Government to offer funds for new fully selective religious schools out of free schools pot

11 May, 2018

Today, while the Government announced it will not allow the opening of new 100% selective religious free schools, it also announced it will allow the opening of new 100% selective religious voluntary aided schools. This morning it has further announced that the funding for this will come from the pot of funding previously available for free schools.

Reacting to the news, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘New 100% selective religious schools are not popular and if this new scheme is subject to local democracy (unlike the national free school scheme) then it may be that some of these proposals get stopped. But if it’s nationally decided, as seems likely, then this is very bad news.

‘Either way, however, it means that local authorities will now be expected to open new 100% selective state religious schools while being legally banned from opening new inclusive community schools. England stands alone in Europe in seeking to expand such discrimination when the Republic of Ireland – one of the few other countries that allows it – is preparing to largely abolish it. This is utterly incoherent and the Government urgently needs to think again.’

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme those morning, Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds said that he expects few faith schools to open under the new scheme. Humanists UK has questioned in that case why such an expensive new policy is needed.

Mr Copson continued, ‘The reality is that the Government has lost the argument on this one. The majority of the public and a huge range of civil society organisations came together with us to oppose the lifting of limits on discrimination for new religious free schools. The mainstream view is now against state-funded selective faith schools. Today’s dirty little workaround is simply the Government attempting to appease religious hierarchs against the better interests of cohesion, integration, and fairness.’


The 50% cap was introduced by Government to make sure that new state faith schools could no longer select 100% of their pupils by religion. Under pressure from Catholic and Jewish hierarchies, the Government promised to lift it in its 2017 manifesto. Humanists UK has campaigned for that not to happen and is delighted with today’s announcement.

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on 020 3675 0959 or at

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Timeline of the 50% cap

September 2007 – The Labour Government introduces a 50% cap on religious selection at new Academy schools that did not replace a pre-existing state-funded school.

May 2010 The Coalition Government keeps the 50% cap in place as part of its Free Schools Programme, effectively meaning that almost no new state faith school can select more than half of their places on the basis of religion.

November 2013 The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales announces that it will boycott the free schools programme, refusing to open any new state schools under the 50% cap.

April 2014 Future Education Secretary Damian Hinds sponsors a debate in the House of Commons calling for the cap to be removed.

May 2015 – Following the general election, the new Conservative Government keeps the cap in place, stating that it ‘helps tackle segregation and ensures young people will experience the diversity of beliefs that make up modern Britain.’

September 2016 – Theresa May uses her first domestic policy speech as Prime Minister to announce proposals to drop the 50% cap. The proposals are justified on the grounds that it hasn’t boosted integration and prevents new Catholic schools from opening.

November 2016 – Humanists UK publishes analysis of official figures demonstrating that the 50% cap has significantly boosted integration in the majority of religious free schools, contrary to claims made by the Government.

November 2016 – Claims made by the Catholic Church that ‘canon law’ prevents it from opening schools under the 50% cap are exposed as disingenuous and misleading by Humanists UK, which briefs MPs.

December 2016 – The Department for Education is ordered by the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) to amend the misleading figures on ethnic integration presented in its green paper, after Humanists UK lodged a complaint.

May 2017 – A poll commissioned by the Accord Coalition (of which Humanists UK is a member) reveals that 80% of the public want the cap to remain in place. This includes 67% of Catholics and 71% of Christians as a whole.

January 2018 Education Secretary Justine Greening, who was understood to have privately opposed proposals to drop the cap, is removed and replaced by Damian Hinds. Humanists UK reveals that he had previously received donations from the Catholic Church in return for placing an intern in his parliamentary office.

March 2018 Over 70 religious leaders, parliamentarians, education experts, and public figures, spanning from Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson through to former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, write an open letter organised by Humanists UK calling on the Education Secretary to keep the cap in place.