The freedom to raise your children as you see fit is one of the most fundamental to a free and just society. The Catholic Church has always taught that parents are the primary educators of their child, and both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights recognise this primacy.
The Catholic Church is the oldest educator in England. Since the 19th century, it has worked in partnership with the state in helping deliver a high-quality education to young people from all parts of society and across the country. We are now the largest provider of secondary education and the second largest provider of primary education – a fact of which we should be proud.
When we Conservatives entered government in 2010 we were determined to decentralise the educational framework of this country and make it possible for parents and other groups to open up new state schools and alleviate a shortage of school places with backing from the taxpayers. The free schools programme has been a phenomenal success, with more than 400 new schools having been approved for opening since 2010, providing over 230,000 new school places.
Despite a dire need for new Catholic school places, the Church has disappointingly missed out on this new wave. As part of the price of approving the free schools programme as a whole, our Lib Dem coalition partners insisted on an admissions cap for faith-based free schools that meant no more than half of oversubscribed school places could be reserved for Catholics. This meant Catholic dioceses would have to turn away Catholics not because of lack of space or unsuitability but purely on the grounds of their religion. Canon law rightly prevents the bishops from doing this, since the provision of a sound Catholic education to the young faithful is their duty.
Supported by like-minded MPs, I raised this at Prime Minister’s Questions and urged the Department for Education to drop this harmful policy. The admission cap’s aim of preventing monocultural schools is admirable in many respects, but has proven totally ineffective. The only real tangible effect has been preventing new Catholic schools from opening.
Since 2010 we’ve seen the Catholic sector educate a further 50,000 pupils without being able to open new schools. Demand is higher still, and tens of thousands of pupils have missed out on a Catholic education because of our lack of capacity.
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