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Stuart Boulton / Alamy Stock Photo
Stuart Boulton / Alamy Stock Photo
World News

Government considers allowing faith schools to restrict admissions by religion

by Lydia Davies

The government is currently reviewing proposals that would allow faith-based schools to reject applications from children who do not adhere to their religious beliefs.

If approved, the decision would significantly shift from the current requirement that mandates religious schools to offer at least half of their admission slots to students of different faiths.

Prominent figures are involved in discussions on this policy change, including Will Tanner, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's deputy chief of staff, and James Nation, the deputy head of the Number Ten policy unit.

The Sunday Times reported that Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is also a key supporter of abolishing this rule.

The 50 per cent rule, introduced by David Cameron while in coalition with the Liberal Democrats to foster inclusivity within faith schools might be repealed. Cameron once described his commitment to his Christian faith as "evangelical," highlighting the religious underpinnings of such educational policies.

Currently, Catholic schools educate approximately 850,000 children across England and Wales, representing a significant portion of the educational landscape, according to the Catholic Education Service.

Fr Stephen Terry, the former chairman of the Accord Coalition, advocates for mixed-faith schools. He told Premier Christian News: "Children are immensely open-minded, and it is a criminal thing. I think if they are taught that there is only one way, that way is the right way."

Faith schools in England have certain exemptions under the Equality Act 2010, allowing them to prioritise admissions based on religious affiliation. This sometimes results in parents being unable to send their children to their local state school due to unmet religious criteria.

Contrastingly, in August, the United Nations advocated for banning the use of religion as a selection criterion for school admissions in England, which some MPs labelled as a "secular-inspired attack" on faith schools.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child argued for eliminating religion-based selection to prioritise child rights in Britain.

This UN stance has sparked a backlash from MPs, religious leaders, and faith school advocates who argue it undermines the right to religious education. MP Nick Fletcher criticised it as "an attack on people and institutions of faith," emphasising that "it does not seem to come from a position of tolerance but rather one of intolerance".

Supporting the diversity and essential role of faith schools in enriching Britain's education system, a Department for Education spokesperson stated: "The diversity of schools in this country is one of our education system's most valuable assets. Faith schools play a pivotal role in this diversity.

"We are committed to upholding both diversity and quality education for all. Consequently, we keep all policies under continuous review to ensure our education system remains among the best globally."

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