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Catholic Church shows faith in 'free schools'

Support for Tories' Swedish-style system, which would make it easier for parent groups to set up their own schools

Support for Tories' Swedish-style system, which would make it easier for parent groups to set up their own schools

The Catholic Church has thrown its weight behind the Conservatives' plans to introduce Swedish-style free schools should the party win the general election.

The Church believes the proposals could give groups of Catholic parents the chance to open their own institutions, thereby increasing the number of Catholic schools.

The Tories have pledged to make it easier for parents, teachers and other groups to set up schools.

The Catholic Education Service (CES), which acts as a liaison between the Government and the Church, said it has the "experience and expertise" to offer parents who would want to open their own schools, but raised concerns that there might not be enough Catholic leaders to go round.

Oona Stannard, CES chief executive and director, said: "Our governors, diocesan officers and staff have much experience and expertise to offer when it comes to working in this way.

"This might be invaluable to those pursuing similar models if they become available and if resourcing and other factors enable such sharing of advice or support.

"We still need to find out much more about the detail of how the proposed schools would work, so we would be seeking assurances that they would not disadvantage the needy or destabilise existing good provision or even reduce real choice."

Ms Stannard's comments come after Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham - the man in charge of Catholic education in England - told The Catholic Herald that the Tory policy closely resembled the way Catholic schools were first founded in the 19th century.

Bishop McMahon said the Tories' proposals "interested him greatly" and that he was keen to discuss them further with the party.

Earlier this week, Conservative leader David Cameron spoke publicly about his backing for faith schools, saying he wanted to see more of them and that he was a "strong supporter personally and politically" of such schools.

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