Following news last month that the Education Secretary was facing an intra-Party battle over the cap which currently forces new faith schools to admit a maximum of 50% of each intake using faith-related criteria, an article in The Sunday Times (18 February 2018) suggests that Damian Hinds fought a good fight and is set to follow through on an election pledge to scrap the cap. Hinds remains committed to the teaching of evolution in science lessons and insists that there is no place for creationism in the science curriculum.
The Secretary of State is quoted demonstrating clear intent: “There are thousands of faith schools all over the country and almost none of them have a cap on their admissions. The cap relates only to new free schools of a religious character. I’m interested in having good school places and that includes schools with a religious aspect. Where there is parental demand and where there is a need for places, I want it to be possible to create those new schools.”
Bishops have indicated that the cap applying to new schools with a faith designation prevents them from opening new Catholic free schools because it conflicts with the Church’s Canon Law around refusing admission to Catholic pupils purely on the basis of their faith.
While his predecessor was reluctant to move ahead on manifesto commitments regarding faith school admissions and expansion of grammar schools, Hinds looks set to press on regardless of the inevitable controversy. If he goes ahead and removes the cap, Hinds will be able to point out that the result will be a levelling of the playing field for existing and new schools, increasing parental choice while increasing fairness at the same time.
It remains to be seen whether the Secretary of State will adhere to an additional aspect of the manifesto pledge, which would require free school proposers to “prove that parents of other faiths and no faith would be prepared to send their children to that school” i.e. an uncapped new faith free school.