Praise for Catholic education as government lifts cap on faith school places

Proposals to create more good school places through lifting the faith cap will be unveiled later today (Wednesday 1 May), as new data shows over half of schools are now academies.

A consultation on lifting the 50% cap, which applies to new faith free schools, will be launched alongside proposals on opening special faith-based academies.

The government acknowledged today that The Church of England, Catholic Church and other faith school providers have a track record in delivering high quality education and run some of the highest performing schools across the country.

“As someone who attended a faith school as a child and having worked closely with our leading faith groups as Education Secretary, I’ve seen first-hand how their values and standards so often give young people a brilliant start in life,” said Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.

“Faith groups run some of the best schools in the country, including in some of the most disadvantaged areas, and it’s absolutely right we support them to unleash that potential even further – including through the creation of the first ever faith academies for children with special educational needs.

“Our plan to give every child a world-class education is working, with 90% of schools now good or outstanding up from just 68% 2010, but we will keep raising that bar until every school is as good as the best.

New data also published today by the UK government shows that there are almost 11,000 academies in England, representing over half of state-funded schools, marking a major milestone in the Government’s progress towards the vast majority of schools being part of strong trusts by 2030.

The 50% faith cap means that if a new free school with religious character is oversubscribed, it can only prioritise pupils based on faith for 50% of places. At least half of the school’s available places must be allocated without reference to faith-based admissions criteria.

As a result, some faith groups have felt unable to open new free schools and felt discouraged about bringing existing schools into academy trusts.

The government says that high quality multi-academy trusts have been key to the increase in standards in schools since 2010.

Today’s consultation is intended to explore how to maximise the benefits that high quality academy trusts deliver, and in particular how to improve provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) by opening special faith-based academies.

The SEND system is underpinned by investment in the high need budget, which will have risen by over 60% in the last five years to over £10.5 billion this year.

“We are continuing to make record investments, as we deliver on 60,000 more special needs places across the country, helping to increase capacity following a decrease in pupils in special schools between 1997 and 2010,” said a government spokesperson.

“However, it is currently not possible for special schools to open as academies and be designated with faith status. These reforms, along with today’s consultation, will help to ensure that every child has access to a high-quality, fulfilling education.”

The Right Reverend Marcus Stock, Bishop of Leeds and Chairman of the Catholic Education Service, said: “These proposals are welcome. Dioceses are well placed to respond to differing local educational demands around the country, including the provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Parents can welcome this also.

“Catholic education not only provides a high performing school sector and promotes the formation of children in values and virtues; it is more ethnically diverse than other schools, educates more pupils from the most deprived backgrounds, and builds social cohesion within our communities.”

Catholic Union Vice President and former Education Secretary, Rt Hon Ruth Kelly, said she was delighted that the Education Secretary has taken this decision.

“The Catholic Church is one the oldest providers of education in this country, and Catholic schools consistently produce higher than average results. The fact that Catholic free schools were prevented from opening never made sense.

“Lifting the cap will finally allow Catholics to join other faith groups in being able to open free schools. This decision is well-earned recognition of the success of our schools and a vote of confidence in Catholic education in general.”

Former Catholic Union President, Rt Hon Sir Edward Leigh, described the announcement as a “great victory for Catholic education and common sense”.

“For years we have been trying to make Ministers see sense on this and allow Catholic free schools to open. I’m delighted that this Secretary of State has taken the decision to lift the cap,” said Sir Edward.

“It is a relatively minor change, but it will make a big difference to the Catholic community in this country. For this reason, it is a landmark decision and I hope the Government will now make sure the policy is changed before the next General Election.”

Pic: The Education Secretary, the Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP, visited The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School yesterday.