Faith free schools must reserve half of their applications for children who are not of the faith.
That doesn’t mean half of pupils in faith free schools will be non-faith. If a faith free school doesn’t receive enough non-faith applications to fill the 50% slot, then it can fill vacant places with faith pupils.
But that isn’t enough for the Catholic Church. It wants 100% of places in Catholic free schools to be filled by Catholics. Non-Catholic children would only gain entrance if 100% of places weren’t filled by Catholic children.
The education secretary Damian Hinds, educated at a selective Catholic school, wants to remove the 50% cap. This follows concerns that Hinds isn’t impartial because he received funds from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in 2014/15. The Church denies the donation was an attempt to buy influence.
The Independent says campaigners want a parliamentary committee to scrutinize the proposal to allow faith free schools to select all pupils on grounds of faith. They argue this will increase social segregation.
England is almost unique in allowing Catholic state schools to discriminate against non-Catholic children. The Catholic International Education Office (OIEC), defines a Catholic school as:
‘a non-discriminatory school, open to all … in conclusion, the Catholic school is anything but a communitarian school. It is open to all … It must constantly promote intercultural and interreligious dialogue, if it is to continue its mission. This is in any case a motto of the OIEC, all over the world.‘
But ‘all over the world’ doesn’t seem to apply to England where Catholic schools* have admission criteria which discriminate against non-Catholic children.
If Christian schools really are Christian, then they should be expected to follow the words of Jesus Christ:
‘Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.’
Taxpayer-funded state schools should not be allowed to pick and choose which taxpayers’ children to educate. This applies to selective schools as well as faith ones. State-funded faith schools could retain their faith ethos but should not be allowed to discriminate against non-faith children. There would be an element of self-selection, of course, but such an open door policy would be inclusive. In an increasingly fragmented world, it’s important that state policies don’t encourage segregation and sectarianism.
The Department for Education says it will publish the results of the Schools That Work for Everyone consultation, which asked for views about selection and faith schools, in due course. It is already long overdue. It should be published immediately.
*This doesn’t just apply to Catholic schools. Other faith schools, including Church of England academies or Voluntary Aided schools, have similar discriminatory admission criteria.