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Bishops’ agency ‘disappointed’ by faith cap for free schools

David Cameron addresses pupils at an assembly during a visit to Corby Technical School (Photo: PA)

The Catholic bishops’ education agency has expressed disappointment that the Catholic Church is effectively blocked from opening any free schools despite a Conservative promise to create hundreds more.

Earlier this week David Cameron unveiled 18 more of the schools in the latest step in a manifesto pledge to launch 500 over the next five years.

But a free school can only accept half of its pupils on the basis of their family’s faith – a cap which means that no free schools have been opened with links to the Church.

Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service, an agency of the bishops’ conference, said thousands of parents would be disappointed by the Government’s decision to continue the cap.

He said: “Catholic schools are some of the best-performing educational institutions in the country and there is a significant demand from parents.

“We are not opposed at all to the principle of free schools, however yesterday’s announcement will be disappointing news to the thousands of parents who are unable to get their child a place at a Catholic school.

“If it is a question of diversity and promoting community cohesion, it would be worth the Government remembering that 36 per cent of pupils at Catholic schools come from ethnic minority backgrounds, six per cent higher than the national average.

“We share the Government’s desire to provide hundreds of thousands of quality school places and its plan to give parents more choice in education.

“Providing high quality schooling is something the Catholic Church already does and the CES would ask the Government to remove the barriers which hinder us continuing to do this.”

The Catholic Church is the largest provider of secondary education in England and Wales.