Religious leaders, education experts, and public figures call on Education Secretary to keep the faith school admissions cap

14 April, 2024

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is amongst religious leaders, parliamentarians, education experts, and prominent public figures who are calling on Education Secretary Gillian Keegan to keep restrictions on faith-based admissions criteria in new state-funded faith schools the so-called ‘50% cap’ in place. This follows reports in the Sunday Times that the Government is considering allowing 100% religious selection in state-funded faith schools in England. 

The letter, which was organised by Humanists UK, states that removing the 50% cap a safeguard in making sure that faith schools do not exclude all children who live locally whose families do not share the same beliefs would ‘be a backwards step that risks increasing division and inequality’. 

This is the second time the removal of the cap has been floated, with then Prime Minister Theresa May announcing a proposal in her first domestic speech as Prime Minister in 2016 . The policy was later dropped in 2018 following a campaign led by Humanists UK. 

Alongside Dr Williams, other signatories include Chief Officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches Liz Slade, former government integration and community cohesion tsar Ted Cantle CBE DL, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, National Secular Society Chief Executive Stephen Evans, and a number of high-profile authors, academics and political leaders. 

The letter reads:

We are educators, politicians, religious leaders, academics and other individuals and representatives of organisations working across British society. While our views on the merits or otherwise of faith schools are varied, where we do agree is that regardless of their religious character our state schools should be open, inclusive, and diverse. 

We are concerned about the proposal to remove restrictions on religious selection in state-funded faith schools in England.  

The policy, which was introduced by the Government in 2010, has been a vital safeguard in ensuring that state-funded faith schools do not exclude all local children whose families do not share the same beliefs. 

We do not claim that the current policy is perfect. 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. Nor does the cap alleviate our concerns that using taxpayers’ money to subsidise schools which are barred to children whose parents do not subscribe to a particular religion is both unethical and, arguably, unlawful. 

What the current policy has done is improve integration as a result of the rule requiring religious free schools to keep at least half of their places open to local children. 

Removing the restriction on state-funded faith schools to cherry pick students by religion would be a backwards step that risks increasing division and inequality, further entrenching religious selection in our education system, and undermining the principle of inclusivity.

Public opinion is also in favour of the current policy. Research from Populus, now Yonder, showed that 80% of the public, including 67% of Catholics and 71% of Christians overall, oppose any attempts to let taxpayer-funded faith schools choose their pupils based on religion alone.

All the evidence shows categorically that the current policy has achieved its stated aim. It should be maintained.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK

Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

Liz Slade, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches

Simon Barrow, President, Ekklesia

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, National Secular Society

Dr Adam Rutherford

Baroness Joan Bakewell DBE

Professor Alice Roberts

Revd Stephen Terry, former Chair, Accord Coalition

Carla Denyer, co-leader, Green Party of England and Wales

Adrian Ramsey, co-leader, Green Party of England and Wales

Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou

Professor Ted Cantle CBE DL

Julius Weinberg, former Chair, Ofsted

Peter Tatchell, Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation

Professor AC Grayling CBE

Sir Philip Pullman CBE

Baroness Lorely Burt

Sir Stephen Sedley

Dr Peter Cave

Ian McEwan CBE

Simon Singh MBE

Professor Raymond Tallis

Professor Stephen Smartt

Baroness Janet Whitaker

Baroness Elaine Murphy

Virginia Ironside

Professor Simon Blackburn, Humanist Philosophers’ Group

Adèle Anderson

Dr Richard Bartle

Lord Meghnad Desai

Sir Richard Dalton

Professor Keith Ward

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘People representing a diverse range of beliefs and worldviews, some with opposing positions on faith schools themselves, have come together in their opposition to taxpayer-funded faith schools being allowed to divide and discriminate against children. 

‘The signatories of this letter are united in their belief that removing the cap on faith-based admissions criteria would be a step back for social cohesion and undermine the principles of inclusivity which all governments should be striving to increase, not reduce.’


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

Read more about our work on faith schools

Read our explainer on the ‘50% cap’.

Sign our petition and tell Rishi Sunak to stop allowing religious schools to divide our children. 

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.