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Final approval granted for most religiously selective state school in a decade

Final approval has been granted to the opening of a new state-funded Catholic school in Peterborough that can legally select 100% of its pupils on religious grounds despite strong local opposition from parents and the community. The approval came last night and the school will be the most religiously selective state school to be approved in almost a decade.

At a ‘call-in’ meeting – held to hear opposition to the Council’s decision to approve the Hampton Waters VA Catholic Primary School in Hampton East and establish if it should be reviewed – Peterborough Humanists representative, Martin MacBean, voiced concerns about the way the school would be able to select pupils based on their family’s religious background, meaning some students may miss out on a place at the school. He added, ‘If the school is oversubscribed, local children will be discriminated against, unless their parents identify as Catholic. This doesn’t offer choice as the council claims but offers privilege to a small minority.’

Despite the formal challenge from local councillors and others, the call to reconsider the decision was rejected and the school will open in September 2022. Peterborough Humanists also argued that parental demand for a Catholic school had not been established and that the proposal is ‘discriminatory and divisive’. Mr MacBean made the statement at a meeting which was held because three local councillors had ‘called-in’ the decision to approve the school on the basis the decision-making process was flawed.

Humanists UK has long campaigned for state-funded schools to be open to all regardless of background and successfully led the campaign to keep the 50% cap on religious selection in new academies and free schools after the Government proposed to scrap it.

Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said:

‘We are hugely disappointed by this decision and by the Council’s failure to listen to the concerns of locals who are worried that it will cause division in their community. This school will also legally be able to discriminate against pupils on religious grounds and, if oversubscribed, means pupils from Catholic families will get a place over other families.

‘Local children should be able to access school places regardless of their background and those schools should provide an inclusive curriculum that is suitable for everyone irrespective of religion or belief. We urge the Government not to fund any more of these discriminatory, divisive faith schools.’

Notes:

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

Peterborough Humanists representative Martin MacBean’s full statement:

‘This proposal will mean restricted access to primary schools on the Hampton East development. If the school is oversubscribed, local children will be discriminated against, unless their parents identify as Catholic. This doesn’t offer choice as the council claims but offers privilege to a small minority.

‘Religious selection segregates children not only by religion but also by ethnic and socio-economic factors. Faith schools are therefore not just discriminatory but socially divisive.

Research by the Fair Admissions Campaign shows that Roman Catholic secondary schools admit proportionally 28% fewer pupils eligible for free school meals in their area, compared to 5% more by schools with no religious character. Catholic schools take on average 4.4% fewer Asian pupils than the local demographic

More than half of the UK adult population have no religious affiliation with only 7% identifying as Catholic.

‘Hampton Water is still being built. How can any of us draw any conclusions on the ultimate demographics of the area? Surely the best solution to the need for more school places will be to ensure they are open to the maximum number of pupils.

‘If this school is approved, most local parents will be offered a reduced level of choice. Existing primary schools in Hampton and Yaxley are already operating at or near to capacity, so it’s likely non-Catholic pupils will have to travel even further to school.

Just 8% of adults consider religion to be an important factor when selecting their children’s schools. Many parents will be actively deterred by the faith-based ethos. There are currently 40 places in Peterborough which could be used by Catholic children but are not. The demand does not exist.

‘The council has admitted that it ‘has not been possible to determine whether and, if so, to what degree, there has been any duplication’ in responses received to this proposal, therefore the figures they present to support parental demand are fundamentally flawed and unreliable.

‘The school will be permitted to teach religion from a Catholic perspective and conduct Catholic worship. In other words, children will not receive an objective religious education or be given the opportunity to make a free choice on their beliefs. The Catholic Education Service has openly said that the introduction of non-religious worldviews into RE amounts to ‘dumbing down’. That isn’t education, that’s indoctrination.

‘Hampton Water needs a primary school that is open to all, promotes community cohesion and provides our children with a balanced and objective education. I urge you to reconsider this decision.’

About the proposed new school

The new school will be legally permitted to select 100% of places on the basis of faith. However, seemingly contradicting the Catholic Education Service’s position, the Diocese of East Anglia – which is behind the bid – has said that in the first instance, 20% of places at the new school will be reserved for the children of local residents meaning there will be an 80% limit on religious selection.

The meeting held yesterday marks the end of the approval process. The councillors who objected to the decision did so because they believe the consultation and decision-making processes relating to the bid were flawed. Despite the claim, reportedly made by the Council, that the public consultation ‘showed overwhelming support for the school’, only 110 of those who responded to the Diocese of East Anglia’s consultation were Hampton residents and no record appears to have been made of what proportion are parents of school-age children. The Council consultation received 1,911 responses, but, again, only a very small proportion came from Hampton residents and the figures fail to show how many are parents. In addition, a number of residents living in Hampton Water have objected to the plan and even launched their own petition against it ‘discriminating’ on the basis of faith.

Read our last article on the first new Government-funded Catholic school to open in over ten years.

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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