Eighty per cent of the population – including two-thirds of Catholics – are opposed to plans that would allow religious schools in England to use faith-based criteria when selecting pupils for admission, according to a new poll.
The survey of more than 2,000 people, commissioned by the Accord Coalition campaigning group and based on a demographically representative sample of the population, also reveals that 79 per cent of Anglicans oppose the new selection proposals.
The government recently announced that new faith schools would no longer have to offer 50 per cent of their places to those of other religions or none. The Catholic Church had chosen not to open any new schools while the 50 per cent cap was in place, saying that turning away Catholic pupils was against canonical law.
But, asked by Accord whether they would prefer to keep the 50 per cent cap or to allow state-funded faith schools to select all pupils by religion, 80 per cent of people chose to keep the cap in place.
'Learn from one another'
This included 67 per cent of Catholics, despite the fact that the removal of the cap is likely to lead to the creation of between 15,000 and 20,000 new places at Catholic schools.
Respondents from other religious backgrounds were more enthusiastic about the removal of the cap: 43 per cent of Muslims and 55 per cent of Jews were in favour of allowing schools to select all pupils on the basis of religion.
Jay Harman, of Humanists UK, was unsurprised by the poll’s findings. “Religious and non-religious people alike recognise that both children and society are best served when people from a range of different backgrounds are brought together to learn with and from one another,” he said.
The Catholic Education Service (CES) has argued that the question asked in the poll was factually misleading. The question states: "Since 2010 nearly all new state-funded schools in England have been permitted to select up to half their pupils on the basis of religion, but no more than 50 per cent."
A CES spokesman said that this implies that all faith schools were forced to give 50 per cent of places to pupils from different religious backgrounds. In fact, the cap was only enforced when schools were oversubscribed: undersubscribed faith schools were allowed to admit 100 per cent of pupils from the same religious background.