Exclusive: Catholic education chief says total religious segregation in schools is 'dreadful'

The man responsible for opening new Catholic schools says students of different faiths can share same values

Adi Bloom

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The director of the Catholic Education Service (CES) has said that he thinks that the government's return to schools segregated entirely by religion is “dreadful”.

This autumn, the government proposed lifting its requirement that new faith schools must offer half of their places to children of other religions or none. This would allow faith schools to select entirely on the basis of religion.

But CES director Paul Barber does not believe this would be to the benefit of schools or pupils. “The move back to schools of 100 per cent one faith is dreadful,” he said.

“We’re very clear about the nature of the education that we’re offering: an unapologetically Catholic education. If others want to be part of that, then we want to have the spaces to be able to welcome them. That’s a real blessing for the pupils: to have children of other faiths in our schools.”

'Undermines the whole purpose'

More broadly, however, Mr Barber does welcome the plan to lift the government cap on places offered on the basis of religion. For the six years that the cap was in place, the CES chose not to open any new schools for six years. It claimed that turning away Catholics was against canonical law.

“If we create a new school in an area where there’s a large demand from Catholic parents, and we’re saying from day one, ‘You can’t come to this school, because you’re Catholic,’ the Catholic community would not understand that,” Mr Barber said. “We would then rupture the connection between the school and the parents, which undermines the whole purpose.”

'Shared values'

Now, however, with the government’s proposal to lift the cap, there are plans to open between 30 and 40 new Catholic schools.

Non-Catholics, he says, often choose to send their children to Catholic schools precisely because they share the values on offer.

“Muslim parents choose our schools – they recognise that we have a set of values that, broadly, they share,” Barber says. “Simply that we understand religion and take it seriously, rather than pretending that religion doesn’t exist. That’s very important to them – they will be taken seriously and respected in our schools.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 28 October edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article hereTo subscribe, click here. This week's TES magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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