Posted: Mon, 14 Jan 2019
Two Catholic primary schools in Peterborough and another in Cambridge are among the first to be proposed amid a new round of government funding for voluntary aided (VA) faith schools in England.
The three bids are in areas of significant housing development where there is a shortage of school places, and if approved would open in September 2022 or 2023.
The Department for Education (DfE) announced plans to open new VA faith schools in May 2018. It made the decision after campaigning by the National Secular Society (NSS) and others forced it to abandon plans to scrap a 50% cap on discriminatory admissions to new academies.
VA faith schools are able to teach confessional religious education and select all pupils (and potentially all staff) on religious grounds.
In December the NSS wrote to all local authorities including Peterborough, urging them to resist proposals for new VA faith schools. The letter also urged councils to monitor the impact of faith-based education on school choice in the wake of the publication of the NSS's recent report The Choice Delusion.
In the same month, the DfE's own impact assessment showed its decision to fund new VA schools would lead to religious discrimination in admissions, through their teaching of denominational RE and in their employment practices. The assessment also showed the move would undermine social cohesion.
No More Faith Schools campaigner Alastair Lichten said: "Local councils should be standing up for all their residents, not facilitating discrimination. We will continue to monitor new VA school proposals as they come in and engage with local councils, councillors and activists to ensure they are challenged. Councils have a duty to ensure adequate school provision which if fulfilled leave little room for such discriminatory proposals.
Helen Bates, assistant director for schools at the Diocese of East Anglia, told the Peterborough Telegraph: "This bidding round represents the first opportunity to build new Catholic schools in East Anglia for many years."
Mr Lichten called this claim "misleading".
"The offer has always been open to Catholic groups to open new state funded academies. However they refuse to do so unless they are able to apply 100% religious selection."
The Peterborough Telegraph's article originally stated that the schools would be free schools (academies). The paper corrected this after being contacted by the No More Faith Schools campaign.
Should the schools be approved they may later convert to academy status.