Exclusive: Catholics plan 20,000 new school places

Between 15,000 and 20,000 new Catholic school places will be created if government plans to lift restrictions on admissions for new faith schools go ahead, the church said this week.

Adi Bloom

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Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service, says that there are plans to open between 30 and 40 new Catholic schools, and claims that this will benefit society.

“Our schools have always been about social cohesion and social diversity,” he said, “precisely because they’re successful and very popular with parents.”

The new Green Paper proposes removing the requirement that new faith schools must offer half of their places to those of other religions or none. The rule led the Catholic church to choose not to open any new schools, saying that turning away Catholic pupils was against canonical law.

'Meeting Catholic need'

Helen Bates, of the East Anglia diocese – which the church says is likely to open more new schools than any other Catholic diocese – claims removing the requirement will ensure more diversity by allowing enough new capacity in her schools for pupils of all and no faiths.

“As a result of not having enough places, we have lots of schools that are entirely Catholic,” she said. “But, as long as we’re meeting the Catholic need, we’d want to see places for other faiths and no faiths in our schools.”

The Catholic population in East Anglia grew from more than 97,000 in 2010 to more than 107,000 in 2014. Ms Bates said that this was largely a result of immigration from Eastern Europe and the Philippines. One of the area’s schools – St Bede’s Inter-church School in Cambridge, operated jointly by the Catholic church and the Church of England – received 400 applications for 160 places last year.

But Jay Harman, of the British Humanist Association, questioned whether the removal of the cap was positive.

“Parents want good schools rather than faith schools,” he said. “They think that the best way of getting a good local school is getting a faith school.”

For more coverage of the government's Green Paper, including grammar schools, see the 16 September edition of TES. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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