Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Catholic Church to open more schools amid plans to scrap 50pc limit

Faith in education | New Humanist

The Catholic Church is poised to open more schools as Gillian Keegan confirms plans to scrap a limit on faith admissions in England.

The Education Secretary will launch a consultation on Wednesday on lifting a cap on faith-based admissions which stops free schools and academies from selecting more than half of pupils on the grounds of religion.

The Catholic Church has long opposed the cap, introduced in 2010, because it has argued that turning pupils away on the basis of their Catholic faith goes against canon law. Bishops have said they cannot sanction the creation of Catholic free schools while the cap is in place.

If the cap is removed, oversubscribed faith-based free schools will be able to select up to 100 per cent of their intake based on pupils’ religious belief.

Responding to the proposals, Ruth Kelly, the vice president of the Catholic Union, said: “The Catholic Church is one the oldest providers of education in this country, and Catholic schools consistently produce higher than average results. The fact that Catholic free schools were prevented from opening never made sense.”

‘Faith groups run some of the best schools’

Mrs Keegan, who attended a Catholic school, said she had seen first-hand how values and standards in faith schools “often give young people a brilliant start in life”.

She said: “Faith groups run some of the best schools in the country, including in some of the most disadvantaged areas, and it’s absolutely right we support them to unleash that potential even further – including through the creation of the first ever faith academies for children with special educational needs.”

It is understood that existing faith-based free schools, which currently have to adhere to the 50 per cent rule if oversubscribed, will be able to apply to have the cap lifted if the Government’s plans are given the green light.

The Department for Education consultation will also explore how to improve provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities by opening special faith academies.

It is currently not possible for special schools to open as academies and be designated with faith status.

The proposals were welcomed by the Church of England (CofE).

Nigel Genders, the chief education officer of the CofE, said: “This broad package is good news because it will mean more people can benefit from the education provided by Church of England schools which is so highly valued by parents and children and young people.

“By enabling Church of England special schools, we can serve the needs of more children in more communities, irrespective of their faith background.”

However, campaigners and education union leaders said going ahead with the plans would be a “retrograde step” and “wrong-headed” as they argued that more faith schools would exacerbate “discrimination, division and disadvantage”.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, said: “The proposal to allow 100 per cent religious discrimination in new state faith schools will increase religious and racial segregation in our schools at a time when integration and cohesion has never been more important.

“It will further disadvantage poorer families, non-religious families, and families of the ‘wrong’ religion.”

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the National Secular Society, said lifting the cap would only “exacerbate the discrimination, division, and disadvantage that faith-based education encourages”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said it was worried that removing the cap was “an unnecessary and potentially retrograde step”.

He said: “We are concerned that there is a danger that such a move could inadvertently lead to a sense of selection through the back door and could potentially make it harder for some pupils to get a place at their local school.”