Many of you will be aware that the issues around converting Orleans and St Stephen’s schools to 2 form entry are hotting up.

There is a meeting next week on the future of the schools that I am chairing. Helen Henderson will present the current situation. Liz Stubbs, Head of St Stephens and Nick Jones, the Chair of Governors will answer questions. The Head and Chair of Governors of Orleans Infants will also be present as will Steve White, Head of Buildings Projects from the Diocese.

The Council and Vince Cable are well aware of the strength of feeling in this community and have been invited to attend. Yes, it’s getting serious.

Please come along on Tuesday 6th October at 8pm to the Winchester Hall. If you don’t come and show your support, the Council will not listen. It’s that simple.

While it seems there is enough money in the pot to convert Orleans, and make it a top class school for St Margarets, the same cannot be said for St Stephen’s.

If you’ve written to the Council, you will get a letter back that says;

“expanding the school on the current site is going to present a number of problems”.

A detailed analysis of the budget figures for all of Richmond’s schools in the expansion plan shows that there seems to have been a miscalculation by the Council in its budget allocation. This has left the difficult St Stephen’s site short of money to effect the conversion. It is so bad that, currently, the plans show no separate toilets for the Reception children and classrooms which are not fit for purpose for the younger children.

If St Stephen’s cannot convert to two form entry and remains a junior school, the already acute Reception school places situation worsens,
with local children having to travel to Whitton or North Sheen and St Stephen’s left as the Borough’s ‘Cinderella’ school.

This is not the St Stephen’s parents complaining for the sake of it. Many will remember that a scheme to expand St Stephen’s was rejected a few years ago because of the difficulty of the site. The architects, who are experts in school expansion and refurbishment, just cannot make the sums add up. Not the architects’ fault. How do you make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear without the money?

Helen Henderson, a St Stephen’s parent, has spent weeks painstakingly going over the published figures and talking to the Council and has shown, categorically, that the amounts coming to St Stephen’s are completely out of kilter with the rest of the schools in the Borough’s plan. The problems are compounded by the total VAT figure payable on the project, approx £350k. St Stephen’s cannot reclaim VAT as a church school.

This VAT issue is now at the forefront of everyone’s minds, as it seems ridiculous for the Government to hand over money for school expansion, only to take 15% of it back in VAT.

A draft letter has been circulated that everyone is encouraged to look at, amend, and send to the Council to express their concern. Feel free to e-mail me (nigelcannings@gmail.com) or Helen (helen_f_hendersn@hotmail.com) for a copy.

The extra money needs to be found to make sure that we continue to have two good schools in St Margarets. It doesn’t even need the Council to admit they have made a mistake, just to re-work the figures so that St Stephen’s gets the extra money it desperately needs without any real detriment to the other schools. We don’t want to short-change anyone, just to make sure that St Stephen’s can be of equal standing to the other schools in the Borough.

The Council always knew that expanding St Stephen’s would be tricky, so let’s remind them that we will not be short-changed and they can’t fob us off with emotive arguments about leaving children without school places. What is the point of adding an extra 60 places at St Stephen’s if, as a result, the school cannot provide them, and the other 360 children already there, with a decent standard of education?

So, come along on Tuesday, 6 October to hear the facts and have your say.