The government’s “betrayal” of its manifesto pledge on Catholic schools is a blow to the rights of Christian parents, the Bishop of Shrewsbury has said.
Bishop Mark Davies said the decision by Education Secretary Damian Hinds to retain the 50 per cent admissions cap on new religious free schools showed the government was beholden to a vocal secularist minority.
In a sermon on May 13, the bishop said: “This Sunday, we all are aware that the Government has gone back on its manifesto promise to remove the admissions quota which prevents the opening of Catholic free schools. It is a situation not unlike that of a century ago, which sees a Governing Party swayed by a vocal minority.
“It is a decision which is not merely a betrayal of a manifesto pledge or the promises made to the Catholic community. It represents a deeper shift in attitude across the whole political spectrum, where the rights and choices of Christian parents in raising their own families are made subservient to an ideology.”
The admissions cap prevents new religious free schools from taking more than 50 per cent of their intake from their own religion. This means that, once they reach the cap, new Catholic free schools would have to reject students simply because they are Catholic, a practice that would violate Canon Law. Because of this, the policy effectively prevents the Church from opening new free schools.
Prime Minister Theresa May had promised to abolish the cap in her party’s 2017 General Election manifesto, specifically mentioning the detrimental effect the policy had on Catholic education.
She appointed Damian Hinds – who is himself a Catholic and was educated at a Catholic school – as Education Secretary earlier this year, raising hopes that he would scrap the cap. However, he has opted to keep it, and instead allow new religious “voluntary-aided schools” to open – but these can only open with the permission of local authorities.
“It is was not diversity or social inclusion that is at issue,” Bishop Davies added. “We know Church schools represent the fullest ethnic diversity and contribute enormously by their values to social cohesion. It appears to be an ideological understanding of ‘diversity’ which has seen the Church barred from a particular field of education in spite of the facts.
“This was a very definite defeat for Catholic education and more specifically the aspiration of parents seeking a Catholic education for their children. However, it is a defeat from which an ominous lesson can be drawn of how a government can acquiesce with a small and largely secularist lobby to undermine the freedom in which Christians can live and educate their children.”