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Limits on faith selection important for communities – government minister

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson spoke with Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy at Humanists UK’s Conservative Party Conference stand.

Campaigners have expressed relief after a minister confirmed the UK Government is ‘not planning to remove the 50% cap’ which prevents new faith academies and free schools from selecting more than half of their pupils on religious grounds.

In a letter to the Accord Coalition, of which Humanists UK is a founding member, Lord Agnew of Olton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Education, said that the cap is ‘important to ensuring that new free schools serve their communities’ and the Government did not intend to remove it.

The letter comes in response to concerns raised by Humanists UK, Accord, and others, following the Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson’s response to a parliamentary question last month, which had stoked fears of a U-turn. Replying to Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh, who wanted to know whether the Government would ‘try to fulfil’ a manifesto pledge to remove the 50% cap to enable more Catholic schools to open, Mr Williamson had said his department would ‘bring plenty of vim and vigour to this, and I will be looking at it closely.’

In 2018, Humanists UK successfully led a nationwide campaign against the proposal to drop the cap and welcomed the decision to scrap the manifesto commitment, which was widely considered to be a potential disaster for inclusive education and social cohesion.

While Humanists UK would prefer inclusive open schools with no religious discrimination at all, the existence of the 50% cap ensures that, at the very least, faith-based free schools cannot discriminate against every pupil they admit on religious grounds. Although some other faith schools, notably voluntary aided (VA) schools, are still able to select all their pupils by faith, with more VA schools now in the pipeline to open.

 Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said ‘We are delighted to learn that the Government will be keeping the cap on religious selection in new faith academies and free schools, and acknowledges the positive effect the policy has on the ability of these schools to adequately serve the needs of local families in an inclusive way.

‘Nevertheless, we remain concerned that, given the amount of robust evidence showing that religious selection divides communities not only by faith, but also by ethnicity and parental income, the Department for Education is still prepared to provide funding for new 100% religiously selective voluntary aided faith schools to open. No state-funded school should be allowed to discriminate against potential pupils on the basis of their religion or belief. Such policies are bad for children, bad for families, and bad for society. Instead, we need schools that are diverse, inclusive, and open to all.’


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

Read our news item on the Secretary of State for Education’s response to a parliamentary question on the 50% cap.

Read more about the approval of new religiously-selective state schools.

Read more about our campaign win on the 50% cap.

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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