Council Set to Block Gunnersbury School Co-ed Plan

Concerned about impact on other schools in the area

The school wants to admit girls in Year 7 in September 2025. Picture: Google Streetview

March 11, 2024

Hounslow Council looks set to veto a plan by Gunnersbury School to go co-educational due to concerns about the impact on other schools in the area.

The Governing Body of the boys’ Roman Catholic School is proposing to admit girls in Year 7 from September 2025 citing an increased demand for mixed sex schools. The school’s sixth form is already mixed.

The governors say, “Within Gunnersbury Catholic School’s local vicinity (namely the London Boroughs of Hounslow and Ealing) there is extensive unmet demand for Catholic coeducational secondary school places. First-choice preference applications for the local Catholic coeducational secondary schools far exceed the Pupil Admission Numbers (PANs) of these schools. In contrast, first-choice preferences for our single-sex Catholic educational provision have declined to levels considerably below PAN. Such a pattern of demand correlates with the overwhelming preference amongst today’s families, whether seeking a Catholic education or a non-Catholic education, for their children to be schooled within coeducational settings.”

The school, which was last inspected by Ofsted in 2023, is rated ‘Outstanding’ in all areas of provision and in its 2023 Progress 8 score of +1.11 places the progress of Gunnersbury’s GCSE students within the top 2% of all schools nationally .

A report has been drawn up by council officers recommending that the Borough’s Cabinet, which is due to meet on Monday 18 March, rejects the proposal. Although Gunnersbury is a Voluntary Maintained School, partly funded by the Catholic Church, the Local Authority is deemed to be the final decision maker if significant changes are proposed by a school.

The report states that, although a four-week consultation held by the school showed widespread support for the move from parents and staff, more weight should be given to concerns expressed by those most affected by the move.

The council report criticised the way the school handled the consultation saying that more meetings about the plan should have been held and that there was a lack of communication before the consultation was undertaken. However, its states that the way the school consulted was not in breach of Department for Education guidelines.

There were 147 responses to the school’s consultation with 63% in favour of the proposal to go co-educational. 61% of parents and guardians who responded supported the move as did all members of staff. 88% of prospective parents and half of the 36 students who responded back co-education.

During the subsequent statutory consultation held about the plan, there were a number of objections from other schools in the area including Brentford School for Girls, Gumley House and St. Mark’s Roman Catholic School.

The council officers said, “Based on the responses received, the negative impact on the pupil intake of other Hounslow Schools, in particular Brentford School for Girls and Gumley House School FCJ, is a key factor for consideration and valid in the current context of declining pupil rolls locally and regionally.”

Pupil numbers are declining which is creating challenges for schools and the report states that the Local Authority has to consider the sustainability of all schools in the borough.
The Governing Body of Brentford School for Girls said, “We are concerned about the impact of a move to coeducational admissions on the unique and diverse make up of Brentford School for Girls’ school community, and on other girls’ schools in the local vicinity.”

In her objection, Andrea Waugh-Lucas the Headteacher at St. Mark’s School said, “I would be surprised if there are many Catholic girls in non-Catholic schools because at St. Mark’s we usually have fewer applications from girls than boys, and most year groups have a higher number of boys.”

Gunnersbury responded by saying it was surprising that there was a wide disparity at St Mark’s between the number of first priority applicants to the school and the places available and that Gunnersbury wishes to provide a setting for the Catholic coeducation that so
many of St Mark’s prospective families are unable to obtain.

The Governors of Gumley House School FCJ said that their own research had shown that, should the proposal go ahead, pupil numbers at Gumley House will drop (as experienced previously when St Richard Reynolds opened in Twickenham in 2015), which ultimately will force them to give serious consideration as to whether Gumley House can continue as a single sex girls’ Catholic school.

If the council decides to prevent Gunnersbury from admitting girls, the Diocese can appeal to the Office of School Adjudicator.

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