Cabinet reshuffle: Why Justine Greening's departure could be good news for faith schools

Justine Greening's departure as education secretary and Damian Hinds' appointment could represent a significant shift for faith schools in the UK, particularly Catholic schools.

Greening clashed repeatedly with religious groups, telling the Church of England it should 'keep up with modern attitudes' by allowing gay marriage and introducing plans for sex and relationships education that one former bishop described as 'unnecessary and coercive'.

ReutersFormer education secretary Justine Greening chose to quit the government rather than take a job as work and pensions secretary

But in her role as education secretary, Greening was particularly at odds with Catholic bishops in the UK over her personal objection to removing the cap on new faith schools' admissions.

While it was her 'patronising' tone that irritated the Prime Minister, according to briefings in the weekend's papers, Greening's own ideological objection to both faith schools and grammar schools – two key aspects to Theresa May's education agenda – meant her tenure was always going to be short-lived.

Despite a manifesto commitment to remove the 50 per cent cap on free schools admitting pupils on the basis of religion, Christian Today reported last year that under Greening officials were 'laying the groundwork for a U-turn'.

One source in Parliament told Christian Today that Greening was 'throwing her weight around' and using the Prime Minister's apparent weakness to force her to renege on a manifesto promise Greening was ideologically opposed to.

It was understood that both officials in the Department for Education and the Prime Minister herself wanted to remove the cap that means 50 per cent of places at new faith schools must be given irrespective of faith. However it was Greening's personal objection that stopped the plans going ahead and therefore stopped the building of new Catholic schools in particular.

While humanist campaigners say the current restrictions prevent discrimination and promote diversity by forcing all new faith schools to award half of places regardless of faith, the Catholic Education Service – a branch of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales – says it effectively means Catholic pupils are turned away from Catholic schools simply because they are Catholic.

Catholic bishops launched a petition in response to the threats of a U-turn which attracted 17,000 signatories – the most popular petition launched by the British Catholic Church in recent memory. 

Refusing a Catholic pupil a school place on the basis of their faith breaks the Church's canon law and so no new Catholic schools have been opened since the cap came into force under the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government.

After the Conservatives won the 2017 election a number of Catholic dioceses invested thousands of pounds in plans for new schools on the basis of the manifesto promise but these have been on pause as the threat of a U-turn has grown.

Now Greening is one of the few victims in a largely unremarkable reshuffle.

Conservative HomeDamian Hinds has been appointed as education secretary.

The appointment of Damian Hinds as education secretary could mean new hope for the Catholic Education Service.

He called for the government to scrap the 50 per cent faith cap back in 2014 under David Cameron's premiership and said while the policy was 'well intentioned', it 'precludes the creation of Catholic free schools, because the Catholic Church feels unable to support, with all the implications of commitment that that brings'.

The National Secular Society responded to his promotion by saying: 'This appointment could be bad news for inclusive education and social cohesion.'

Christian Today approached the Catholic Education Service for comment on the new education secretary but was told they wouldn't comment until they had had private meetings with him first.