Faith leaders, politicians and education experts have signed a joint letter asking the education secretary to reconsider his plans to remove the 50-per-cent cap on faith-based admissions to over-subscribed free schools.
The letter, which argues that the “divisive policy” is a threat to “social cohesion and respect”, is backed by 71 signatories, including former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Professor Richard Dawkins, and joint heads of the National Education Union, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney.
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who said she would vote against plans to lift of the cap last time it was mooted, has also signed the letter to Damian Hinds.
Plans to stop forcing new religious free schools to keep at least half of their places open to all local children, irrespective of religion or belief, were first announced in the last government’s ‘Schools that work for everyone’ consultation in 2016.
The idea was put on hold after last year’s general election, and the Department for Education has yet to provide a formal response to its consultation.
However, Catholic school-educated Hinds, a long-standing critic of the cap, told the Sunday Times last month that he intends to get rid of it.
Organised by Humanists UK, the letter states that removing the cap on religious selection betrays schools’ duty to emphasise “the common values that we all share”.
“We are all in agreement that our state schools, of whatever character, should be open, inclusive, diverse, and integrated, and never exclusive, monocultural, or segregated,” it says.
It also claims that the plan to scrap the cap is “opposed by 80 per cent of the public, including 67 per cent of Catholics and 71 per cent of Christians overall”.
“People from across the political spectrum, representing a range of different religions and beliefs, are united on this one point: whatever your views on faith schools themselves, it cannot be right for taxpayer-funded schools to divide and discriminate against children,” said Humanists UK chief executive Andrew Copson.
“That is the principle that underpins this letter, and it ought to be the principle that underpins our education system too.”
A spokesperson for the Catholic Education Service argued that the 50 per cent cap “hasn’t created diversity”.
“This is because minority faith schools are only popular with their respective community. Catholic schools on the other hand are extremely popular with parents of all faiths and none.
“All the cap achieves is that it prevents Catholic parents from having the same choice of schools enjoyed by other parents.”
The signatories in full…
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK
Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury
Revd Stephen Terry, Chair, Accord Coalition
Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
Rabia Mirza, Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Revd Iain McDonald
Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary, NEU
Kevin Courtney, General Secretary, NEU
Professor Steve Jones
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain OBE, President, Accord Coalition
Sarah Wollaston MP
Dr Theo Hobson
Lord Storey, President, Liberal Democrat Education Association
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader, Green Party
Caroline Lucas MP, co-leader, Green Party
Selina Todd, President, Socialist Education Association
Revd Marie Dove
Professor Richard Dawkins
Rabbi Dr David Goldberg OBE
Louise King, Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England
Simon Barrow, Director, Ekklesia
Professor Ted Cantle CBE, Director, Institute for Community Cohesion Foundation
Lord Meghnad Desai
Baroness Lola Young
Professor AC Grayling CBE
Professor Alice Roberts
Revd Richard Bentley
Lord Tristan Garel-Jones
Revd Jeremy Chadd
Professor Christopher Rowland
Sir Stephen Sedley
Baroness Joan Bakewell, co-chair, All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group
Ian McEwan CBE
Simon Singh MBE
Philip Pullman CBE
Lord Dick Taverne
Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou
Professor Richard Norman
Alan Murray, Director, All Faiths and None
Professor Colin Blakemore
Dr Peter Cave
Professor Stephen Gibbons
Sir John Sulston
Professor Richard Wiseman
Michael Gore CVO, CBE
Sir Roy Calne
Professor Raymond Tallis
Professor Stephen Smartt
Dr Richard Bartle
Professor David Hand
Janet Ellis MBE
Baroness Elaine Murphy
Sir Keith Thomas
Professor Pat McKeown OBE
Professor Sir Anthony Epstein CBE
Professor Keith Ward
Dr Michael Irwin
Baroness Lorely Burt