LEICESTER, United Kingdom — Catholic leaders in England are calling on the government to end de facto restrictions on the construction of government-funded new Catholic schools in the country.
Unlike the United States, Catholic schools in the United Kingdom are funded by the government and regulated by the Parliament.
In 2010, a joint Conservative and Liberal Democrat government established a 50 percent cap on faith-based admissions to oversubscribed free schools with a religious character in England.
David Laws, the Schools Minister who introduced the 50 percent Rule in 2010, told the UK Parliament that “it is right that such new schools cater for local demand in the faith, but the needs of children in the broader local community must not be overlooked.”
“We want all local children to have the same opportunity to access high-quality, state-funded education. The fact that it is state-funded is the point,” he said at the time.
Church policy generally requires that preference be given to Catholic applicants to Church-sponsored schools, meaning in effect it’s been impossible for new Catholic free schools to be opened for over a decade.
The 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto committed to ending the policy, which was issued to please their coalition partners at the time in the Liberal Democrats, but haven’t done so even after achieving a parliamentary majority on their own.
“The 50 percent cap is a source of huge frustration to Catholics in this country,” said Sir Edward Leigh MP, the Catholic Union of Great Britain president, in a statement issued Sept. 11.
“There has never been any justification for the policy, or any evidence to support keeping it in place,” he said.
“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,” Leigh said.
He noted Catholic schools, academies and colleges in England and Wales educate just under 850,000 pupils, with Catholic schools making up 9 per cent of the national total of maintained schools.
“While Catholic schools are some of the best-performing in the country, there are barriers preventing them from achieving further success,” he continued.
“This includes the admissions cap, which the Catholic Union and others have been calling to be scrapped. The policy has had the effect of making it impossible for new Catholic free schools to open, putting pressure on existing Catholics schools,” Leigh added.
The Catholic Union leader also claimed there has never been any evidence to justify the cap.
“Our schools are already extremely diverse in terms of background and religion of pupils. Nearly half are from an ethnic minority background, compared to a third in the state sector,” he said.
“There are many other challenges facing Catholic schools, including pay and conditions for staff and the pressure of inspections, which we urge you to address,” he continued.
“We hope that you will use your time as secretary to back Catholic schools and scrap the cap,” Leigh said in an open letter to UK Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.