HUMANISTS UK has expressed outrage over the fact that the first new Roman Catholic state school in England for more than a decade is to established in Peterborough without the church contributing a penny to its costs.
Ruth Wareham, above, Education Campaigns Managers at Humanists UK, said:
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 per cent of its funding from the public purse.
Hampton Waters Roman Catholic School was approved by Peterborough City Council last month under a government scheme for new faith schools.
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 £1m of additional public funds to create places which many Hampton residents will not be able to access is hugely unfair and we would strongly urge them to transfer these costs back to the Diocese of East Anglia.
The scheme is supposed to involve the faith organisation paying 10 per cent of the capital costs, with central government providing the remaining 90 per cent.
However, Peterborough Council agreed to cover the 10 per cent. This amounts to an extra cost of between £1.1-m and £1.5-m to the taxpayer.
As a “voluntary aided” school, Hampton Waters will be legally entitled to select up to 100 per cent of its pupils on the basis of religion, although the Diocese of East Anglia has said 20 per cent of places will be allocated to local children.
The 80 per cent limit would still allow it to select far more pupils on religious-grounds than new faith free schools, where faith-based admissions are capped at 50 per cent.
Concerns have been raised that other faith groups could now set up fully religiously selective state schools without contributing to the costs.
Tracy Butler, a local parent, 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.
When it was announced that the school had received approval from the local authority, the National Secular Society said it would explore the possibility of a legal challenge to the decision.
In response to the council’s decision, NSS chief executive Stephen Evans, above, said:
It’s deeply disappointing that Peterborough City Council is set to approve a new discriminatory Catholic school, particularly as that seems likely to mean an inclusive, secular alternative will now not be able to open.
Many local residents will wonder why their taxes are going to fund a school which explicitly promotes religious beliefs and discriminates against their children on a religious basis in its admissions policy. The school’s all-encompassing religious ethos will be alienating for many families and infringe on children’s independent right to make their own minds up about religion.
Politicians both locally and nationally must be willing to stand up to religious groups when they make unreasonable demands which infringe on children’s rights and undermine social cohesion.
The NSS recently urged the council not to open the Catholic school, describing the proposal behind it as “discriminatory, poorly reasoned and unsuitable”.
Helen Bates, assistant director of the Diocese of East Anglia’s school service, said:
As part of the Diocese’s successful bid to Government, there was no requirement that the Diocese had to pay the 10 per cent. It simply had to come from sources other than the Government.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
When applying for funding to establish a new voluntary aided school through the voluntary-aided capital scheme, proposers had to set out how they intended to source at least a 10 per cent contribution towards the capital costs. Local authorities are able to provide funding for this contribution if they wish to.
The new voluntary-aided scheme was launched by the Government in 2018 and aimed at religious groups who said they felt unable to open schools through the usual free schools route.
The Catholic Church had refused to open free schools with the 50 per cent cap, because it said turning away Catholic pupils who wanted a Catholic education would be against canon law.