Government U-turn on 50% cap on religious free school admissions

11 May, 2018

Humanists UK led the campaign to retain the 50% cap on religious selection in schools.

The Government, breaking a manifesto commitment, has announced that it will keep the 50% cap on religious selection by new religious free schools in England, in a move welcomed by Humanists UK, which has led the campaign against efforts to lift it.

The Government’s announcement comes after 20 months of steady campaigning from Humanists UK for it to retain the 50% cap. It means that all new and existing religious free schools must continue to keep at least half of their places open to all children, irrespective of their religious or non-religious backgrounds.

However, in a concession to religious lobbyists, the Government has signalled it will be making new funding available for religious groups to open fully selective faith schools outside of its free schools scheme. Humanists UK will be doubling down on its efforts for a fully inclusive education system, challenging new faith schools applications as they arise.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘The decision to keep the cap on faith-based selection is a victory for integration, mutual understanding, and the interests of children. It is also a significant victory for Humanists UK and its supporters, who have successfully led the national campaign against the removal of the cap and in favour of open, integrated schools.

‘If this vision is to be fully realised, then attention must now turn to preventing new, fully segregated schools by another means, which the Government has now unwisely created. The need for the Government to save face, or to appease a handful of religious organisations and their unreasonable demands, should not be prioritised over what’s best for children and society. Today’s u-turn makes clear that fully segregated school intakes are anathema to an open, diverse society. The Government should now recognise this throughout the education system and not create new segregation.’


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.