Here in Ireland, there is a strong campaign against faith schools. Their ethos is under attack for not being ‘inclusive’ enough, as is their admissions policy. Meanwhile, the British Government has just heaped praise on Catholic schools and said more are to be built in order to meet public demand. The contrast with the situation here could hardly be stronger. When is the last time a senior politician here said anything good about faith schools?
The British Government unveiled a major new education policy last week and faith schools were affected in two related ways. To begin with, the Government of Theresa May reversed a 2010 policy, introduced at the behest of the Liberal Democrats, that required oversubscribed faith schools built after 2010 to set aside 50 percent of places for children not of the faith of the school.
This policy discouraged the Catholic Church from applying for State funds for any more schools. Catholic schools in Britain are regularly over-subscribed. What would be the point of building a new one if 50 percent of places would have to be set aside for non-Catholics resulting in many Catholics being turned away from Catholic schools?
Theresa May has now described the 2010 policy as a failure. It was mainly aimed at schools of minority faiths like Islam and Hinduism, but very few parents not of those faiths were interested in sending their children to those schools when places are available.
On the other hand, many otherwise secular Britons are very keen to get their children into Christian schools, apart from the Christian parents themselves.
As British Education Secretary, Justine Greening said last week of Catholic schools, they are “more successful, more popular and more ethnically diverse than other types of state school.”
Needless to say, hardline secularists don’t like faith schools. Still less do they like them receiving State-funding. A third of publicly-funded primary schools in England are faith schools.
But these secularists must face down the army of parents who between them send almost one million children to Catholic primary and secondary schools each year and explain to them why they want to effectively abolish their right to send their children to such schools by effectively putting them out of their financial reach by making them privately-funded only. Good luck with that.