We decided to launch the Moggcast, which debuts today on this site, because readers would listen to it – a statement of the obvious, of course, but perhaps a necessary one. However, it was a close call, because Rees-Mogg writes as clearly as he speaks, and we might almost as well have offered him a column. He wrote for us recently making the case for lifting the cap on places for Catholics at new faith schools.
His reasons in a nutshell were: the cap is discriminatory, because although on paper applies to denominations, in practice it affects Catholic schools most, since pupils of other faiths and none want to attend them, which is not always the case elsewhere and which presents them with a particular problem. This is that canon law bars the opening of new Catholic schools in such circumstances, because they would be forced to turn Catholic pupils away and, therefore, no new Catholic schools are opening…which also has the effect of preventing non-Catholic pupils from obtaining places at such schools, as the total number of Catholic school places rises.
And this they wish to do. 83 per cent of Catholic secondary schools are rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding. 39 per cent more pupils in primary schools are from the poorest backgrounds compared to the national average. As Rees-Mogg wrote, “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”. Finally, the Conservative Manifesto made an unambiguous commitment to “replace the unfair and ineffective inclusivity rules that prevent the establishment of new Roman Catholic schools”.
However, Damian Hinds has a minor and major issue to address as he rightly mulls how and when to honour that commitment. The minor issue is that he himself is a Catholic – though evidently a liberal one, since he voted for same-sex marriage – which will cause brickbats to be hurled his way. He is longstanding champion of lifting the cap and doubtless won’t mind too much. The major issue returns us to why the ban was introduced in the first place. One reason was a secularist-flavoured hostility to faith schools, held by Liberal Democrat Ministers who, some Conservatives claim, were the driving force for the ban when it was introduced by the Coalition.
There was also an elephant in the classroom. The ban in effect also prevented new Muslim schools from opening, perhaps in significant numbers. This has been extremely convenient for the Government. The hostility to Islamist extremism spills over into voter antipathy to Islamic schools. So by curtailing the opening of new Muslim state schools Ministers were saving themselves an electoral headache. But the significance of the Trojan Horse plot was precisely that took place in non-faith schools – mostly ordinary academies, which contained large numbers of Muslim pupils for local demographic reasons.
There are only 30 or so Muslim schools in the state sector, and a mass of unregulated independent ones. There is a strong case for bringing such schools into the sector, where they could be regularly inspected and regulated, rather than letting them run unscrutinised outside. (There are echoes here of the nineteenth-century debate about Maynooth College.) But any such move would cause the red tops to go nuts. The elephant is not only in the classroom but squatting on the new Education Secretary’s in-tray.