The Tories will regret backtracking on faith schools

11 May 2018 12:13 PM

The archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon, got it right: the Government has broken its manifesto promise on church schools – can we just drop the “faith schools” bit? As he said trenchantly:

“In their general election manifesto the Conservative Party made a commitment to the Catholic community that the unfair rule effectively stopping the opening of new Catholic free schools would be lifted. Today the Government has broken this promise, dropped the pledge they made to our country’s six million Catholics and ignored the tens of thousands of Catholics who campaigned on this issue.”

That’s telling ‘em.

It doesn’t help either, that the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds was so weaselly about the Government’s bad faith. It took about four tries in his BBC interview this morning to get him actually to admit that, yes, “we reflected long and hard on these difficult issues…we have concluded that it right that we continue to have that cap.” But he hastened to add that local authorities could still establish voluntary aided schools which didn’t have a cap on the number of Catholics or whoever could attend – and thank you very much for that, mate; they’re allowed to do that already.

So who can we thank for the U-turn, given that it was a concession to the Tory liberals who made clear that they wouldn’t approve of lifting the cap? Does Justine Greening, formerly the worst ever education secretary, really have that much influence? Who were the others? And what’s the betting that they send their own children to selective private schools, usually Anglican foundations, or attended them themselves? The lesson for the rest of us is plain: party manifestos are airy expressions of identity, a kind of elevated virtue signalling, not actual promise to do something when in office. But there is a price: it’s awfully hard to take anyone seriously who not only breaks their promise, but doesn’t actually say sorry for it. Damian Hinds, who attended a Catholic school himself, should have a better-developed moral sense.

But it’s worth examining the reasons for this cap on free schools admitting more than 50 per cent of its intake on the basis of religion in the first place; it was meant to ensure integration and common values in communities. And who’s failing to integrate then? There is a CofE school a stone’s throw from my office which David Cameron’s children attended; frankly, St Mary Abbots is not an impediment to community integration on the part of its pupils; its record for religious extremism is minimal; it has produced, so far as I know, next to no pupils who could be described as dangerous fundamentalists; and has pupils of different races. What’s not to like?

We need to refer, I think, to the excellent Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, (who happens to be a friend of mine) on this. She has expressed concerns about integration on the part of “faith” schools, but does not say that the problem is with Catholic ones or CofE ones. The issue is with a very small number of Orthodox Jewish schools, and with Muslim ones. So, because Muslim schools are a problem in terms of what and how they teach, gender segregation and the nature of their intake (how many Tory MPs would be kicking down the doors to get their own children into them?), Catholics are barred from setting up Catholic schools – or are required to discriminate against churchgoers in order to ensure that half their intake are non-religious.

God, it’s rubbish.