There has been much excitement about the fact that, in the future, a few of the new free schools opening might have an element of selection by ability. This has been described as going back to “the grammar school system”. I suspect that even with some academies taking advantage of the new rules and some existing grammar schools expanding, the impact will be a modest (but welcome) increase in the diversity of schools available.
Less attention has been given to another easing of the selection rules. Thus far new free schools have only been allowed to take a maximum of 50 per cent of pupils on the basis of their faith. Thus for instance if you were to open a new Roman Catholic school, and it was oversubscribed, only half of the pupils could be admitted on the basis of their faith. Once that quota is full, it is a legal requirement to turn away Roman Catholic children for simply being Roman Catholic.
That is quite absurd. So a “free” school does not have freedom over admissions. A “faith” school is obliged to turn away children who follow its faith to make way for those who don’t. What meaning do these words have?
Opening a free school is a huge undertaking. It is a heroic and positive endeavour but one rewarded with bile from the Marxist-controlled National Union of Teachers. Then there are the Labour councils trying to sabotage the efforts of schools trying to find a site. And there is all the bureaucratic tedium and delay.
The Roman Catholic church noted that if a new “faith” school did emerge, its ethos would be heavily diluted. So that Church decided they wouldn’t bother – and I don’t blame them.
The rules weren’t exactly an incentive for those from other religious denominations to open new schools either.
So the potential lifting of the cap is excellent news. The Education Secretary Justine Greening notes that church schools are “hugely popular” and “significantly more likely than other schools to be rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding,” – she hopes that the change “will give more organisations the opportunity to establish new faith schools”.
Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough and president of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, says:
“Many parts of the country face a shortage of school places that needs addressing. The Catholic Church has been an education provider in this country for centuries, establishing its oldest universities, and now teaching many of the poorest and most disadvantaged.
“I hope Catholics, our other fellow Christians, and the members of other faith communities in Britain take up the free schools with gusto. They can deliver a great education in a caring environment with a more holistic sense of what learning truly is.”
I hope this plea will be answered.