Crowds of children chanted and waved banners both supporting and opposing a proposed new Catholic secondary school as councillors arrived to debate the controversial plans.

Parents and pupils from Sacred Heart Primary School, in Teddington, and members of the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign set up opposing camps outside York House, Twickenham, before the meeting.

Youngsters hoping for a new voluntary-aided faith school made a banner reading: “Thanks for our future”, while campaigners fighting the plans held signs saying: “Why should we pay for another’s privilege?” and: “No to another sectarian school”.

Councillor Malcolm Eady, Richmond Liberal Democrat group’s spokesman for education and schools, claimed Richmond Council had created a “totally unnecessary argument about the pros and cons of faith schools in our community” by offering a site in Clifden Road, Twickenham, to the Catholic Church.

He said: “They’ve opened up a divide that didn’t need to be and it’s unhealthy.”

The council has faced growing pressure for a new secondary school due to Richmond’s steadily rising birth rate.

Councillor Paul Hodgins, cabinet member for schools at Richmond Council, told the meeting on Tuesday, September 13, the authority would have enough capacity to provide places for all children, including those from the Catholic community.

He praised both campaign groups, and said: “The strength of feeling they’ve shown on both sides shows the importance of education in our community.

“Petitioners have sent a very strong signal and I take their issues seriously.” Jeremy Rodell, campaign co-ordinator for the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, said the group would not oppose the Catholic Church running what would be its only secondary school in the borough if it had an inclusive admissions policy.

He said: “The real issue is that some of the 200 children a year who go from borough Catholic primaries to out of borough secondary schools have awkward journeys to get to school.

“The plan is to ‘repatriate’ these children to a Catholic secondary in Clifden Road. They will take all or most of the 150 places.

“So most of the places freed-up will be at out-of-borough Catholic secondaries, and the new school will make little or no contribution to the overall capacity issue in Richmond.

“The council’s choice is whether to listen to this powerful message and modify its plans, or simply to carry on. If it does that, there will be a lot of angry voters, and the underlying problem will not have gone away.”