New Catholic school won't use full admissions freedoms

First government-funded Catholic school in a decade should admit at least 20 per cent of its pupils based on location, it has been agreed

Catholic teaching

The first government-funded Catholic school to be opened in 10 years is set to limit its freedom to admit all its pupils on the grounds of religion.

A Peterborough City Council panel has recommended that plans for a new Catholic school should get the green light, on the basis that 20 per cent of places are allocated to children in the local area – regardless of faith – in the event of the school becoming oversubscribed.

Hampton Waters Roman Catholic Primary School could have been the first Catholic school to benefit from a national arrangement that lets it avoid the controversial  "faith cap" limiting religious admissions to half of pupils.

It also legally had the potential to have 100 per cent faith admissions. And the Diocese of East Anglia, which worked with the local authority on the plans, had originally proposed that all places should be allocated on a religious basis, and none on distance in the event of over-subscription. 


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But the diocese has agreed to amend this proposal following a public consultation, so up to 80 per cent of pupils could be selected on grounds of faith, and 20 per cent on proximity alone.

In 2016, the government proposed lifting its requirement that new faith free schools must offer half of their places to children of other religions or none.

The requirement had meant that the Catholic church had chosen not to open any new schools, saying that turning away Catholic pupils was against canonical law.

Helen Bates, of the East Anglia diocese, claimed at the time that removing the requirement would ensure more diversity by allowing enough new capacity in her schools for pupils of all and no faiths.

However, in 2018, the Department for Education decided not to scrap the 50 per cent "faith cap", instead opting to meet 90 per cent of the costs of new voluntary-aided schools – which would be exempt from the rule.

In March last year, proposals for 14 new VA schools were published by the DfE. They included five Catholic, three Church of England and one other Christian school, two Muslim, two Hindu and one Jewish school.

The DfE approved a funding bid for Hampton Waters Roman Catholic Primary School in principle in June last year. However, the final decision was left to the local authority.

Helen Bates, assistant director for the Diocese of East Anglia's schools' service, said: "We are delighted to hear that Peterborough City Council has decided to approve a new Catholic primary school in the Hamptons following its consultation last year.

"We understand that there now follows a five-day period during which the decision can be called-in by city councillors. We will continue to work closely with the city council during this period."

The Reverend Stephen Terry, chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, said: "The 50 per cent religious selection cap at faith free schools has been popular and worked well, signalling that the schools should bring people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds together.

"By facilitating the opening of faith schools that can be fully religiously selective, the government is sullying its own record and undermining pledges to improve integration.

"The government should not be bending over backwards to please various narrow and divisive religious lobbies, but expanding the 50 per cent cap to all other state-funded faith schools, as a route to making the school system more religiously inclusive.

"Opening instead fully selective faith schools is a historic error and completely at odds with the needs of our increasingly diverse society."

The DfE has said the new VA schools will be expected to play an active role in their communities.

 

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

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