NSS urges government to keep cap on faith-based admissions
Posted: Wed, 29th Nov 2023
Community cohesion and rights of children must come before religious interests, NSS tells schools minister
The National Secular Society has urged the government to resist religious lobbying to remove the cap on faith-based admissions at academies.
In a letter to the newly appointed Minister for Schools, Damian Hinds, the NSS said the fundamental rights of children and the promotion of "inclusion, cohesion, and tolerance" must be prioritised ahead of "the demands of religious institutions".
New academies and free schools with a religious character may select up to 50% of pupils based on religion when they are oversubscribed.
A practising Catholic, Hinds is a proponent of religiously selective schools. In 2014 he led a debate in parliament where he advocated for the removal of any cap on faith-based admissions to Catholic schools.
In 2018, whilst he was Education Secretary, Hinds said he planned to press ahead with plans to abolish the 50% admissions cap. This would mean oversubscribed faith-based academies and free schools could select 100% of their pupils based on faith criteria. Faith schools which are voluntary-aided, or were voluntary-aided before converting to an academy, are already permitted to select 100% of their admissions on the basis of religion.
Following protests led by the NSS against the plans, the government decided to retain the 50% cap, citing "good community and integration reasons".
The NSS's letter comes amid increased lobbying this year from the Catholic Church to remove the 50% cap.
In June, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said schools in England should be prevented from using religion as a selection criterion.
In its letter, the NSS said removing the cap would inevitably result in an "increase in religious discrimination, together with social and ethnic segregation, within publicly funded schools".
It said the need for measures to improve community cohesion has "seldom been greater", describing any moves to remove the cap as a "deeply damaging and regressive step" which would extend "the injustice already present in our education system at a moment in time when its effects would be most harmful".
The NSS said there is a "broad consensus" that removing the cap would harm social cohesion, and called on the government to reject recent religious lobbying to remove the cap.
It pointed out that the government's facilitation of religious discrimination in the education system was at odds with Department for Education guidance on "Promoting fundamental British values", which describes it as "unacceptable" for schools to "promote discrimination against people or groups on the basis of their belief, opinion or background".
NSS: 'Keeping the cap vital for community cohesion'
Jack Rivington, campaigns officer at the National Secular Society, said: "Our education system should exemplify principles of equality and fairness, not encourage social fragmentation and isolation.
"Abandoning the cap on religiously selective admissions would increase discrimination and segregation, and run totally contrary to values that should be at the heart of UK society.
"We urge the government to maintain the cap on faith-based admissions at new academies and free schools, and ultimately put an end to any religious discrimination against families who just want to send their children to their local school."