Faith schools have welcomed the government’s plan to remove the cap on faith-based admissions, although they will now have to prove there is demand for places at their schools from parents of other religions.
The green paper proposes that oversubscribed free schools will be able to select 100 per cent of their intake based on pupils’ religious belief, lifting the current admissions cap of 50 per cent.
However, schools now have to meet a set of criteria to gain the proposed freedoms, including showing that parents from other faiths would be happy to send a child to the school. This will have to be shown through consultation and parent signatures.
Faith schools must also establish “twinning arrangements” with other schools not of their faith, and consider setting up mixed-faith multi-academy trusts.
An independent member of a different or no faith should also be considered for the governing body, the proposals say.
The Catholic church, which said the cap stopped it opening new schools, lobbied strongly for its removal.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Education Service said the new plans meant the church could now meet parental demand for thousands of new places.
Paul Barber (pictured), director of the service, said most Catholic schools already met many of the criteria.
The Church of England, which did not oppose the cap as strongly and which has already pledged to open 125 new free schools, said it remained “committed to ensuring our schools serve the local community”.
The Revd Nigel Genders said: “Our schools are not faith schools for the faithful, they are church schools for the community. We don’t propose to change that.”
Our schools are not faith schools for the faithful, they are church schools for the community. We don’t propose to change that
But the government looks set to face a rebellion from MPs and education bodies who claim the plans will fuel “social segregation”.
Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, said that she would vote against the reforms, warning of the impact of increased selection in faith schools.
She posted on Twitter: “100 per cent faith schools can have nothing to contribute to a more integrated and cohesive society.”
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), said the proposals sent a “very damaging message: that an integrated society is not worth striving for, and that the will of the religious lobby trumps the best interests of our children and our country.
“Religiously selective schools have been shown time and time again to have a large impact on segregation on religious, ethnic, on socio-economic lines, so allowing more schools to open that are fully religiously selective will only exacerbate those problems.”
The BHA published a report last year that claimed thousands of pupils may have been unlawfully denied a place after “widespread violations” of the admissions code were found in nearly 50 religiously selective schools.
Jay Harman, education campaigns officer at the association, said: “A number if not all of faith schools . . . break the law in all sorts of ways. An increase in religious selection is likely to lead to an increase in those kinds of problems that will only damage the fair access of parents and children at those schools.”