NSS: Catholic Church donations to minister raise "serious" concerns

Posted: Sun, 26th May 2024

Donations from Catholic Church to Gillian Keegan calls decision to remove limits on religious school admissions into question, says NSS.

NSS: Catholic Church donations to minister raise "serious" concerns

The National Secular Society has said there are "serious conflict of interest questions" regarding the Education minister's decision to remove limits on religious admissions at free schools, following revelations she recently received donations from the Catholic Church.

The register of member's interests shows Secretary of State for Education Gillian Keegan received donations worth £17,710.60 from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales for an intern in her parliamentary office for 10 months.

The donation, made under the bishops' 'Faith in Politics' initiative, was received on 10 October 2023.

During this time, both the Catholic Union and Catholic Bishops were heavily lobbying the Government to scrap the cap on faith-based admissions to new free schools.

Keegan was a government minister in the Foreign Office at the time of the donation, before being appointed Secretary of State for Education two weeks later.

Earlier this month, Keegan announced the Government's plan to remove the '50% cap' rule on pupil admissions at state-funded faith schools in England.

Under the 50% cap, new free schools with a religious character may only select up to 50% of pupils based on religion when they are oversubscribed.

Removing the cap would enable these schools to select 100% of children based on their parents' religion if oversubscribed.

Under the plans, the 50% cap rule would no longer apply to new faith schools and existing free schools designated with a religious character could apply to remove the cap by amending their funding agreement to affect the change.

NSS: 'Serious conflict of interest questions over donation'

National Secular Society chief executive Stephen Evans said: "The Secretary of State's decision to abolish restrictions on religious admissions comes at the behest of Catholic lobby groups. Their donations to her therefore raise serious conflict of interest questions.

"Democracy demands fair and unbiased governance. We can't have ministers taking financial contributions from the Catholic Church and then advancing a policy that serves their agenda."

The Government is seeking views on its plans to scrap the 50% cap. The consultation is open now and closes on 20 June.

Media coverage:
Schools Week: Campaigners criticise Keegan's Catholic 'conflict'

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