Damian Thompson

The knives are out for Christian faith schools

The knives are out for Christian faith schools
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Today's Holy Smoke podcast responds to rumours that the Government is planning to betray parents who want to send their children to faith schools. As The Sunday Times reported:

Ministers are expected to drop plans to allow Christian, Jewish and Muslim state schools to admit all their pupils from one faith after warnings that the move could heighten community divisions in Britain.

A U-turn would jeopardise dozens of new free schools planned by faith groups, some to cope with the influx of Catholic families from Poland and other east European countries.

Catholics said this weekend they would not open new state schools if they had to reserve half their places for children of other faiths, raising new school funding problems for the government.

Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools, told The Sunday Times that she was “uncomfortable” about allowing more single-faith schools and hinted that manifesto proposals — due to be confirmed this summer — would be dropped.

“Admission 100% on faith leads to increased levels of segregation within communities,” she said. “I am uncomfortable with anything that leads to increased segregation.”

Increased segregation – in Catholics schools? No, I don't think that's what Ms Spielman had in mind. But she's not allowed to say, even if she wanted to, that damaging segregation is primarily a Muslim problem.

Most faith schools in England are Catholic or Church of England. This U-turn would mean that the Prime Minister was breaking her promise to them. Perhaps she has no alternative: the vicar's daughter has lost control of a strikingly secular cabinet that – setting aside anxieties about Islamic indoctrination – isn't very keen on Christian faith schools, despite their formidable academic performance.

But we shouldn't let the church authorities off the hook, either. However shabby the Government's U-turn, is it really an excuse for the Catholic Education Service (CES) to scrap plans to open new schools, including free schools?

Cristina Odone and I talk to the author and former BBC broadcaster Dennis Sewell, a founder of Trinity Academy, a free school with a Catholic ethos.

Dennis has some interesting things to say about Paul Barber, director of the CES, who – to put it mildly – has shown very little enthusiasm for setting up Catholic free schools. When it comes to faith schools, it's not only smug and gutless cosmopolitan Tories wielding the knife. Listen to the podcast here:

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