The hostility of the Catholic Church in England and Wales towards the Government’s 50% cap on religious selection in admissions at new state funded faith schools has been queried by a Diocesan Director of Education. Speaking to the weekly Catholic newspaper, The Tablet, the Director of the Archdiocese of Southwark’s education commission, Dr Anne Bamford, said ‘… the time has come when I think we need to think about whether to reconsider it.’
Changes enacted in 2010 by Government and Parliament have meant that, in practice, almost all new state funded schools in England are Academies, while all new Academy faith schools that open are limited in not selecting more than half their pupils by faith. The Catholic Church in England and Wales responded by calling for a moratorium on any new Roman Catholic Academies while the cap was in place. The Church reaffirmed its position in November 2013 when it issued a statement noting ‘the Bishops’ Conference takes the view that the imposition of a 50% cap on the control of admissions is not a secure basis for the provision of a Catholic school and urges dioceses to resist any pressure to establish a school on that basis.’
The Church’s position is at odds with practice in the private Catholic school sector, many of which do not admit pupils according to religious tests. Two former private Catholics schools have joined the English state funded system by becoming Free Schools and both (St Michael’s Catholic Secondary School in Cornwall and St Anthony’s School in Gloucestershire) do not select more than half their pupils by faith. The Church’s position is also at odds with practice in many other countries that have state funded Catholic schools. For example, most state funded Roman Catholic schools in Scotland are not permitted to have a religiously selective admissions policy.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘Many people of goodwill recognise that it is positive and right for children of different backgrounds to mix and grow up together. It is both surprising and sad that Church authorities are continuing to try keep the drawbridge raised and to isolate children from each other. Clearly, faith schools do not need to discriminate by faith to uphold their ethos, and discrimination should not be a part of school life.’