Richmond Catholic schools: cynical conversion to Academy status

Jeremy Rodell's picture
In 2011-2012, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) fought a battle for fair admissions at a new 150 pupil/year Catholic secondary in Twickenham. The battle ended in the High Court, where RISC and the British Humanist Association obtained a Judicial Review of the local council’s decision to provide a valuable site for the Voluntary Aided (VA) Catholic schools, rather than seeking applications for an Academy, which is supposed to be the default structure for new schools under the Education Act 2011. That was important because new faith-based Academies can ‘only’ have up to 50% faith-based selection. The Diocese insisted on a VA structure because they wanted up to 100% faith-based selection, and the 50% limit does not apply to VA schools. Unfortunately the Department for Education intervened to support the council’s position and the judicial review was lost.

The VA schools* opened in September 2013. As expected, they are over-subscribed and the secondary is effectively closed to the 90% of local children whose parents are not Catholics, even if they live across the road. It is, of course, state-funded.

RISC predicted back in 2012 that, having opened as VA in 2013, the school would convert to Academy status shortly afterwards, securing even more state money, while retaining its discriminatory admissions. It can get away with that because an existing (as opposed to new) VA school that converts to an Academy is allowed to keep its admissions policy. In fact RISC obtained under a Freedom of Information request a Department for Education document dated December 2011 implying the Diocese and the DfE planned to use this loophole all along.

That is now happening. The school is currently consulting on a proposal to switch to an academy.

We think they should do the decent thing: if they convert to academy status they should also convert their admissions policy to make at least 50% of secondary places available to local children, regardless of the beliefs of their parents.

*Editor's note. Sir Richard Reynolds Catholic High School and Sir Richard Reynolds Catholic Primary School opened on 1 September 2013. The local MP, Vince Cable, and the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, both said they hoped the new schools would reserve 50% of its applications to non-Catholic pupils in the same way as new faith academies or free schools.
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jonty's picture
Thu, 16/10/2014 - 12:09

This is in this week's Richmond & Twickenham Times, with local Conservative councillor quoted as saying "The differences between Voluntary Aided and Academy is not that great". Well, that depends on how you look at it. Yes, they might both be just as unaccountable to local people for their admissions policies, but different admissions rules apply. If this school had opened as an academy in the first place I would be able to get my kids into it. It didn't, so I can't. That's a huge difference to me. And the same councillor has been under pressure for years from local parents because they can't get their daughters into the local girls' school either. And what did he do to the only local comprehensive alternative? Turn it into an experimental Swedish-style academy!

The fact that he's a former headmaster, makes his head-in-sand approach all the more incomprehensible. The only logical explanation for the fact that people keep voting him in is that all the families with children over a certain age, and who can't afford one of the private schools, have long since moved out of the area.

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