27 March 2014, The Tablet

Archdiocese bars cardinal's alma mater from becoming free school

The Archdiocese of Liverpool is blocking an attempt by an independent Catholic school in Crosby to become a free school.

The diocese is opposing the plan for St Mary’s College, Crosby – which was attended by Cardinal Vincent Nichols when it was a state school – to acquire free school status because it would then only be able to offer half its places to Catholic pupils.

Its objection is in line with the bishops’ conference’s decision last November to oppose the opening of new free schools due to the 50 per cent cap on pupils selected according to faith introduced by the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The Government’s free school programme allows groups including parents, teachers and charities to open and run schools that are state funded and open to children of all abilities.

Mike Kennedy, headmaster of the school, which was founded by the Christian Brothers, said: “Being a free school would enable children from disadvantaged backgrounds to come to the school. It seems strange that the Catholic Church would want to stop that. It is frustrating.”

A spokeswoman for the Catholic Educational Service confirmed the Church’s policy, adding: "a 50 per cent cap on the control of admissions is not a secure basis for the provision of a Catholic school".

A spokesman for the Archdiocese said the Department for Education [DfE] had told it that St Mary’s plan to become a free school next year could not go ahead without the endorsement of the archbishop.

The school, which opened in 1919, includes among its alumni the former BBC Director General Lord Birt, the poet Roger McGough and the former British Ambassador to Italy Sir Ivor Roberts.

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