Council faces legal action over plans to set up Catholic schools without inviting rival bids

 

A council is facing a test case legal action over plans to set up two Roman Catholic schools in its borough without considering alternative providers.

Opponents of the plan to establish Roman Catholic secondary and primary schools in Richmond-upon-Thames argue that - under new legislation - they should have invited rival bids for the schools.

Under new laws which came into force in February, councils  have to invite proposals for establishing an academy if they want to set up a new school.

As a result, the British Humanist Association  has joined forces with a local pressure group, the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, to call for a judicial review of the way the council has handled the case.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, said:  “We have seen repeatedly how religious providers largely avoid competition when establishing state-funded schools and instead make arrangements with local authorities to open schools without local people being offered any alternative.

“If the practice is not challenged, we face a future of discriminatory state-funded religious schools being opened without the same rules applying to them as to inclusive schools.

“In an ideal education system, there would be no state-funded religious discrimination at all, but for as long as it is unfortunately permitted, at least new schools should be opened as a result of fair competition on a level playing field.

“it is unacceptable that they system is so biased in favour of religious bids and that local authorities are collaborating so much with religious organisations to open schools in this undemocratic way.”

Jeremy Rodell, the co-ordinator of RISC, added: “Our primary focus is to ensure that any new schools opening in the borough cannot discriminate against children simply because of the religion or beliefs of their parents.”

The council argues that the proposals stem from a decision by Education Secretary Michael Gove to give the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster the go ahead to issue proposals for the two schools in December.  The diocese argues there is a demand for more Roman Catholic places.

Formal consultation on the proposals does not end until tomorrow (Friday) with the council ruling on the responses at its May meeting.  Seperately, the council has been consulting on releasing land in Twickenham for the two schools.

It says that it is therefore “premature” to rush to a legal judgement because the final decision has not been made.

However, the BHA argues that - at the meeting when it decided to consult over the plans - it should have formally invited other bids for the schools.

The Government’s first free schools have been massively oversubscribed with  - on average - twice as many applications as there are places, according to figures released yesterday.

More than 1,000 parents applied to the West London free school set up by journalist and broadcaster Toby Young, the figures from the Department for Education disclose.

Schools Minister Lord Hill said the figures “provide the answer to the naysayers who said that free schools weren’t wanted or needed - or that no-one would be bothered to set them up”.

On Tuesday, Christine blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers accused Mr Gove of wasting taxpayers’ money by spending £337 million on academies ad free schools.

Free schools are independently run by parents’, teachers’ and faith groups with government state aid.

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