Jacob Rees-Mogg is a member of the DexEU Select Committee, and is MP for North East Somerset.
One of the Conservative Party’s clearest manifesto commitments was to lift the cap on places for Catholics at new schools. It said “we will replace the unfair and ineffective inclusivity rules that prevent the establishment of new Roman Catholic schools, instead requiring new faith schools to prove that parents of other faiths and none would be prepared to send their children to that school”. There is no wriggle room in that sentence – yet the Department for Education, instead of implementing the policy decision, has decided to have an enquiry to decide whether to do what was promised or not.
The problem with the current rules is that they limit the number of places for Catholics in new schools to 50 per cent if other, non-Catholics, wish to attend. This policy was not introduced with Catholic schools particularly in mind, but has a greater impact on them because, unlike some religious schools which attract virtually no one from outside their own community, Catholic schools are popular with non-Catholics.
However, under Canon law Catholic bishops have certain obligations which mean that places cannot be preferentially offered to non-Catholics at the exclusion of Catholics. As far as possible, a bishop is meant to provide a place at a Catholic school for every pupil in his diocese. They naturally could not agree to establish schools which had to turn away pupils because they were Catholic.
This policy has been damaging to the provision of education to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The Church has not opened new free schools, which has meant that the increased demand for places at existing schools is harder to meet,and parents have seen their choice diminished. As the cap does not apply to existing schools, this particularly affects non-Catholics who wish to attend a Catholic school, which they do in large numbers.
In current Catholic schools, 68 per cent of pupils are Catholic and, surprisingly, three per cent are Muslim, with the remainder from both Christian and non-religious backgrounds. The results are impressive, with 83 per cent of secondary schools rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding while the opportunity is spread widely. 39 per cent more pupils are from the poorest backgrounds compared to the national average for primary schools. This means that a real chance is given to the most disadvantaged at the start of their academic life, which is widely recognised as one of the major factors in a person’s future prosperity and broader life chances. As Theresa May herself said: “Catholic schools are more ethnically diverse, more likely to take pupils from the poorest backgrounds and are more likely to be rated good or outstanding by Ofsted”.
Catholic education is a success story. These schools while partly funded by the State also receive considerable resources from the Catholic Church, it is a partnership between Church and State. Lifting the cap was a promise: if manifestos are to mean anything then politicians must implement as much of them as possible. This is an easy one to deliver on, will be popular with parents and, most importantly, will serve pupils well.