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Plans to scrap 50 per cent cap on faith school admissions seen as victory for Christian education

by Tola Mbakwe

Many in the Catholic and Anglican education sector have praised government plans to lift a faith-based admissions cap on new free schools in England.

Under the current rules, only half of students can be chosen on the grounds of religion. According to the Department of Education, the rule has meant that some faith groups have felt unable to open new free schools because they would be forced to decline pupils that adhere to their religion

A seven-week government consultation, which was launched on Wednesday, will now look into whether schools should select up to 100 per cent of their intake based on pupils' faith.

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, who herself attended a Catholic school, 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.”

The Catholic Union, which has been campaigning on the issue, said the plan would make way for Catholic free schools to open.

Catholic Union Vice President, Rt Hon Ruth Kelly said: “I’m delighted that the Education Secretary has taken this decision. 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. Lifting the cap will finally allow Catholics to join other faith groups in being able to open free schools. This decision is well-earned recognition of the success of our schools and a vote of confidence in Catholic education in general."

Meanwhile, the Church of England’s chief education officer, Nigel Genders, 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, not everyone is in agreement with this proposed change. Stephen Evans, chief executive of the National Secular Society said: "Our state schools should bring children from different backgrounds together, not divide them along religious lines. Abandoning the cap to pave way for more religiously selective schools will only exacerbate the discrimination, division, and disadvantage that faith based education encourages.”

It’s a comment that Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service refutes. He told Premier Christian News: “Actually, Catholic schools, partly because of their popularity outside the Catholic community, as well as the universal nature of the Catholic community, means our schools are actually the most ethnically diverse, culturally diverse, linguistically diverse and socioeconomically diverse in the country by quite a considerable margin. And we take almost twice as the number of pupils from the poorest areas in the country.”

The Department of Education has described Catholic and Church of England schools as having a track record in “delivering high quality education and run some of the highest performing schools across the country.”

You can take part in the government consultation here.

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