Britain is a 'Christian country', says Education Secretary Damian Hinds - but faith schools cap is staying

Reuters

Education Secretary Damian Hinds has defended schools with a religious character but says he has no plans to lift a controversial cap on faith-based free school admissions.

The Government angered the Catholic Church last year when it went back on its election manifesto pledge to lift the 50 per cent cap.   The rule only applies to new faith-based free schools that are over-subscribed. 

Hinds came in for particular criticism as he had been a supporter of the campaign to drop the cap before becoming Education Secretary and had been expected to push it through. 

In an interview with ConservativeHome, though, Hinds said the cap was important to community integration. 

'There are good community integration reasons why the cap is as it is,' he said.

Hinds suggested that if faith groups did not like the the cap, they could instead open voluntary-aided schools where the governing body is allowed to set the admissions criteria. 

'We've got a 50 per cent cap on faith-based admissions for new free schools. But they can now – and others can as well – open new voluntary aided schools,' he said. 

Pressed on why he was retaining the admissions cap on faith-based free schools, he said: 'There are good reasons for wanting to be able to ensure diversity in school provision. But the voluntary aided school route has always been there.

'The process for application is different from that for a free school, it has to have the backing of the local authority, but it's been around since 1944 and has worked well.' 

Asked whether it would be a 'worry' for a school to have its entire student population subscribing to only one faith, Hinds said that what was important was that the major religions are able to open a faith school. 

'There are purely Muslim schools, there are Jewish schools, there are Catholic schools, there are Anglican schools and they all play an important role,' he said.

'The key thing is that there is no significant religion in this country that wants to be able to open faith schools and can't.' 

He added that the Government wanted to ensure that there were 'multiple ways' to open faith schools but that the capped faith-based free schools was one way 'to make sure that we have full integration of communities'. 

Asked elsewhere about the importance of Christianity in politics, Hinds said that Judaeo-Christian values were still at the heart of British institutions and that he still regarded Britain as a Christian country. 

'Look, this is a Christian country. I mean these days it is a multicultural country as well, and there are many different faiths represented, and vast numbers of people who have no religious faith,' he said.

'But it still has, at the core of its institutions, traditions which are rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition.'

Hinds recently addressed a major Church of England education conference in which he outlined his vision for schools to build character in children in addition to teaching academic subjects. 

He said he wanted children to have access to at least one non-academic activity, such as volunteering, hiking, or learning to play a musical instrument. 

He told ConservativeHome he didn't think it was possible to build character in children 'without some ethical input'. 

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