The controversy in the London Borough of Richmond about the plan for a new Catholic secondary school took a surprising turn last night when the Council denied that any decision had been taken to offer the proposed site to the Catholic church.

The Catholic Diocese of Westminster has recently made an application to the Secretary of State for Education for consent to publish proposals for both a secondary and a primary school on the site. The application says that “The Council approached the Diocese of Westminster with the offer of the school site”. But senior Council representatives said they were not answerable for statements made by the Diocese.

The denial was given in a heated meeting of the Council’s Education Scrutiny Committee on 17 Oct, in response to a legally-based challenge from Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign spokesman, Jeremy Rodell, that the Council had acted unconstitutionally. He said they should not have made the offer to the church without first taking an official decision to select that option rather than follow the normal process for a new school, which is to hold a competition. And a major decision like that would require consultation giving all the available options. None of that had happened.

Nick Whitfield, the Director of Education, explained that the Council’s contract to buy the site depended on a number of conditions that the current owners, Richmond Adult and Community College, needed to meet before the purchase could be completed. And these were outside the Council’s control. He and Councillor Hodgins claimed that no decision on what to do with the site could therefore be made, so no offer had been made to the church.

The Committee agreed to minute the fact that there was disagreement between its members on whether or not a key decision had actually been taken.

— from a Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign press release – 18 October 2011