The Fair Admissions Campaign has called for the cap on new Academy faith schools not selecting more than half their pupils by faith to be maintained following public urging by Catholic Bishops to have the limit scrapped. Speaking to The Tablet last week, Head of Parliamentary Relations for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and Deputy Director of the Catholic Education Service, Greg Pope, said:
‘The 50 per cent admissions cap on faith academies was in the coalition agreement and but isn’t really a Conservative policy … We hope that with a Conservative Government it will be revisited, and it is something that my colleagues in the CES have raised with ministers.’
The 50% faith selection limit was introduced for new Academy schools that did not replace a pre-existing state funded school under Labour. The policy was continued after the May 2010 Election.
Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Removing the cap would not only cause further segregation in an education system that is supposed to broaden the horizons of children and prepare them for the wider world, but it would also send out a very unfortunate message about religious groups consciously discriminating against pupils of a different faith or none. Jesus said “Suffer the little children”, not “Bar them from the school gate”.’
Professor Ted Cantle of the iCoCo Foundation commented, ‘It is very disappointing to see Bishops playing party politics, rather than trying to ensure that schools are creating mixed intakes and giving children the chance to interact with others who are different from themselves – this is the way to tackle prejudice and to build the cohesion our society needs’
Jeremy Rodell, Chair of the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, said ‘It would be a huge step backwards for the 50% rule to be weakened. Faith can flourish in diversity, and children will benefit from being in schools with a varied intake, not in closed, defensive and sheltered faith communities.’
Richy Thompson, Campaigns Manager at the British Humanist Association, added ‘Polls have consistently shown that religious selection in schools is hugely unpopular among the wider public, and over the last few years we’ve seen an increasing number of voices from within faith communities themselves calling for an end to the practice. If anything the Government should seek to restrict religious selection further, not remove the limit altogether.’
The Bishop’s position does not appear related to demonstrable needs or educational outcomes. Many Catholic schools maintain their ethos without the need to discriminate in admissions. Most fee paying Catholic schools in England and Wales do not admit pupils according to religious tests, while most Catholic schools in other developed countries do not operate a religiously selective admissions policy, including countries with strong Catholic traditions like Italy, Spain and Poland.