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Cap on faith-school places under discussion again

10 April 2024

iStock

THE cap on the proportion of places that academies and free schools are allowed to allocate on the basis of faith may be lifted, it is reported.

Funding agreements for these schools stipulate that, where the school is oversubscribed, at least 50 per cent of the places must be allocated without reference to faith.

Plans to remove the cap were set out in a Green Paper in 2016 (News, 16 September). The Conservative manifesto promised to “replace the unfair and ineffective inclusivity rules that prevent the establishment of new Roman Catholic schools, instead requiring new faith schools to prove that parents of other faiths and none would be prepared to send their children to that school”.

In 2018, after a consultation, the Government decided to retain the cap. But it also announced a capital scheme to support the creation of new voluntary aided schools (which are not subject to the cap).

This week, The Sunday Times suggested that government officials were once again exploring a repeal, and that the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, who attended an RC school, was said to be in favour.

The C of E’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, has repeatedly said that neither the removal nor the retention of the faith cap would have an impact on the C of E’s existing or new schools (News, 28 July).

This week, he said: “We provide church schools for the whole community and have a vision for education which is for the flourishing of all children. We have always sought to open new schools to promote this vision for education which is deeply Christian, serving the common good.”

The C of E is the largest single provider of schools in the country. Its 4630 schools include 1540 academies (making it the largest provider of academies) and 1492 voluntary aided schools. This week, a Church House spokesperson said that data on the percentage of its schools that used religious-affiliation admissions criteria were not collected centrally.

But, in 2017, Mr Genders said that 60 per cent had no such criteria, and those that did gave “some priority” to Christian children. This was “in areas where competition for places is acute, and, often, providing places purely on distance from the school would mean that only the wealthiest, who can afford to move house near by, can access the best schools”.

In 2018, a report by Dr Linda Woodhead, F. D. Maurice Professor at King’s College, London, and Charles Clarke, a former Education Secretary, recommended that the C of E should phase out selection on the basis of faith in its schools (News, 20 July 2018).

The RC Bishops have said that they cannot sanction the creation of RC free schools while the cap is in place, as it would require the turning away of pupils on the basis of their Catholic faith. Last year, the Catholic Union launched a “Scrap the cap” campaign.

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