Peterborough Council has given a green light for a new Catholic primary school in the City which, if opened, would become the first fully religiously selective faith school to be established with government funded support in almost a decade
The decision was officially taken by the Council’s lead member for education, but it may be subject to further scrutiny from Councillors. Peterborough Council has been involved in this case due to a change in policy by the government. Back in 2018 the Department for Education decided not scrap its 50% religious selection cap at faith free schools, but to instead meet 90% of the costs of a new wave of voluntary aided faith schools. In June 2019 the Department further revealed that the proposed Peterborough primary school was the first plan for a new voluntary aided faith school that it had approved funding for ‘in principle’.
Voluntary aided schools are local authority maintained schools and, under existing rules, new ones require the approval of their local authority. Those that are faith based are not limited in the extent to which they can religiously prioritise pupils, although in the case of the proposed primary school in Peterborough the local Catholic Diocese has made a tokenistic gesture towards inclusivity and stated that if the school opens it will not be more than 80% religiously selective in its first year.
The 2011 Education Act introduced a legal presumption that new state funded schools in England should be free schools (a type of academy). Historically, and in contrast to almost all academy schools, the costs of founding voluntary aided schools was not met by the taxpayer. By facilitating the opening of voluntary aided faith schools, the Government is exploiting a loophole to both its 50% religious selection cap and procedures for opening new schools.
Chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education, the Reverend Stephen Terry, said: “The 50% religious selection cap at faith free schools has been popular and worked well, signalling that the schools should bring people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds together. By facilitating the opening of faith schools that can be fully religiously selective, the government is sullying its own record and undermining pledges to improve integration.
“The government should not be bending over backwards to please various narrow and divisive religious lobbies, but expanding the 50% cap to all other state funded faith schools, as a route to making the school system more religiously inclusive. Opening instead fully selective faith schools is an historic error and completely at odds with the needs of our increasingly diverse society.”