Faith leaders and politicians write to Damian Hinds about faith cap

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

Baroness Whitaker

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

Peter Tatchell

Professor Christopher Rowland

Natalie Haynes

Sir Stephen Sedley

Baroness Joan Bakewell, co-chair, All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group

Ian McEwan CBE

Simon Singh MBE

Baroness Thornton

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

Nicci Gerrard

Professor Stephen Gibbons

Sir John Sulston

Professor Richard Wiseman

Sue Cook

Michael Gore CVO, CBE

Joan Smith

Sir Roy Calne

Professor Raymond Tallis

Professor Stephen Smartt

Dr Richard Bartle

Professor David Hand

Jamie Theakston

Elisabeth Dalton

Janet Ellis MBE

Baroness Elaine Murphy

Sir Keith Thomas

Professor Pat McKeown OBE

Professor Sir Anthony Epstein CBE

Professor Keith Ward

Virginia Ironside

Warren Ellis

Dr Michael Irwin

Adèle Anderson

Baroness Lorely Burt

Maureen Duffy