Exposed: Catholic hypocrisy in calls for end to restrictions on religious selection in schools

9 September, 2016

The Prime Minister announced a relaxation of ‘faith’ school admissions limits after pressure from religious groups

Research by the British Humanist Association (BHA) has revealed that the overwhelming majority of private Catholic schools in England do not select all of their places with reference to religion. This revelation refutes claims this week by the Catholic Education Service (CES), echoed by the Prime Minister, that ‘canon law’ prevents them from opening new state schools that do not select 100% of places on the basis of religion. The CES Director had claimed that the Catholic church was ‘unable to engage’ with the Free School Programme while the cap was in place and the Government is now proposing to drop the cap as a result.

The BHA, whose survey entirely refutes the claims of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has labelled the CES’s position as nothing more than a pretext to lobby the Government into granting them greater freedom to religiously discriminate against children and families.

The Government has also come under pressure from Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis in recent months to drop the 50% cap, whose vocal support for the move was criticised by a group of 70 Rabbis in open letter published last month.

The BHA examined the admissions policies of all 101 Catholic private schools in England. Only 18 schools were found to use a religious test as the highest priority admission criterion for all of their places. The overwhelming majority – 78 schools – did not employ religious selection as the highest criterion for all their places, and nearly half of the schools didn’t use religious selection at all.

Indeed, many of the schools’ websites were explicit in their rejection of religious discrimination in admissions. One school in Kensington and Chelsea, for instance, states that it ‘does not discriminate on the grounds of race, religion or belief’, while another noted that ‘diversity serves both to enrich our community and to provide a vital ingredient in preparing our pupils for today’s world’.

In addition to the findings of the survey, the BHA also notes that the ‘canon law’ claim does not stack up with the situation in other countries around the world. In Scotland, for instance, a number of state Catholic schools do not select in this way. And among OECD member states, only the Republic of Ireland, Estonia, and Israel, as well as some provinces of Canada and (for a small number of private schools which receive state funding) Germany, allow state Catholic schools to religiously select pupils.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Either most private catholic schools are breaking canon law or the arguments employed by the Catholic Education Service to lobby for the lifting of the 50% cap on religious selection are untrue. If canon law is the barrier to their opening new schools, then why do the overwhelming majority of private Catholic schools in this country not use religious selection? Why do Catholic schools in Scotland and internationally not select in this way also? This is as unscrupulous as it is transparent. We need to foster greater social cohesion in our society, not divide and segregate children by their parents’ religious beliefs and erect needless barriers to mutual understanding and respect. Schools should serve whole communities, not divide them.’


For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman on and 0207 324 3078/07970 393 680.

See the full list of Catholic private schools and their levels of religious selection:

Read the BHA’s previous news item ’70 Rabbis challenge Chief Rabbi over exclusive position on religious selection in school admissions’:

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools:

The BHA is a co-founder of the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC).

The FAC wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.