Catholic bishops have launched a petition urging ministers to honour their manifesto commitment to lift the faith cap that has prevented them from opening new religious schools.
Last year, the government proposed scrapping the rule that new faith schools can only apply their faith-based over-subscription criteria to the first 50 per cent of places when they are over-subscribed.
The Roman Catholic Church says the cap prevents it from opening new free schools – because it is against its religious rules to turn away Catholics on the basis of their faith.
The Conservative Party included the proposal to lift the cap in its 2017 election manifesto, but has not said whether it intends to press ahead with the plan after losing its Commons majority.
A Department for Education consultation on the proposal, carried out at the same time as the consultation on the now-ditched plans to open new grammar schools, closed on 12 December last year, but the government has yet to publish its response.
Now the Bishops’ Conference has started a petition to put pressure on the government to honour the election pledge.
'Against Canon law'
Fr George Bowen, secretary to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference's department of Catholic education and formation, described the current cap as “an effective ban on any new Catholic schools as our bishops ruled that opening a Catholic school that turned away Catholics for being Catholic was against Canon law”.
He added: “The bishops are now calling on the Catholic community to make its collective voice heard and tell the secretary of state to uphold her government’s manifesto commitment to the Catholic community, Britain’s largest religious minority.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “We will be publishing the consultation in due course.”
The petition reads: “The government is making a critical decision on whether to overturn the admissions cap, which prevents some schools from allowing all Catholic pupils to attend. By her own admission, the secretary of state has said the rule has been ineffective and adversely affects Catholic families.
“By forcing Catholic schools to turn away Catholic school children on the basis of their faith, the very principle of a Catholic parent’s right to choose a Catholic education is under threat.”