Unity’s Agony Column

Fiona from London writes: (see the comments)

So the rest of you think we should help the world. Britain is full to the brim with EU migrants. They have taken our places for GP surgeries, and now our Catholic schools are turning away British children in favour of our Polish and other EU next door neighbours. Time for radical action. Labour Government must stop the influx until the birth rate calms down. We pay tax and have to pay for a private nursery education, but these immigrants get treated with free places for their offspring and leave our communities without a school to go to. London Borough of Richmond has a big problem with admissions to primary schools for 2007/8. My child has lost out to these immigrants from the EU and we pay council tax and cannot even get her into one school and turned away from many others. It has got out of hand. Charity begins at home not POLAND, MOLDOVA, CZECH REP, LITHUANIA, SLOVAKIA, ROMAINIA, and the world by all accounts.

Unity replies:

You are actually Catholic, Fiona?

You’ll excuse me for asking but I couldn’t help but notice your suggestion that the UK should limit migration for predominantly Catholic EU accession states ‘until the birth rate calms down‘, which is hardly in keeping with the Catholic Church’s doctrinal position on contraception and birth control.

To answer your point fully, it would be useful to clarify the precise nature of and background to your complaint regarding primary school admissions in the Borough of Richmond.

Are you complaining as a Catholic parent who has failed to get you child into a Catholic primary school due to a shortage of places, or an a non-Catholic English parent who objects to the Catholic Church educating members of its own faith, irrespective of their country of origin, ahead of English children of all faiths and none? If its the former then you may have cause to take the matter up with the relevant diocesan authorities… if its the latter then I’m afraid the answer is tough.

Catholic schools are responsible for, and manage, their own admissions policies even though LEAs assist in the administration of Catholic school admissions by collating applications on behalf of such schools before forwarding them to the school for consideration.

As one can see from supplementary admissions forms in use by Catholic schools in your area – see this example – the Catholic church places great emphasis on evidence of active participation in the church in assessing applications for places at Catholic schools. On that basis, and providing that such school admission policies are applied as specified then the primary reason why Catholic migrants from EU accession states are obtaining school places ahead of other Catholic families – if that is actually what’s happening here – is that they’re simply better and more devout Catholics.

I say ‘if’ above largely because you complaint does not appear to reflected in information from Richmond Borough Council committee reports on school admissions.

A report submitted in 2004 did propose the creation of a new Catholic secondary school in the borough – but that report was dated 15 May, a matter of two week after Poland, and other states, formally joined the EU. Hardly enough time, therefore, for an influx of migrants to appear on the horizon and take up all the Catholic school places in the area.

And more generally, when it comes to primary school places, a report last year proposed an expansion in the intake at six primary schools in the borough in order to accommodate increase demand for places…

…although the funny thing is that none of the schools in question are Catholic primary schools and the increasing demand for places at the borough’s schools was attributed directly to the high positions occupied by many of the borough’s in local and national league tables. By the same token, a report to the Borough’s admission’s forum on admissions policy for 2008 makes no mention whatsoever of any problems or issues related to admissions to Catholic primary schools – there is an issue regarding admission to secondary school from a one particular Catholic primary but nothing tpo suggest that local Catholic primaries are struggling to meet the demands of Catholic parents.

Coincidentally – I might add – I did happen to notice that the six Catholic primaries in the borough all perform better than the borough average in these league tables, and considerably better than the national average as well.

Oh, almost forget – according to the local authority, the greatest demand for school places in the borough is centred on Central and East Twickenham and Teddington/Hampton Wick.

I have to wonder, therefore, quite what kind of Eastern European migrants are being attracted to the area – the average house price in Twickenham is £375,000, in Hampton Wick its 386,000 and in Teddington its £390,000…

As for some of the other matters you raise, yes you do pay income tax and council tax… and so do migrant workers.

The most recent official statistics – which cover the period to June 2006 – show that across the whole of the UK there were a mere 28,000 migrant workers from EU accession states with dependent children under the age of 17 (i.e. requiring a school place) out of total of 427,000 registered migrant workers from those states. That’s across of the UK, and of those entering the UK to work, with dependants, the average number of dependants was 1.3 – which rather blows a hole in the your remarks about birth rates.

So far as nursery places go, all parents have been entitled to provision of 38 weeks free pre-school education for children of 3-4 years of age (at 12.5 hours per week) since April 2006. If you need more than that you have to pay the additional costs, although you may get financial assistance with this if you are entitled to Working Families Tax Credit.

Whether you choose to take up your free entitlement is entirely your decision -if you choose not to make use of the free nursery provision on offer or make use of a private sector provider that’s your decision.

The only constraint on any of this is that you are entitled only to a free place in your area, not to a place with a specific provider, which from your general tone may, I suspect, be the real problem here.

Based on the information I would suggest that if you wish to pursue the matter of your inability to obtain a place for your child at the school of your choice then you should address your complaint to:

Pope Benedict XVI, c/o St Peter’s Basillica, Vatican City, Rome.

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