Abolishing the faith school cap will not help schools to “bring children together” and prepare them for life in “modern Britain”, Justine Greening has said.
In an exclusive Tes interview, the former education secretary came out against the government’s plan to remove the cap that currently means any new faith school can only select half of its pupils by religion.
The intervention sets her at odds with her successor as education secretary, Damian Hinds, who has indicated that he wants to abolish the cap.
Speaking to Tes at the Best in Class summit organised by the Sutton Trust in New York, Ms Greening said: “I think schools should be places that bring children together and, ideally, that prepare them for life in modern Britain, and modern Britain is a very diverse place in many different ways actually.
“So, from my perspective, I don’t think removing the faith cap is something that particularly helps that.”
Lifting the cap was originally suggested in the education Green Paper published in September 2016, in which the Conservative government also proposed opening new grammar schools.
While Ms Greening was education secretary when the Green Paper was published, the policy – along with the plan to expand grammars – was widely seen as being driven by Downing Street.
Manifesto pledge on faith schools
The plan to abolish the cap was motivated in large part by the refusal of the Roman Catholic Church to open any new schools under the current rules. The Church has claimed that turning away Catholic pupils who want a Catholic education would be against canon law.
In their 2017 election manifesto, the Conservatives set out a commitment to “replace the unfair and ineffective inclusivity rules that prevent the establishment of new Roman Catholic schools”.
Mr Hinds is believed to be more sympathetic to abolishing the faith school cap. In 2014 he called for the government to lift the cap, and in an interview with The Sunday Times in February he indicated that, as education secretary, he would do so.
Ms Greening told Tes: “I recognise that the 50 per cent cap, in and of itself, has had some shortcomings, but I’m not sure that that particularly means you necessarily need to remove it.”
However, she said that the Department for Education’s consultation on the Green Paper proposals had still been useful with respect to faith schools.
She said: “I do think that consultation had some other measures that are important in making sure that faith schools are fully integrated with their local communities, like many are… there are some great examples of best practice.
“Actually, I think the issues that we have are more when a school becomes monoculture, rather than particularly that it’s of a faith."