BHA High Court case against Richmond Council to go ahead next month

A judicial review of a decision to approve two state-funded, highly selective Catholic schools will be heard at the High Court on 15 and 16 November. The case, which is being brought by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC), challenges the legality of the process by which the schools were set up, outside of competition by the back door, and is the first ever challenge against new schools because of religious discrimination. In addition, the BHA and RISC are pleased to announce that the trial will definitely go ahead, after the opposing parties in the case – the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and the Secretary of State for Education – agreed to the BHA and RISC’s request for a protective costs order.

Section 6A of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which was introduced by amendment through the Education Act 2011, says that ‘If a local authority in England think a new school needs to be established in their area, they must seek proposals for the establishment of an Academy’ (which in this context, means a Free School). Proposals then compete against each other in a form of competition adjudicated by the Department for Education (DfE).

In May Richmond Council approved two Voluntary Aided (VA) Catholic schools to open outside of competition, arguing that the schools (which have cost it £10 million) are not ‘needed’ – only ‘wanted’ or ‘desired’, and therefore there was no need to seek Free School proposals. The BHA and RISC believe the Council had previously made it clear that it thinks the schools are needed, for example in a consultation prior to approval. As a result, the BHA and RISC decided to challenge the approval by arguing that either section 6A was not complied with when it should have been, or that the approval was flawed because it was based on the misleading consultation.

The Council is arguing against the case by saying that it has never thought the schools are needed, and in August, the High Court agreed to hear the case. However, in September, the Secretary of State decided to intervene on the side of the Council by arguing that even if it thought the schools were needed, it still does not have to follow section 6A.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘If this case is successful, the consequence will be that it will be much harder for faith groups to collaborate with Councils to open fully religiously selective schools outside of competition with other proposals – a route which they are uniquely able to pursue. Two-thirds of maintained “faith” schools have opened outside of competition during the last five years, and every single proposal to open a school this way has been approved – with no alternatives presented to parents. By comparison, only one-third of faith-based proposals in competition were approved, versus half of non-faith-based proposals.

‘It is clear, therefore, that the system of opening new schools is biased in favour of faith groups. We hope this case will go some way to shutting down this undemocratic route and ensure a leveller playing field.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on 07534 248596 or at [email protected].

Read the previous BHA press release, High Court agrees to hear first ever legal challenge to new ‘faith’ schools because of religious discrimination, Government applies to intervene against BHA, 4 October 2012: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1122

Read the previous BHA press release, New BHA research reveals most new ‘faith’ schools opening ‘by the back door’, 27 April 2012: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1029

Read more about the British Humanist Association’s work on ‘faith’ schools: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

Read the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: http://www.humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf

Visit Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign’s website: http://www.richmondinclusiveschools.org.uk/

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.