The Catholic Education Service has welcomed comments made by the Education Secretary about easing admissions policies for some faith schools, saying it reflects a “commitment to parents and their right to have choice in the school system”.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, the new Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, was reported to have said he would abolish the ‘faith cap’ on school admissions. A statement from the Department for Education did not confirm or deny the report but said they would be "responding to the Schools that Work for Everyone consultation, including plans for the faith cap, in due course”.
The minister’s comments come at a time when the Catholic Church in England has been urging the Government to fulfil its election pledge and lift the cap, which they say has prevented them building new free schools for the last eight years.
In November last year the bishops urged the Catholic community to petition Justine Greening, then Education Secretary, to lift the “unfair” cap, after the Government stalled on making a decision concerning its withdrawal.
The cap stipulates that new free schools must allocate half their places without reference to religion. The bishops believe this contravenes Canon Law because Catholic children could be turned away on account of their faith.
A spokesperson for CES said they welcomed Mr Hinds’ comments and looked forward to strengthening the “ongoing partnership with the Government, providing high quality schools where there is parental demand for them".
Mr Hinds, who is the Member of Parliament for East Hampshire, and who was educated at the Catholic grammar, St Ambrose College in Greater Manchester, has previously spoken out in support of faith schools. In a Parliamentary debate in 2014 he said that the “well-intentioned” cap was inhibiting the creation of new quality schools to provide for the Catholic community. A decision on the ‘faith cap’ has been eagerly awaited by the Catholic community since Hinds took on the education brief in January.
There are 2142 Catholic schools in England, which accounts for about 10 per cent of the national total of maintained schools. Over 823,000 pupils are educated in Catholic schools; 68 per cent of students are Catholic and 36 per cent are from ethnic minority backgrounds, according to the Catholic Education Service.
PICTURE: Education Secretary Damian Hinds (PA)