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Humanists to mount legal challenge against new schools

A legal challenge will be launched against the building of two new Catholic schools in southwest London.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) are planning to mount a legal challenge against Richmond Council, following an application by the Diocese of Westminster to build a Catholic primary and secondary school.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Westminster defended the application stating: “The Diocese of Westminster believe that Richmond Council have acted entirely properly in respect of proposals for the establishment of new Voluntary Aided Catholic primary and secondary schools in the borough.

“The proposed court case being brought by RISC and the British Humanist Association, a national organisation that campaigns against the existence of all schools with a religious character, seeks to use procedural arguments to prevent an entirely legitimate proposal to increase the educational choices available for parents and children in Richmond.”

The spokesman said that the establishment of the new schools would provide greater diversity of choice in the Richmond area. He continued: “The proposed new schools are also likely to bring additional benefits by releasing places at other local schools which are currently being taken up by those who would prefer a Catholic education.”

The BHA argue that if the council ratifies the plans they are flouting new rules from the Education Act 2011 that state: “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’ [i.e. a Free School]. Proposals are then adjudicated by the Department for Education (DfE).”

A statement from the BHA continues: “Richmond Council has been clear that it thinks the borough needs a Catholic secondary school to complement its existing Catholic primaries, and that there is also a need for a new Catholic primary to provide additional places. They say that the Act allows them to go ahead with Voluntary Aided Catholic schools without first following the above rule.

“The BHA is concerned that this offers a way of opening religious schools in the face of public opposition by the back door, avoiding the competition that would otherwise be required.”

But Richmond Council said that any legal action from the BHA and RISC was premature. A spokesman for the council said: “The Council has not yet taken decisions in respect of the Diocese’s proposal, or in respect of the use of the site in Twickenham and therefore, any judicial review challenge would be premature.”