Catholic Church contradicts itself on approach to new school’s admissions

22 November, 2019

The Roman Catholic diocese proposing a Catholic school that, if approved, will be the first of a wave of religiously selective voluntary aided (VA) faith schools, has said that one-fifth of its places will be ‘allocated on the basis of distance rather than faith’. This is in spite of the claim often made by the Church, including the Bishop of East Anglia, that the 50% cap on religious selection by new free schools (that previously prevented such an opening) ‘would result in Catholic schools turning away Catholic pupils on the grounds of their Catholicism, a feature prohibited by canon law’.

The Diocese has formally given notice of its intention to open a new Catholic primary in Peterborough. However, in an apparent response to criticism that fully religiously selective admissions policies are discriminatory and divisive, the proposal states that 20% of school places will be reserved for local children regardless of whether or not they are Catholic.

Humanists UK – which has long campaigned for state-funded schools to be open to all regardless of background and successfully led the campaign to keep a 50% cap on religious selection in new academies and free schools after the Government proposed to scrap it in 2016 – strongly opposes the proposal, which will still mean that many non-Catholic families will be put to the back of the queue for a local school place.

The attempt to become slightly more inclusive of those who do not share the Catholic faith also seemingly contradicts the public stance of the Catholic Education Service, who have previously similarly claimed that any cap on religiously selective admissions ‘contravenes canon law’. Indeed, it is this claim which, although itself widely disputed, was one of the reasons the capital funding scheme that allows new 100% selective VA schools to open, was launched in the first place.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said: ‘Time and time again, religious selection has been shown to divide communities, not only by faith, but by ethnicity and family income. The 50% cap on this kind of selection has gone some way towards improving diversity and social cohesion in new faith free schools, so we’re glad that even the Catholic Church has recognised that 100% selection is becoming less and less tenable.

‘However, there are two clear issues with the Peterborough proposal. First, it still largely locks out local families who do not share the Roman Catholic faith of the school, in an area that is in dire need of new school places. And what’s more, even those who are able to attend will have to do so on the basis that the education they will receive will be religiously partisan rather than inclusive.

‘Second, the bid involves a cap on faith-based selection that the Catholic Church has seemingly previously stated is entirely unacceptable – perhaps in contravention of canon law. This demonstrates that the arguments against the 50% cap in free schools are specious. They have very little to do with principle and everything to do with maintaining the right to discriminate in favour of Catholics as much as the Church believes it can get away with.

‘Whatever proportion of places the Diocese decides to allocate on this discriminatory basis, it is clear that this is not the right sort of school for Peterborough. We would strongly urge the Council to reject this bid and ensure that all schools in the area are diverse and inclusive with places open to all children regardless of their family background or belief.’

About the consultation

The Diocese of East Anglia has formally given notice of its intention to open a new Roman Catholic primary school in the Hampton East area of Peterborough.

The publication of the Diocese of East Anglia’s notice marks the beginning of a four week ‘representation period’ during which Peterborough residents will have the opportunity to register their opposition to the plans with the council. You can view the full proposal here. Comments can be submitted to Peterborough City Council up to December 19.

Written responses should be sent to: Schools Admissions Team, People & Communities, Peterborough City Council, Sand Martin House, Bittern Way, Fletton Quays, Peterborough, PE2 8TY, or by emailing:

Correspondence should be marked ‘Response to Proposed New Catholic Primary School’.


For more information, contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at or phone 020 7324 3000.

Read more about the new funding scheme for religiously-selective state schools.

Find out more about our faith schools campaign work.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.