May 19 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, November 15, 2012
A High Court battle is being fought over proposals for a new Roman Catholic secondary school in Twickenham.
Parents and members of the British Humanist Association say all new state schools in the London Borough of Richmond should have admissions policies that are religiously inclusive.
Today they sought a judicial review of Richmond Council’s decision to offer the Catholic Diocese of Westminster a site in Clifden Road to be used for two new schools - a primary and secondary on the grounds that it was legally flawed.
Lawyers for Richmond Council argue the claim should be dismissed as the council did not misdirect itself or act unlawfully.
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), said the case reflected “a disturbing national pattern”, in which religious groups were being given preferential treatment by local councils through “back-door proposals”.
Mr Copson said: “Victory here would hopefully set a precedent and level the playing field on which proposals to establish schools are treated equally, with the same level of scrutiny, whether religious or not.”
The parents are being represented by the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC), which contends no child in the borough should be discriminated against because of family religious beliefs, or the lack of them.
RISC’s leaders stress its supporters include both religious and non-religious people, including Catholics and humanists.
In 2011 over 3,300 local people supported a RISC petition to the council calling for all new borough schools to be inclusive.
But in July last year the council decided to buy land in Twickenham, for £8.4 million to provide “school places”.
It then invited the Catholic Diocese to submit proposals for two “voluntary-aided” Catholic schools and began a public consultation exercise.
In May this year, the council decided to lease the land to the Diocese for a peppercorn rent.
David Wolfe QC, representing both BHA and RISC, told the High Court the new primary school would, if oversubscribed, give priority to Catholic pupils when allocating all but 10 of its 30 places a year.
After seven years, 93 per cent of its places were expected to be allotted on the basis of religion.
Mr Wolfe said that, by contrast, if an academy or free school was set up under the 2006 Education and Inspections Act to meet the needs of Catholic families, children of non-Catholics “would be excluded from no more than half its places”.
The QC argued the council went wrong in law because it was under a statutory obligation to seek proposals for an academy/free school rather than considering the Diocesan proposals for a voluntary-aided school.