By Matthew Barrett
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One of the left's main objections to the Coalition's Free Schools policy since the election last year has been the possibility of religious groups setting up schools. This left-wing opposition has involved smearing people of faith and whipping up fears about the spread of religious schools (as if the Christian faith was some new experiment to be mistrusted until deemed safe). The left's rejection of new faith schools has also involved being very liberal with the facts. Here is one of Polly Toynbee's columns from April:
"This government is increasing faith education, with seven out of 10 applications for free schools coming from religious organisations. The education secretary, Michael Gove, urges faith schools to become academies. Writing in the Catholic Herald, he recommends avoiding secular critics' accusations of "selection on the sly", as "by becoming an academy, a Catholic school can place itself permanently out of range of any such unsympathetic meddling". Academies and half of all faith schools set their own admissions, key to their league table success."
"Seven out of 10"? The reality is that in last year's Free School application round, the Department for Education received 115 applications from groups wishing to set up faith schools – or 40% of the total applications. Not 70%. This year, in the application round that was open from 17th March 2011 until 15th June 2011, the Department for Education received 65 applications (or, 29% of the total) from groups wishing to set up faith schools. So the Free Schools policy is transparently not a front for a mass expansion of faith schools. Will the Left stop pretending it is?