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Case Study: Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign opposes proposed Catholic school

In our latest case study, we have a report provided by the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, who are working to oppose a proposed Voluntary Aided (VA) Catholic school in the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames.

Richmond Borough Council has stirred up huge controversy by offering the first, and so far only, available site for a much-needed new secondary school to the Roman Catholic Church – effectively barring 90% of local children.

Local Catholics have been lobbying for a Catholic secondary school in the borough for years, complaining that Richmond is one of only two London boroughs without one. This is despite the fact that there are already 8 Catholic secondary schools within 5 miles of the centre of the borough, and even the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster says it has enough places at its schools for children of local Catholics.

The Conservative administration included a promise to ‘encourage’ a local Catholic secondary in its May 2010 election manifesto, and Catholic school supporters raised an 1100-signature petition to support the policy earlier this year.

The borough is facing a growing shortage of places at good secondary schools, as well as a lack of sites and funding. So the plan to give top priority to a Voluntary Aided school where admissions will be effectively closed to the 90% of borough children who are non-Catholics has run into heavy opposition.

The Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) was launched in April this year, building on an earlier protest by local humanists. By being careful itself to be as inclusive as possible, and particularly not to be anti-religious or party-political, it’s rapidly grown to become an effective pressure group involving people from a wide range of beliefs and backgrounds, including fair-minded Catholics.

The campaign is formally supported by the Accord Coalition, the national coalition of religious groups, humanists (including the British Humanist Association), trades unions and human rights campaigners for admissions and recruitment policies in all state-funded schools to be free from discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.

RISC’s formal objectives are also for schools with fair admissions, fair employment and fair and balanced teaching about religion and belief. But the number one issue is fair admissions at new schools. As soon as the council announced at the end of July the purchase of a site and a firm plan to offer it to the Catholic church for a VA school, the RISC launched an online petition asking them ‘to ensure that every state-funded school opening in the borough from now on is inclusive, so that no child can be denied a place in a good local school because of the religion or belief of their parents’. It has already attracted well over 1300 signatures.

RISC coordinator Jeremy Rodell said: ‘We were amazed at how quickly the petition took off, and how strongly parents and taxpayers feel about it. Our petition does not even rule out new ‘faith’ schools, or even a new Catholic school on the site in Twickenham, provided they have inclusive admissions. But what the Council is proposing is the opposite of that. As soon as it’s full, this new school will be bound by church rules to turn away children simply because their parents aren’t Catholics, even if they live next door. That just can’t be right.’

The petition has secured enough support to trigger a debate at a full Richmond Borough Council meeting on 13th September. And supporters say they will be outside the Council’s offices in Twickenham before the meeting to demonstrate their concerns and encourage more people to sign up.

Jeremy’s realistic about the prospects for immediate success: ‘We’re not expecting a 180 degree change in plan as a result of this short debate, at which only three Councillors will have time to respond to our petition. But we’re certainly demonstrating in a clear and formal way that there is a massive groundswell of voter opposition to the Council’s plan. Maybe, just maybe, someone will listen.’

Live, work or study in the London Borough of Richmond? Do sign up both to the petition at http://tinyurl.com/riscpetition1 and as an RISC supporter at www.richmondinclusiveschools.org.uk.

Heard about a proposed ‘faith’ school in your area, and want to start a campaign in opposition? Please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner, Richy Thompson – details below.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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