Government signals it will maintain religious discrimination in admissions cap

October 9, 2019

The Government has assured the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education that it is not planning on scrapping its 50% religious discrimination in pupil admissions cap for new academy faith schools. The Government has clarified its position in response to a letter from Accord last month which urged it to not scrap but extend its 50% discrimination limit.

Accord was prompted to write to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williams, after he was asked to scrap the cap in the House of Commons last month by Sir Edward Leigh MP. In response to Sir Edward the Education Secretary said that he would look closely at the issue.

In a written reply to Accord received this week the School System Minister, Lord Agnew of Oulton, confirms the 50% limit will not be scrapped. In his letter the Minister notes that ‘I would like to assure you that we are not planning to remove the 50% cap on new faith academies and free schools, as this is important in ensuring that new free schools serve their communities.’

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Revd Stephen Terry said, ‘We welcome the news that the Government is not planning on scrapping its 50% cap and has discounted reckless calls urging it to do so. Now is not a good time to be adding extra divisions to our increasingly divided country.’

‘However, if we are to bequeath a legacy of improved integration rather than greater fragmentation, schools must not entrench religious and ethnic segregation. Far more robust action is required. This should include the phasing out of religiously discriminatory pupil admission policies in state funded faith schools. Discrimination should not be a part of school life – least of all in the name of religion.’
The 50% cap was introduced for faith-based free schools in 2010. The 2011 Education Act introduced a legal presumption that new state funded schools in England should be free schools, meaning almost all new state funded faith schools opened since then had been subject to the 50% discrimination limit. In 2015 the Government told Accord it would maintain the cap ‘… as an important way of supporting these schools to be inclusive and to meet the needs of a broad mix of families.

Although overseen by successive Conservative Education Secretaries, the Conservative Party 2017 Election manifesto committed to scrapping the cap. In April 2018 the Government decided against scrapping it after consultation and when it became associated with being as one of a number of unpopular policies that undermined the Conservative’s performance during the 2017 General Election campaign.

An opinion poll commissioned by Accord and conducted by Populus in the Spring of 2017 found 80% of voters preferred that the cap be maintained, rather than dropped. The weight of opinion was such that a large majority of adherents of all major world faiths, including each of England’s largest Christian denominations, were all found to oppose dropping it.

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