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Lifting the 50% cap on faith schools

Students sing in choir at faith school

In 2010 the Coalition Government introduced a 50% cap on faith-based admissions applying to oversubscribed free schools with a religious character in England. An announcement by Theresa May in early September 2017, made it look as if the government was set to lift the 50% admissions cap on new religious Free Schools, but at the current time, the cap is still in place.

The Proposed Changes to faith-based admissions

At present, the current position is that any new religious Free School must limit the number of pupils selected on the basis of their faith to 50% of their intake. The cap is incompatible with canon law and, therefore, made the opening of new Catholic Free Schools impossible. It has, therefore, discouraged the Catholic church and other religious organisations from creating new Free Schools. Were the cap to be lifted, religious organisations would be able to set up religious Free Schools with an intake based on a 100% faith selection criteria.

Support for the proposed changes

Over the summer of 2023, the Catholic Union worked to promote this cause which has, as Sir Edward Leigh MP commented, been a source of “huge frustration” to Catholics and other religious groups alike. In September of this year, Sir Edward Leigh MP and James Somerville-Meikle (Deputy Director of the Catholic Union) presented a letter to Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, listing over 1,000 signatures requesting that the cap on faith-based admissions to new Free Schools be lifted. The list includes signatures from Ruth Kelly (the former Education Secretary) and Bishop Marcus Stock (the chairman of the Catholic Education Service).

The conviction that there is a need for the change remains strong within the Catholic community. Commenting recently, Paul Barber of the CES added “The need for more schools for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and alternative provision is particularly acute – this is also affected by the admissions cap.”

Gillian Keegan has indicated that she will “see what she can do” about the issue.

How to set up a Free School

The process for setting up a new Free School involves a detailed application to the DfE and involvement from a team of people encompassing a broad range of skills. Applications for Free Schools are usually submitted during “Wave Application Rounds”. The last round closed on 30 November 2022 with the next round of applications being Wave 16. The current wave of schools being built are all special schools, highlighting the significant under provision in this area and the growing need within the community.

For further information, please speak to a member of our Academy Conversions and Schools Projects team on 0345-070-4450 or send an email to

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