Top Catholic rejects Gove's free school programme as 'problematic'
The Catholic Education Service for England and Wales said there was no incentive for church to start up free schoolsCurrently only one Catholic free school, St Michael’s Catholic School in Truro, Cornwall.
01:34 GMT, 27 November 2012
Education Secretary Michael Gove’s flagship free school programme was rejected as ‘problematic’ by the Catholic Church yesterday.
Greg Pope, deputy director of the Catholic Education Service (CES) for England and Wales, said there was a ‘perverse disincentive’ for the church to launch free schools.
Free schools are state schools set up by parents, teachers, charities, faith groups and other organisations.
Rejected: The flagship free school programme of Education Secretary Michael Gove, pictured left, was called 'problematic' by the Catholic Education Service deputy director Greg Pope, right
A Department for Education document for
groups applying to open free schools with a religious character says
that admission on the basis of faith must be limited to 50 per cent of
the yearly intake when oversubscribed.
Mr Pope said this 50 per cent issue ‘works against there being a huge number of Catholic free schools’.
At the moment there is only one Catholic free school, St Michael’s Catholic School in Truro, Cornwall.
Mr Pope said: ‘When I discussed this with the Secretary of State earlier in the summer, the point I made to Mr Gove was we would be unlikely to open a new school unless there was demand for a new school.
‘If there was demand for a new 1,000-pupil Catholic school, why would we open a free school if we had to turn away pupils on the grounds that they are Catholic while accepting others on the grounds that they are not Catholic That’s a perverse disincentive to me.’
Mr Pope said he was not against the idea of free schools and it was an option they would explore further if this ‘barrier’ was not in the way.
He said the Catholic Church does have the option of opening up voluntary aided (VA) schools – state schools run by a foundation or trust, quite often a faith group.
But if they wanted a new school to be an academy – which has more freedom than local council-run schools – they would have to open a VA school and convert.
His comments came as the CES published its annual census looking at the make-up of its schools.
It found that 70.4 per cent of pupils at Catholic schools in England and Wales belong to the Catholic faith, along with 55 per cent of teachers.
It also found that some 33.5 per cent of pupils at Catholic primary schools are from an ethnic minority, along with 28.7 per cent of those at Catholic secondary schools.