NSS urges PM to retain cap on faith-based admissions

Posted: Wed, 10th Apr 2024

Supporters of inclusive schools encouraged to tell MPs to protect the 50% cap.

Image by Patat from Shutterstock

The National Secular Society has called on the Prime Minister to abandon plans for a new wave of faith schools which can select all pupils based on religion.

The NSS urged Rishi Sunak yesterday to keep the 50% cap on faith-based admissions at academies in England, saying 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. But senior officials in the Prime Minister's office are reported to be involved in plans to scrap the 50% cap, following lobbying from the Catholic Church.

Reports suggest the cap could be abolished in weeks.

The NSS is also calling on its supporters and other members of the public concerned about school inclusion to write to their MPs and urge them to protect the 50% cap.

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.

Removing the cap "deeply damaging and regressive step"

In its letter, the NSS said the need to improve community cohesion has "seldom been greater", and that removing the cap would be 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 removing the cap would "inevitably increase" ethnic segregation, the exclusion of poorer families, disadvantages to pupils with special educational needs, and unfairness against looked-after children, all of which faith schools have been shown to cause.

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".

A previous effort to abolish the cap was abandoned by the Government in 2018, following protests led by the NSS. At the time, Schools Minister Damian Hinds cited "good community and integration reasons" for retaining the cap.

The NSS also wrote to the Government in November amid increased lobbying 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.

NSS: 'Scrapping the cap would undermine social cohesion'

NSS campaigns officer Jack Rivington said: "As our society becomes increasingly irreligious and religiously-diverse, the need for schools which bring children from different backgrounds together has never been greater. Instead the Government is pursuing a course of action which would result in a new wave of religiously exclusive, segregated schools – all funded by taxpayers.

"Allowing schools to religiously discriminate against children is not only wrong in principle, it has also been consistently shown to disadvantage children most in need of support.

"We encourage those who believe education system should exemplify principles of equality and fairness to write to their MP, and to the Prime Minister, urging them to maintain the cap on faith-based admissions."

Media coverage:
NSS CEO Stephen Evans discusses faith schools on LBC Radio with Shelagh Fogarty

Write to your MP: Keep the 50% cap on faith school admissions

The government plans to remove the 50% cap on faith-based admissions at academies. Please call on your MP to keep the cap.

Tags: Faith schools, School admissions