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Government ‘on the verge of dropping Catholic schools promise’

Theresa May holds up the Conservative Party's manifesto for the 2017 general election (Getty)

The government is reportedly on the verge of dropping a key promise that would have allowed the Catholic Church to open new schools.

The Conservative Party pledged in its manifesto to abolish the “unfair and ineffective” admissions cap that requires new faith schools to recruit 50 per cent of their intake from other faiths.

This would force oversubscribed new Catholic schools to turn away Catholic children on the basis of their Catholicism, which is prohibited under Canon Law. The Church, therefore, cannot open new schools while the regulation is in place.

Now the Sunday Times reports ministers are expected to abandon the promise, putting dozens of planned schools in doubt.

The paper quotes Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of schools, who called on the government to keep the cap, saying: “Admission 100 per cent on faith leads to increased levels of segregation within communities. I am uncomfortable with anything that leads to increased segregation.”

When asked about the government’s plan to abolish the cap, she replied: “There are various proposals… I am not sure they are still on the cards.”

Responding to the claim, the Catholic Education Service said: “We cannot open any free schools if the 50 per cent admission cap remains. We have not opened any since 2010 even though there is huge demand for Catholic education in some regions.”

They added that plans had already been drawn up for 40 to 50 new Catholic schools, including eight in East Anglia, some of which already had proposed sites. One would have been near a new hospital and catered for children of immigrant Catholic doctors and nurses.

Last month, Bishop Alan Hopes of East Anglia called on the government to keep the promise after it was omitted from the Queen’s Speech.

“All the cap achieved was to bar the Catholic Church from opening new schools,” the bishop said.

Referring to eight proposed new schools for his diocese, the Bishop Hopes added: “We are now simply awaiting the opportunity to submit these bids, and the removal of the cap is the final piece of the jigsaw to enable this to happen and for new Catholic schools to become a reality.”

Unlike other education policies, removing the cap does not need any primary legislation, only the political will of the Secretary of State.