Friday, 24 November 2017

More Catholic Schools?

This week Humanists UK have revisited a briefing that contains 5 claims. This is, in part, in response to MPs recently asking questions about the Conservative policy from September 2016 to remove the 50% cap on new school admissions. Jacob Rees-Mogg MP cited the Conservative party manifesto pledge while Catherine McKinnell MP suggested it would be a way to improve education in the UK.

Their main claim is one relating to Canon Law. Humanists UK cite the Catholic Education Service (CES), “which claims that the 50% cap on religious selection ‘contravenes canon law’ and that Catholic schools must select 100% of their places on the basis of religion.” (see article in full <here>)

Firstly, Canon Law is not a book of law as many would understand it, and crucially it is not the same as UK law. Canon Law is the law of the Church, as interpreted by the magisterium, and is essentially, not a useful tool for critics. This is because, a bishop is the ultimate jurisdictional authority of Canon Law in his diocese. If he rules an action contravenes Canon Law, then quite simply, it does. 

Whilst there is no canon which explicitly states word for word that an admissions cap is illegal, the inevitable consequences of a 50% cap would put the Church at odds with its own law. A Catholic school which turns away Catholic pupils because they are Catholic and where a bishop does not have total control over the school’s governance cannot be recognised as a Catholic school. This principle is the same all over the world.

Other faith free schools that have opened (Islamic and Hindu, for example), do not have the demand for places that Catholic schools do. This is why the 50% rule has demonstrably not worked in creating diverse schools. It is ironic that the only faith provider the cap has affected is the Catholic Church, and it does so specifically because Catholic schools are popular with families of all faiths and none.

The bishops simply want any new Catholic schools to be allowed to accommodate all the Catholic pupils who apply. For more than 150 years the Church has been able to do this, but organisations like Humanists UK want to strip parents of this right.  

Returning to their opinions on Canon Law, I give this short rebuttal.  

a) the vast majority of Catholic private schools in England do not select all their places with reference to religion;

  • This is due to the fact that Catholic private schools are not oversubscribed in the way other Catholic schools are. It is without doubt that if private Catholic schools had sufficient Catholic families willing to pay for education, they would be prioritised, and certainly not turned away.

b) many Catholic state schools in Scotland do not religiously select their pupils

  • Again, there has not been the demand. However, due to the the increasing popularity of Catholic schools in Scotland, many are now implementing faith admissions.

c) a recent OECD survey identified only the UK, Ireland, Israel and Estonia as countries that permit religious discrimination in state school admissions;

  • Many Catholic schools overseas are missionary and do not operate in the same way as the UK. They often, charitably, provide education to those who would not normally be able to access free education. It is also worth pointing out, the Church saves the British taxpayer tens of millions of pounds each year through the management of land and buildings. The Catholic community also raises a significant amount of money to support its schools, saving central government funds, which seem ever more scarce in education. Therefore it is only fair that Catholic students get priority. 

d) there are already Catholic state schools in England that do not select all their places on religion;

  • Some areas have an abundance of Catholic schools places and can easily meet the local Catholic need. If a school in this position wanted to allocate places to children of other faiths it is more than entitled to do so. Crucially however, this is the local bishop’s decision to make. An arbitrary, state imposed cap contravenes the bishop's canonical right to have this total autonomy. 

e) the Catholic International Education Office – of which the CES is a member – states that a ‘Catholic school is an inclusive school, founded in intercultural and interreligious dialogue. A non-discriminatory school, open to all… It must constantly promote intercultural and interreligious dialogue’.

  • English Catholic schools are inclusive. They are the most ethnically diverse schools in the Country and educate significantly more pupils from the poorest households than the national average. What secularist campaigners often forget (or possibly try to ignore) is that despite their mantra that religion is on the way out, the Catholic Church is the largest religious organisation the world with a presence in every country on earth and a following encompassing a sixth of the planet. Therefore the mission of Catholic schools around the world are going to be completely different. Some are there to educate the world's poorest free of charge others are designed to bring different communities together. Arguing that a Catholic should be allowed to attend a Catholic school does not make English Catholic schools discriminatory. 

Catholic schools are popular and in demand by parents. Whether it is ethos, mission, pastoral care, results, or a combination of all these. There is a plan to open 35-40 Catholic free schools in areas of need.

Unless the policy changes, Catholic schools could have to turn away Catholic students. This is not a compromise that the Catholic community wants to make - many of our schools were built by the hands, and out of the pockets of the Catholic community. They have served the UK education system well over the last 150 years. We have a unique history of Christianity and education in the UK and want to continue our positive relationship between Church and state.

What can you do?

Write to your MP requesting the 50% cap is lifted, as promised in the manifesto - do so via <here>
Invite you MP into school - see <here>
Sign this petition - <here>

Image courtesy of Laicismo

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