The Roman Catholic Church has attacked Michael Gove’s flagship free schools policy describing admissions rules restricting the number of pupils from churchgoing families as “perverse”.Senior officials in the Catholic Education Service, responsible for the schooling of more than 800,000 children in England and Wales, issued a public snub to the Government’s favoured schools programme, effectively ruling out future involvement in the scheme. This is from the Telegraph…
Greg Pope, deputy director of the service, said that the cap would force schools to turn pupils away because they were Catholics – while admitting others because they were not.
He said he was “intrigued” by the idea of free schools and would be interested in pursuing it were it not for the “barriers” to the Church’s involvement.
He was speaking as the service published its annual “census”, showing that number are up on last year, particularly in primary schools.
There are 838,756 children being taught in 2,257 Catholic schools in England and Wales – one in 10 of all schools.
The survey showed that Catholic schools outperform the national average for exam results while teaching more children from deprived areas than the sector as a whole.
With some Catholic schools heavily oversubscribed, particularly in areas such as London, dioceses are keen to open more.
Last week a legal challenge brought by opponents of faiths schools to two new Catholic schools in Richmond, west London, was thrown out at the High Court.
Current Government policy is that all new schools should either be an academy or a free school, in which parents can become involved in the setting up and running.
Academies and fee schools have greater freedom from local authority interference over hiring and firing and teaching issues.
But unlike traditional faith schools, which control their own admissions, in new academies and free schools the number of children from a particular faith background is capped at 50 per cent if they are oversubscribed.
As a result Mr Pope said that, other than one Catholic free school in Cornwall, the Church was unlikely to open any more unless the cap was lifted.
“We discussed this with the Secretary of State,” he said.
“The point I made to Mr Gove was we would be unlikely as a sector to open a new school unless there was demand for a new school.
“And if there was demand for a 1,000-pupil Catholic school, why would we open a free school and end up turning away Catholic pupils on the grounds that they are Catholics while accepting others on the grounds that they are not Catholics?
“That’s a perverse disincentive to me.”