16 civil society groups have today issued an open letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, urging that the Department for Education keeps in place its rule that faith free schools do not select more than half of their pupils on religious grounds. The letter follows the recommendation of Nick Timothy, Director of the New Schools Network – the government funded charity set up to support groups seeking to open new free schools – that the 50% admissions cap should be removed to boost free school applications.
Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, whose group organised the letter, said ‘Last July, the Prime Minister gave a clear signal about needing more social integration in the education system, saying that “It cannot be right that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths. That doesn’t foster a sense of shared belonging and understanding – it can drive people apart.” If the Government is serious about breaking down barriers then it must not go back on ground-breaking policies such as the 50% rule, but should extend them even further.’
The letter – reproduced below – has been signed by groups with differing areas of expertise and varying religious and political affiliations, but who all agree that removing the 50% faith selection cap would be a backwards step.
Dear Secretary of State,
We represent a wide range of stakeholders in education and are writing to urge you to retain the 50% cap on the religious selection of pupils attending Free Schools. In fact many think such limits on selection should be expanded.
Abolishing the cap would be an astonishingly regressive proposal and pander to those who wish to isolate pupils of their faith from wider society.
It also ignores the reality that faith-based free schools have managed successfully with it, and have found they have been able to both maintain their identity and be open to children from other backgrounds.
Far from changing the formula, it should be praised for proving that religion and social cohesion can co-exist.
We hope you will give serious consideration to these concerns and await your response.
- Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair, Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education
- Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers
- Tehmina Kazi, Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
- Dr Artemi Sakellariadis, Director, Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE)
- Jonathan Bartley and Simon Barrow, Co-Directors, the religious think tank Ekklesia
- Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
- Natalie Bennett, Leader, Green Party of England and Wales
- Jay Lakhani, Hindu Academy
- Nigel Jones, Chair, Liberal Democrat Education Association
- Michael Chappell and Charlie Kingsbury, Co-Chairs, Liberal Youth
- Fiona Millar, Local Schools Network
- Manzoor Moghal, Chair, Muslim Forum
- Haras Rafiq, Managing Director, Quilliam
- Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede Trust
- John Bolt, General Secretary, Socialist Educational Association
- Deborah Lawson, General Secretary , Voice the Union
The Catholic Church in England and Wales is currently boycotting the free schools programme in protest at the 50% faith selection cap. This is despite the fact that most state funded faith schools in the rest of the more economically developed world – including many Catholic schools – are not able to select pupils on faith grounds, while most of the Church’s private schools do not select pupils by faith and many of its state funded schools operate successfully with a large proportion of non-Catholic pupils. The 2015 Catholic school census found that (only) 68.8% of pupils at its state funded schools and 37.1% at its private schools, were counted as Roman Catholic.
The religious selection cap for faith free schools was introduced in the summer of 2010. It built on an approach developed by the outgoing Labour administration of limiting the proportion of pupil places that many sponsored Academy faith schools could allot on faith grounds to 50%.