More faith schools will be opened under sweeping education reforms by the coalition Government, but it could become increasingly difficult for new schools to select pupils based on religious grounds.
The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration has pledged, in a new programme for Government, to allow religious organisations to run a new wave of state-funded primary and secondary schools.
But the new plans would place heavy restrictions on school selection powers, making it tough for a new school to insist that pupils uphold its religious ethos.
The move has been seen as a concession to the Lib Dems whose policies have traditionally been hostile towards faith schools.
The new document, entitled The Coalition: our programme for government, says: “We will work with faith groups to enable more faith schools and facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many of these schools as possible.”
New Prime Minister, David Cameron, who sends his daughter to a prominent Church of England primary in West London, says he is a “strong supporter personally and politically” of faith schools.
In an interview this year, Mr Cameron said: “I think that faith schools are a really important part of our education system and they often have a culture and ethos which helps to drive up standards. If anything, I would like to see faith schools grow.”
In January it emerged that faith schools have become increasingly unable to select pupils based on religious grounds due to the current admissions rules.
The current rules, which were introduced in 2007, require schools to explain how they will judge potential pupils’ religious adherence.
Mike Judge of The Christian Institute said: “We’ve got a bizarre system in which secular organisations are dictating how religious bodies can identify who is and isn’t religious.
“We know there are many parents who are very keen to have their child go to a faith school despite not being of that faith, so schools need some flexibility within the system to decide who is religious. You can’t fit religion into some very convenient Whitehall check-list.”
Last year the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, Revd Janina Ainsworth, blasted opponents of faith schools.
She warned that “proposals to strip faith schools of the right to use any faith-based admissions criteria would dilute a key ingredient that can help to make these schools distinctive, popular and successful.”