18 JUNE 2019, THE TABLET
New school opening is landmark for UK Catholic education
by Liz Dodd
'We expect that this school, like most schools in the Diocese, will have a wide mix of children of all faiths and none'
File photo, St Thomas More pupils
Photo: Diocese of East Anglia
The Government has approved funding for three fully selective faith schools, including at least one Catholic school, for the first time in almost a decade.
The move marks the end of a long-running row over state funding for faith schools that saw the Government first pledge to allow new faith free schools to select all of their pupils on the basis of faith, then scrap that pledge. In May 2018 the Government said that instead it would support the opening of voluntary aided faith schools, that would be allowed to select all their pupils on the basis of faith.
The new Catholic school will be a voluntary-aided primary school in Peterborough, in the Diocese of East Anglia, on the Hampton East housing development. In a statement the Diocese of East Anglia said that the new school, which is expected to have up to 90 places plus a nursery, will help meet demand for more school places in the city, as well as providing more Catholic places.
Helen Bates, Assistant Director for Schools, said: “This is fantastic news. It will provide the first brand-new, purpose-built Catholic school in this diocese for decades. We would like to thank everyone who helped us make this bid a success by providing their support earlier this year. We will now need to go through a statutory consultation to make our case to the local education authority (Peterborough City Council), to approve the opening of the new school. We will be asking for people’s support once again when we do this. When this consultation starts there will be further information available on the Diocesan website.”
She said that the Diocese had submitted bids for three new voluntary aided schools, but that only one bid had been approved.
“We were not successful with these two bids,” said Ms Bates, “and are waiting to find out the reasons behind this from the Government. But to be successful with one is great news.”
The announcement came as part of a wider announcement of funding for free schools, with information released by the Department for Education indicating approval for 22 new free schools, of which three are faith schools.
The Accord Coalition, which opposes faith-selective education, called the move backward and socially irresponsible.
Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Revd Stephen Terry, said: “In England since 2010 faith schools that have opened with the support of central government have been limited in selecting no more than half of their pupils on faith grounds. Though a relatively small measure, it signalled that schools should seek to bring people together from different backgrounds and that integration was being taken more seriously than before.
“Opening new schools that can be fully religiously selective is a backward and socially irresponsible move. Today's news is a victory for those who seek to isolate children of their faith from wider society. It can only lead to further ghettoisation, which is completely at odds with the needs of our increasingly diverse society.”
In East Anglia Ms Bates said that the new school would most likely be as diverse as others in the diocese. “We expect that this school, like most schools in the Diocese, will have a wide mix of children of all faiths and none. On average, about a third of pupils in our schools are not Catholic,” she said.