Row over decision making process for proposed new Catholic school in Peterborough

There were arguments at a Peterborough City Council meeting over the consultation process being used to determine if a new Catholic school will be built.

Sunday, 22nd December 2019, 1:47 am
Hampton Water residents protest over plans for the new Catholic school

The Diocese of East Anglia wants to open a maintained voluntary aided school and nursery for children aged two to 11 in Hampton Water.

The proposed school has already upset residents in the area, both Catholic and non-Catholic, who reject discrimination on the grounds of faith and have started an ePetition on the council’s website.

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At Tuesday’s meeting of the Children and Education Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Alan Dowson (Labour, Fletton and Woodston) attempted to ask specific questions of Jonathan Lewis, director of education, but was blocked several times from doing so by chair Cllr Janet Goodwin (Conservative, Hargate and Hempsted).

Cllr Dowson said: “This committee is expected to scrutinise the process for determining if a faith school of this nature should be built in Peterborough.

“The proposal states that the school will be ‘fully inspected’ by Ofsted, but that is not the case.

“It fails to notice that in accordance with Section 48 of the Education Act 2005 Ofsted will not be permitted to inspect the school’s religious education programmes.

“Instead, religious education, collective worship and the school’s ethos will only be allowed to be inspected by the Diocese of the Catholic Church itself to ensure they are ‘promoting a rigorous and distinctive Catholic ethos’, regardless of suitability for the school community.

“I’m sorry madam chairman but I find that to be completely unacceptable, and I think it is the job of this committee to scrutinise things properly, and you are not allowing this to happen.”

Cllr Goodwin replied: “It has been made very clear to you councillor in your briefing notes that this council would have no input into such matters and that our role is to determine whether such a school is appropriate for Peterborough, and not the curriculum used within it.

“There are 80 schools in this city, 14 of which are faith schools running on a similar basis to the proposal before us. I see no difference in the way that they are run to the way in which it is proposed the Diocese of the Catholic Church would run this school.”

Cllr Nick Sandford (Lib Dem, Paston and Walton) was not convinced, however, and said: “The council have received many letters on this matter, some are in favour of the school, but a great number also have grave concerns about discrimination on the grounds of faith.

“It was my understanding that we are a scrutiny committee and that our job is to make recommendations to cabinet in order that they can come to a fully informed decision.

“However, if you prevent us from making any recommendations madam chairman, then I don’t see how this committee can be doing its job properly.”

Mr Lewis said: “Ofsted are allowed to look into all areas of the national curriculum in church schools, including religious education. That is then reviewed externally with very clear guidance and regulation on what should be taught.

“I think where Cllrs Dowson and Sandford are perhaps confused is the difference between ethos and curriculum – Ofsted are entitled to look at any aspect of the national curriculum, but the ethos of the school is ‘collective worship’, and that is different to the ‘curriculum’.”

The school is due to open in September 2022 and will be 90 per cent funded by the Government. The Department for Education approved the bid for the funding for a new faith school in Hampton Water and the Roman Catholic diocese was the only faith denomination to submit an application.

Helen Bates, assistant director of the Diocesan Schools Service of the Catholic Church, has told the Peterborough Telegraph: “We firmly believe the vast majority of pupils attending this school will be local children of both Catholic and non-Catholic faith.”

Peterborough City Council has until February 19 to make a decision. Cllr Terri Haynes (Lib Dem, Fletton and Stanground) wanted to know what would happen if the council rejected the proposal for a Catholic school and if there would still be enough time to ensure that a new school could open there by September 2022.

Mr Lewis replied: “Yes, in theory.”