Fourteen proposed schools which could discriminate on the basis of faith have been named by the Department for Education.
These will not be free schools which are bound by law to reserve 50% of applications without reference to faith. They would be new Voluntary Aided (VA) schools with a designated religious character. They can prioritise up to 100% of their places on ‘faith-based admission criteria; appoint teachers by reference to faith; and provide religious education and collective worship according to the tenets of the faith of the school.’*
Proposers of new VA schools can bid for DfE funding up to 90% of the capital costs – proposers are expected to provide at least 10%. Proposers can also apply to open new VA schools without bidding for this funding.
Although the DfE said it would accept proposals for new VA schools without a religious character*, the named proposed schools are all faith-based. Five are Roman Catholic, three are Church of England, two are Hindu, two are Muslim, one is Jewish and one is Christian (non-denominational).
Proposers are expected to have ‘strong local integration and community cohesion plans to ensure that pupils from all faiths and none feel welcome’.* This is oxymoronic – allowing schools to discriminate on grounds of faith doesn’t encourage either integration or community cohesion. They divide children, not bring them together.
The DfE says it will only provide capital funding if the proposed VA school creates ‘good school places’. It’s impossible to know in advance whether any new school will provide ‘good’ places. The number of free schools which have been judged less than good, even closed, shows it cannot be assumed that new schools will deliver ‘good’ places.
There must also be a need for new school places ‘to meet demographic growth’, the DfE says. But this alone is not enough. There must be ‘demand from parents for the type of place that the school will offer’.
In other words, a school which supplies a need for new places is allowed by the DfE to be set up in a way that ensures some local children have less chance of accessing these new places.
Where new school places are needed, they should be inclusive.
*Government guidance and Criteria for proposers bidding for capital funding to support the establishment of a new voluntary aided schools, downloadable here.