The BBC is reporting that the New Schools Network is calling for the removal of the rules for free schools limiting the number of places allocated on grounds of religion.
Under the current free school regulations, if a faith group opened a free school it could only give priority to applicants on the grounds of religion for half the places.
This has been seen as a deterrent to faith groups who might want to apply to open free schools, with fewer than a fifth of free schools currently having a link to a religious group, lower than the state sector average.
The New Schools Network, part-funded by the Department for Education, says that these limited number of faith free schools are the most oversubscribed in the primary school sector.
The government has a target to open 500 more free schools – and all new schools opened by academy trusts now have to be designated as free schools.
But the New Schools Network, a key supporter of the government’s free school expansion, says there is “significant untapped potential” among current school providers.
In particular, it highlights Catholic schools, saying “over 85% of children in Catholic state schools are in good or outstanding schools, compared to 80% in all schools”.
Catholic schools also have a higher proportion of ethnic minority pupils than average, says the New Schools Network.
The charity says it wants to abolish the cap on places for faith free schools, which has proved a disincentive.
This would apply to any faith groups wanting to open free schools, says the New Schools Network.
It also says there could be “multi-religious” schools, proposed by partnerships of different faiths.
Mr Timothy said: “Although well-intentioned, the current 50% cap on admissions is actually blocking existing high-calibre school providers creating the much-needed places that parents want…”
Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service, said Catholic schools remained “open to the idea” of free schools, but the current limits meant they were “unable to engage”.
He said that it was against “common sense” for a faith group to open a school and then once its 50% quota had been reached to turn parents away because they belonged to that faith group…
A statement from the Department for Education said: “The requirement for all oversubscribed faith free schools to make at least 50% of their places available to those of another or no faith helps to tackle segregation and ensures young people will experience the diversity of religious beliefs that make up modern Britain.”
The New Schools Network is pointing out a dilemma here: we need more schools (or at least more school places) yet religious groups such as the Catholic church, currently running many successful and over-subscribed schools, are not prepared to create new ones because of the 50% cap.
Would it make sense to get rid of this restriction, at least while we have a places issue?
Please let us know why/why not in the comments or via Twitter…
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