Catholic groups have called on the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, to lift the faith-based admissions cap on new free schools in a meeting secured by the Catholic Union.
Sir Edward Leigh MP, together with Catholic Union Deputy Director, James Somerville-Meikle, and Catholic Education Service Director, Paul Barber, met the Secretary of State on 18th December to raise concerns about the policy.
The meeting follows an open letter sent to the Education Secretary earlier this year by over 1,000 members and supporters of the Catholic Union, calling on her to “scrap the cap”. It adds further pressure on the Government to take action before the next General Election.
The Education Secretary said in the meeting that she was “sympathetic” towards the campaign, which aims to allow Catholic free schools in England to open for the first time.
The 50 percent cap on faith-based admissions applies to oversubscribed free schools with a religious character in England. Introduced by the Coalition Government in 2010, the cap has made it impossible for new Catholic free schools to open as the policy is incompatible with Church law, because it may require Catholic pupils to be turned away specifically because of their faith.
The 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto committed to reverse the policy, but this was never achieved. The Catholic Union has said it will use the time left before the next General Election to do everything possible to get the policy changed.
Former President of the Catholic Union, Sir Edward Leigh MP, said: “The 50 percent cap is a source of huge frustration to Catholics in this country. There has never been any justification for the policy or any evidence to support keeping it in place. I was pleased to present this letter to the Secretary of State to demonstrate the strength of feeling amongst the Catholic community about this policy. With a General Election not far off, we may never get a better opportunity to finally lift the cap. Lifting the cap would be a huge vote of confidence in Catholic schools in this country and I know would be welcome by people from other faiths.”
Catholic Union Deputy Director, James Somerville-Meikle, said: “This was a very encouraging meeting. It is clear that the Secretary of State understands our concerns and is supportive of Catholic schools in general. There is a lot of work ahead, but there are reasons to be optimistic going into the new year. Thank you to everyone who signed our letter or has contacted their MP in support of our campaign. Being able to demonstrate the strength of feeling amongst the Catholic community about this matter has been crucial. Let’s hope that 2024 is the year when we will finally scrap the cap.”