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Demand by Catholics to “scrap the cap” on faith-based school admissions

by Premier Journalist

Catholic campaigners are pressing the government to lift the 50 per cent cap on faith-based admissions to new free schools, saying the policy is a ‘barrier’ to them achieving further success.

People are being asked by the Catholic Union to sign an open letter to the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan MP, calling on the government to “scrap the cap”. Despite a promise in the 2017 Conservative manifesto to remove it, the Union says a series of Tory administrations since then have failed to act.

The limit on faith-based admissions applies to oversubscribed free schools with a religious character in England. Introduced by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010, the Catholic Union says the cap has made it impossible for new Catholic free schools to open, as the policy is incompatible with Roman Catholic Church law.

Catholic schools and academies are owned by the Church but maintained in large part by the state.  It's a partnership which has existed since 1944 and allows Catholic families free access to a distinctive Catholic education.  According to the Catholic Education Service, the right of a Catholic school to prioritise Catholic children over those of other faiths is protected.

“The 50 percent cap is a source of huge frustration to the Catholic community in this country”, commented Sir Edward Leigh MP, President of the Catholic Union.

“There has never been any justification for the policy, or any evidence to support keeping it in place. I have raised this matter with successive Ministers in the Department for Education. We have come close to getting the cap lifted in the past and with the help of Catholic teachers we can make the Government see sense,” he said.

Catholic schools make up 9 per cent of the national total of maintained schools. with Catholic schools, academies and colleges educating just under 850,000 pupils in England and Wales.

According to the Union, Catholic schools are extremely popular with parents and pupils, not only because of their academic performance - five percentage points higher than national GCSE Maths and English scores - but because of what they say is ‘the care and quality of the teaching’.

“Lifting the cap would be a huge vote of confidence in Catholic schools in this country, and I know would be welcome by people from other faiths,” added Sir Edward Leigh MP.

As well as making Catholic education more widely available, the letter to the Education Secretary says that lifting the cap “would help boost morale” in a sector that has struggled with pay and conditions and the pressure of inspections.

“Our schools are already extremely diverse in terms of background and religion of pupils. Nearly half are from an ethnic minority background, compared to a third in the state sector. Our schools also educate more pupils from the most deprived backgrounds,” the letter states.

Professor John Lydon, Chairman of the Catholic Union’s Education Committee, commented: “There is a bright future for Catholic schools in this country, but we need to be honest about the challenges we face. One of those challenges is the cap on faith-based admissions.”

Professor Lydon is calling on everyone involved in Catholic education to add their name and back the scrapping of the cap:

“It has without doubt restricted access to Catholic education in England,” he continued, “and prevented the Church from realising the benefits of the academisation programme currently underway."  He said that the letter to the Secretary of State was "a timely intervention”.

The letter is available for people to sign on the Catholic Union’s website, and will be delivered to the Department for Education after the summer holidays.

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