Humanists UK alarmed at Government’s proposal to remove 50% cap on faith schools

8 April, 2024

It has been reported by The Sunday Times that the Government is considering plans to remove the 50% admissions cap on new faith schools in England. This would mean that they would no longer have to offer a proportion of their places to children who do not follow their religion but would instead be able to apply religious discrimination in 100% of their admissions.

Humanists UK Has expressed its alarm that this change is being considered. The same proposal was dropped by the Government in 2018 following a campaign culminating in a joint letter opposing the change, signed by religious leaders, parliamentarians, education experts, and public figures.

The 50% cap, introduced by the Labour Government in 2007, has been a crucial safeguard in making sure that faith schools do not exclude all children who live locally whose families do not share the same beliefs. By restricting the proportion of pupils that faith schools can select based on their religious beliefs, the cap promotes diversity, cohesion, and fairness within schools.

Even with the cap in place, recent studies have shown that faith schools continue to be less inclusive than schools without a religious character, in terms of disadvantaged children, children in care, and those with additional learning needs.

Removing this cap would be a backwards step that risks increasing division and inequality. Eliminating the cap would further entrench religious selection in our education system, undermining the principle of inclusivity and reinforcing religious privilege.

Following evidence from Humanists UK, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child criticised the UK Government for permitting faith-based discrimination in school admissions. Despite this, the present Government is now considering increasing the discrimination, and the leader of the opposition has recently been criticised for showing similar support for such a discriminatory system.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘The government’s proposal to lift the 50% cap on faith-based admissions will increase segregation in our schools at a time when integration and cohesion has never been more important. It will further disadvantage non-religious families and families of the “wrong” religion.

‘Rather than expanding religious selection, a government that cared about cohesion would be seeking to create a single admissions system where all state schools are open to children from any background or belief.’


The 50% cap was introduced by the UK 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. 

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.

May 2018 – The Government announced that it will keep the 50% cap on religious selection by new religious free schools in England, however, in a concession to religious lobbyists, the Government said it would make new funding available for religious groups to open fully selective faith schools outside of its free schools scheme. 

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at or phone 07534 248 596.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 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.