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Catholic Church will spend nothing on new state school, breaking key premise of funding scheme

Humanists UK has said it is ‘outrageous’ that the Catholic Church will not pay any costs towards a new, state-funded Catholic school that will legally be permitted to select up to 100% of its pupils by their religious background, breaking a key premise of the voluntary aided funding scheme which requires backers of schools to pay 10% of the costs. Instead the local council will pay.

Peterborough Council recently approved Hampton Waters Voluntary Aided Catholic Primary School – the first Government-funded faith school without a cap on religious selection to open in over a decade – as part of a new Department for Education funding scheme. The scheme was introduced to allow religious groups who ‘felt unable to open new schools’ through the usual free schools route because these schools may only select 50% of their pupils by faith, to open 100% selective voluntary aided (VA) schools. The Catholic Education Service had previously claimed that any cap on religious selection went against canon law, although this is disputed. The new school will allocate 20% of places according to distance from the school in the first year after it opens in 2022 but, subject to local consultation, may change this at any point after that.

In return for the additional powers with respect to admissions, Government guidance on the scheme said the backers of new voluntary aided (VA) schools would be ‘expected to contribute at least 10% towards the capital costs incurred’, with the remaining 90% to be paid by the Department for Education. However, in correspondence with Humanists UK, Peterborough Council has revealed that it, rather than the Diocese of East Anglia (who are behind the school) will pay the 10%. This amounts to a cost of between £1.1 and £1.5 million to the public purse. The story was covered in The i.

The news comes after local councillors and residents – including Peterborough Humanists representative Martin MacBean – challenged the council’s decision to approve the Hampton proposal on the grounds that there is insufficient parental demand for a Catholic school in the area and that the school will be ‘discriminatory and divisive’.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham commented:

‘It is outrageous that a new school that is legally allowed to select all of its pupils according to their religious background will receive 100% of its funding from the public purse.

‘Religiously selective admissions don’t only segregate children by religious background, but also by ethnicity and parental wealth. What’s more, local residents have openly said they would prefer an inclusive school that is open to all children regardless of religion or belief.

‘When the Government introduced this new funding scheme, it appeared to be on the understanding that the religious groups claiming to have an ideological opposition to admitting a fair mix of pupils from different backgrounds to their schools would have to pay something for the privilege of being able to discriminate against those families who don’t share their faith. Peterborough Council’s decision to use over £1 million of additional public funds to create places which many Hampton residents will not be able to access is grossly unfair and we would strongly urge them to transfer these costs back to the Diocese of East Anglia.’

Hampton Water parent Tracy Butler said:

‘It is very concerning that the Catholic Church will own the school despite not fronting up any money for its operating costs. Hampton Water is a growing area and it desperately needs a school that fully serves the local community and treats all families equally. Instead we have a school that will be able to socially select and reject pupils on religious grounds, forcing those families to find another school. It is a grossly unfair policy.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read our latest article about the most religiously selective school to be approved in a decade

Read our previous article on approval of the Hampton Water proposal

Read our article on how the Hampton Water bid apparently contradicts canon law.

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.

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