic groups is also not on your side. In practice, the catchment area of an ordinary secondary school in Twickenham would be pretty mixed.

    3. Capacity: The Council is saying that there is no need for additional capacity in 2013.

    4. Choice: setting aside personal preferences, it’s simply a matter of fact that, if the Catholic secondary goes ahead, Catholic parents will have the choice of a) the new Catholic school, b) the many Catholic schools across the borough boundaries, c) foundation places at Christ’s school (where Catholics have priority over non-Christians) and d) the remaining places at Christ’s plus all the community schools – where (rightly) they now have exactly the same chances as non-Catholics following the abolition of the linked schools scheme. 
    Non-Catholic parents have only have option d). 
    How can it be justified to give one section of the community so much more choice than everyone else?

    5. 2010 election: The Conservative election leaflet included a section titled “Better schools for the young”. It included 6 points, of which the 6th was “Encourage a Roman Catholic secondary school”. That was it. Nothing about making this one of the Council’s top priorities, nothing about the type of school or exclusivity, nothing about using the only available site for it. In fact most people I have spoken to were not even aware it was there. The election was decide primarily on the national swing to the Conservatives and the LibDem’s disastrous approach to the Twickenham Riverside development. 

    6. Consultation: the Council made clear that a consultation is not a “vote”. The pro-Catholic-school machine is very effective, with strong and active support from state-funded Catholic schools and churches across the borough. It was therefore no surprise to find that the majority of responses to the consultation were from Catholics, and 98% of them were in favour of the school. “Catholics support exclusive school for Catholics” is not really news. The fact that 73% of non-Catholic respondents, including the majority of Anglicans, were opposed is perhaps more relevant. In any case, prior to the consultation the Council leadership had taken the precaution of saying that, if the result went the other way, they would act to defend minority interests. Heads you win, tails we lose.

    7. Sites: Clifden Road is the only currently-available site in the borough. And it’s buildings can be converted to a school at a third of the cost of a new build. The Council have indeed identified a potential second site at Richmond College. But even they do not assume that a school could be built on it before 2016/2017. In fact no-one knows whether the idea is feasible, where the money will come from, or how the numerous steps from design to opening could happen. This is just an idea which is a very long way from fruition. But by 2016/2017 it is likely that the borough will in any case need two new inclusive schools. 

    8. Intolerance: RISC has been at pains to avoid anything anti-religious or anti-Catholic, and includes a number of people who are themselves religious, including some Catholics. On the few occasions where someone has posted something anti-religious on our Facebook site, we have removed it. Personally I believe strongly that tolerance and mutual understanding is essential for a harmonious plural society. Hopefully we can all view each other as fellow human beings, even if we disagree. 
    But it seems impossible to object to the proposed exclusive Catholic school, which is a very divisive proposal, without being unfairly accused of intolerance. That’s a shame, especially when you don’t have to look far in the world to see real religious intolerance (ask Christians in Iraq and Pakistan). Challenging privilege is not intolerance.  

  • Jeremy Rodell

    Accepting plurality does not mean the encouraging tribalism. But I take your point.

    You’re right that the state only gets its funds from taxpayers (both individual and corporate), but then the elected government is responsible for how the state spends them. No taxpayer gets to decide how “their” taxes are spent. 

    There is indeed an argument for diversity in schools, but only provided that there is real choice available for everyone. That means all schools open to everyone (and a lot of spare capacity so everyone can get what they want). That is not where we are, or are likely to be.

  • la catholic state

    Sorry…you can’t have your cake and eat it.  Accepting plurality means accepting diversity and ‘tribalism’.  Otherwise we just have a monoculture.  So make up your mind which you want!

    As for me…. I want Catholic schools for Catholic children…and others too if they so wish.  And majorities should not take our taxes and spend it on THEIR education, forcing the rest of us in into it.  That is not pluralism but the opposite. 

  • Yapyapyap

    Hence my use of the word “lawfully” Rodders.   Are you suggesting that a Secondary School is illegal per-se?  

  • Yapyapyap

    Hence my use of the word “lawfully”.   AK is suggesting a state Catholic school with would be unlawful which is incorrect.  The admissions criteria is not under debate here – the process by which RUTBC signed it off is!   

  • Yapyapyap

    Jeremy, if you truly believed in yourself and your “tolerance” then:

    1/ You would not have attended the Protest the Pope campaign in 2010.   This campaign had the explicit aim of disrupting his visit which hardly strikes me as a tolerant activity regardless of your views in life.

    2/ This is a quote from the RISC website:

    I lived in Belfast some years ago. A colleague had returned from a five-year stint in the M. East, where his son was born and spent his first five years. After his first day at school in Belfast, the boy came home and asked his father, “The other boys want to know if I’m Protestant or Catholic, daddy. Which one am I?” 

    Confusing sectarian differences in a part of the UK which has a history of significant trouble with a debate over inclusivity vs the right to choice in education is strikes me as a tad incendiary. 

  • Jeremy Rodell

    It’s always disappointing to see personal attacks, but let me answer
    these points:

    1. I attended one meeting organised by the Protest the Pope people,
    primarily in order to draw attention to the Catholic school issue. It was also
    attended by a number of Catholics and took place in Richmond Reference Library
    some time before the Pope’s visit. As I recall there was a very civilised and
    wide-ranging discussion. I did not take any other part in that campaign.


    It seems that any expression of disagreement in this area, however
    carefully and politely expressed, is labelled as “intolerance”. It
    isn’t. It’s simply the exercise of freedom of speech to express views with
    which you disagree. 


    Tolerance is not the same as agreement. Tolerance is protecting the
    rights of those with whom you disagree to speak and act freely within the law.
    (Reading some of the traffic on this and other sites, I wonder how tolerant
    some of the pro-Catholic-school supporters are of humanists.)


    2. The quote from the RISC website is from the “What supporters
    say” section (it’s the final one on the list). No-one is suggesting that
    Richmond is going to become a sectarian war zone, but a number of people who
    have lived in Northern Ireland and some parts of Scotland feel very strongly
    that segregating children by religion can only be bad for social cohesion – and
    I agree with them.  I’m sorry if you disagree, but it’s a perfectly reasonable concern, and it would be
    “intolerant” not to include it.  


    I think both sides of this emotive issue can be proud of the fact that,
    by and large, the debate has so far been conducted in a civilised way. Most of
    the people on the pro-catholic school side that I have encountered have been
    courteous and, on occasion, friendly. Whatever the final outcome, I hope it
    will be possible to continue to recognise each others’ humanity.

  • aristotle1

    Like so many others I served as a school governor at Catholic schools for several years. During that time there were Ofsted inspections and they said that the gap between Catholic schools and all other schools was so vast as to be immeasurable. I was a bit taken aback when I first heard this because it was a surprise to hear it put that way by independent inspectors. They said it was the atmosphere, respect, goodwill, the personal  development and responsible behaviour of staff and pupils and so on. Is there any need to say more?

  • Laurence

    Yes, you have the right to educate your child however you want. But the job of a school is to educate children properly and has nothing to do with indoctrinating children into one religion or another. All children need to be educated well enough to be able to progress through life, and the content of education required for this does not mysteriously change depending on the religion of the parent.

    I was educated in Catholic schools and I received the same education as I would have done in an non-discriminatory school. Well that isn’t strictly true, too much of my time at Catholic school was wasted  with teachers attempting to brainwash children and calling it “Religious Education”. The religious study in non-discriminatory school is far more accurate and they learn about a much wider variety of religions.

    Essentially it is not the job of state funded schools to teach children how to be Catholic. That is the job of the parent or the parent’s religious community. Schools should be equal, and not segregate children into a safe bubble before releasing them out into the big, wide world.

  • la catholic state

    Speak for yourself.  Among other things, the job of a Catholic school is to pass on the Faith and provide a Catholic atmosphere and ethos in which to educate Catholic children (and others if they so wish).  This is the essence of a Catholic school….and Catholics wish their taxes to fund such schools.  Secularists can provide taxes to fund their own secular vision.

    As for brainwashing….nobody surpasses government education in that brainwashing and propoganda.

    Schools are not meant to be equal as in they are not meant to be identical….but they are meant to reflect and promote the beliefs and values of parents.

  • la catholic state

    In my opinion….every child deserves an (authentic) Catholic education.

  • Jeremy Rodell

    This is not primarily a debate about the quality of Catholics schools (many of which are indeed good schools) or non-Catholic schools (many of which are also very good), the issue is whether the only currently-available site in the borough should be used for a state-funded school that will be effectively closed to around 90% of local children simply because of their parents’ religion or beliefs.

    The better that school is, the greater the injustice of denying access to it on the basis of such religious discrimination.

  • Jeremy Rodell

    According to the Diocese of Westminster Priest’s reference form: “Catholic schools exist to assist parents in handing on the Catholic faith to their children.” 

    Supposing there was a proposal for a state-funded school (which no-one would propose) the purpose of which was “to assist parents pass on their atheism to their children”. Would you support it? Presumably not. Nor would I. It seems very difficult for those in favour of the Catholic school to put themselves in the position of those who have different beliefs. You may not feel able to respect those beliefs, including lack of belief,  but is it too much to ask respect for the rest of us as fellow human beings who have as much right to their views as you have – as another fellow human being – to yours? 

  • la catholic state

    I already support the concept of an atheist school….should parents wish it for their children.  I believe such schools do exist.  Aren’t they called liberal schools or some such thing?!

    So why do you object to mine?!  Maybe it is really Catholicism you object to… know….the One True Faith!!

  • Nora

    la catholic state is right. Catholicism is the only true faith and our children need to learn that. We do not care about the children of others who have refused to accept this. Lord True is the true defender of Catholic education. Majority of people in Richmond want Catholic education for their kids and those who cannot get are understandably concerned as Paul Barber acknowledges. But there is hope for those who cannot get into St Richard Reynolds Catholic school at Clifden road – the Council has promised to provide Catholic schools for all who are willing to accept the only true faith. Rather than oppose our schools, follow their lead to improve your under performing schools

  • Nora

    Richmond Council decided correctly that the only available site should be given to the Diocese as it is the best provider. What makes you think they should give it to others who do not deliver the quality and values provided by Catholic education.   

  • Nora

    la catholic state is right that Catholicism is the only true faith and all our kids deserve Catholic education. We do not care about those kids whose parents do not accept this truth. Lord True is the the trustee of Catholic education and has rightly got the Richmond Council to support our schools. Overwhelming majority in Richmond have said they need Catholic schools and its understandable as Paul Barber says that those who cannot get it will be concerned. Richmond has promised to provide Catholic places for all who need them. So rather than oppose our schools at Clifden Road, they should be used as inspiration to improve your other under performing non Catholic schools

  • Jeremy Rodell

    There are no “atheist” schools anywhere in the country as far as I know, either state or private. (If you think such schools exist, please name one.) I certainly would not support any school that excluded children because of their parents’ beliefs. An “atheist” school that excluded children of Catholics simply because of their religion would be as unfair as a Catholic school that excludes children of  Anglicans, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists and anyone else for the same reason. The proposed school in Twickenham will effectively do precisely that.

    Please can you answer my earlier question. Here it is again: You may not feel able to respect the beliefs of non-Catholics, but can you at least respect the rest of us as fellow
    human beings who have as much right to their views as you have to yours?

  • la catholic state

    If there are no atheist schools….then that is the fault of atheists.  Nobody is stopping them.  Or maybe it is that all their needs are met by secular schools….which is exactly why Catholic parents don’t want their children educated there. 

    Catholic schools do not exclude any children….they just allocate spaces according to religious practise.  Every school allocates spaces according to some criteria or other.  So why not whine about them?

    Don’t accuse me in the wrong.  I respect everybody…and their beliefs so long as they are not stupid, false or evil.  But hey…maybe you respect everybody’s opinion….no matter how evil it may be.  And then they wonder why we don’t want to send our kids to atheistic schools?!!!

  • Jeremy Rodell

    1. There is written evidence that the Voluntary Aided status of the proposed new secondary school in Twickenham was specifically chosen to enable 100% faith-based selection. Non-Catholics only get places at Catholic VA schools because there are spare that they need (and by law must) seek to fill. In the Twickenham school, and most other Catholic secondaries locally, non-Catholics have negligible chance of a place. To claim that this does not amount to exclusion is disingenuous.

    2. No-one accused you of anything. The question was about whether there is common ground in recognising the humanity of those with whom we disagree. I’m still not sure of the answer, as the implication is that you think I (and by implication others who don’t agree with you) respect “evil” opinions. But there is no basis for that idea – I guess we’d be in 100% agreement that actions and words that lead to the suffering of others are almost always bad: “do unto others…” as Jesus put it (quoting Leviticus), and as thinkers from the ancient Greeks and Confucius onwards have said. The trouble is, in real life, there’s often a balance between the needs of different people, and this moral principle comes into conflict with others.

  • ak

    where will this lead us to ? do you also want segregation in every state funded institution – hospitals, playgrounds, libraries etc. And what happens after school life for your Catholic children – should there also be Catholic universities and Catholic businesses ? That is not the sort of fundamentalism we want in our democratic society. 

  • la catholic state

    I don’t want segregation at all.  I want Catholics to serve everybody….but in the case of schools….Catholic schools must first serve Catholic children.  After that….we can open our doors to all that would like a Catholic education. That is not segregation. 

    I would like Catholic hospitals very much…to serve everybody in the community.  Catholic businesses may very well become a necessity if intolerance towards Catholics in the workplace escalates!!!. 

  • la catholic state

    Then the solution is to build a larger Catholic schools!  Do you agree?!  We want all children to have a Catholic education….we believe all children deserve to come to Christ Who said ‘Let the children come to Me….and let nobody stop them’.  Do you agree?!

    I don’t believe in compromising on Truth….if that’s what you mean.  I couldn’t quite make out what you were getting at….not that it matters.

  • Jeremy Rodell

    Last year I heard a moderate Muslim speaker say “The important difference is not between those with differing beliefs, it is between those with open minds and those with closed minds.” I think he was right. 

  • John Slinn

    Jeremy – as someone who has been neutral on this debate, I admire your sincerity in coming out in open and expressing your views and trying your very best to engage in a constructive discussion. Most of the people here have used the cloak of anonymity to express dare I Say very fundamentalist views and made personal attacks on you. Its a real shame if in a democracy we cant even come out openly and have a well reasoned discussion. I would encourage Paul Barber and Jeremy Rodell to have a public debate on this topic ( outside the forum orchestrated by our selfish politicians) and listen carefully and respect each others views. To disagree is OK. Whichever way the decision goes, both groups will have to learn to live amicably with each others. 

  • Jeremy Rodell

    John – that’s much appreciated. In fact I have met Paul Barber. Obviously we disagree on some pretty basic principles, but we had a friendly discussion, and I understand what he’s aiming to do as a professional. That’s how it should be. In a plural society such as ours, we will never all agree. 

    Sometimes, as in the case of the exclusive Catholic school in Richmond, some of us feel that we have to fight for what we believe is right. Without people’s willingness to do that (on a rather more major scale), we would still have slavery, women would not have the vote, and there would still be “No Blacks, No Irish” signs on boarding houses. But that should not mean that we fail to see the humanity of those on the other side of the argument, or fail to recognise that many – probably most (but unfortunately not all) – are fundamentally good and kind people. And we should not fall into the trap of generalising from the views of an institution, such as the Catholic Church, to those of all the individuals associated with it.The unifying principle here is the Golden Rule (“do unto others…” and its many variants) which is common to almost all ethical world views, including Humanism and Christianity. This is the basis for Karen Armstrong’s excellent global Charter for Compassion project: As you have seen, the difficulty in applying that in practice, and especially in engaging in dialogue, is that those with closed minds (and I guess they exist in more or less every belief group, including among atheists) have no interest in understanding others. On the other hand, talking with some is always better than talking with none…. 

  • Richmond Schools

    In a significant development in the legal battle, the Secretary of State for Education (i.e. the Department for Education) has intervened in the case, in support of the Council. And the Council has followed up with a press release in which Lord True makes an outrageous attack, full of untrue and misleading statements. Our response Our original press release (before we’d seen the Council’s):