Department for Education approves discriminatory faith school in the name of “choice” despite strong local opposition

November 12, 2020

The Minister responsible for faith schools, Baroness Berridge, has lent her approval to a new faith- based secondary free school in the town of Soham, in East Cambridgeshire, against the wishes of the local County Council. The Minister justified her decision in a letter to the local authority last month and said she believes the school would provide parents with “more of a choice which includes a faith school.

In a report to the County Council’s Children and Young People Committee this week, the local authority’s Director of Education explained that Council officers oppose and “… have questioned throughout the value for money, [and] sustainability” of the school proposal, fearing it would create an oversupply of pupil places “to the detriment of existing schools in the district but also in Cambridge City” (p4-5). Officers instead recommend that existing secondary schools be expanded in an incremental way to meet an increase in local demand from families.

In response to these concerns, the Committee has lent its support for officers to formally express opposition to the Minister about the proposed school. The proposal is for a joint Church of England and Catholic free school that will select up to 50% of its pupils by faith, the maximum level of discrimination permitted for a school of its type.

In 2016 an Accord Coalition commissioned poll conducted by Populus found that state funded schools selecting pupils by faith was opposed by people in Britain by a ratio of almost five to one. This included a large majority of adherents to all major world faiths plus each of England and Wales’ largest Christian denominations, who similarly opposed schools selecting pupils in this way.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, “Religiously selective schools do not promote choice, but discrimination, which is unfair and socially divisive. The Department for Education should listen to the concerns of the local authority, but also heed those of the wider public, who overwhelmingly oppose religious discrimination in school admissions. The practice is out of step with the values of contemporary Britain and the needs of its increasingly diverse society.”

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