First ever Catholic school opens which does not fully religiously discriminate in admissions… but gays are ‘not encouraged’ to apply
The first ever Catholic state school in England or Wales which cannot select up to 100% of its pupils on the basis of their faith, if oversubscribed, has opened Sunday. St Michael’s Catholic Secondary School in Camborne is a Free School, and therefore is not allowed to select more than 50% of its intake with reference to faith. However, this positive development has been blighted by one of their governors stating in the press last week that ‘Gays would be welcome to this school, but we would not encourage it.’ The British Humanist Association (BHA) believes this statement to be unlawful, and has expressed concern for the welfare of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pupils starting at the school.
There are over 2,000 state funded Catholic schools in England and Wales, and until today, every single one of them has been a Voluntary Aided school, an Academy or a Foundation school, which means they can religiously select all their pupils if oversubscribed. Canon law states that Catholic schools are for Catholic children, and the BHA has previously been unaware of any Catholic state school which did not discriminate in this way.
As a result of this position on admissions, the Catholic Education Service (CES) has opposed participation in the Free School programme, where religious discrimination is limited to 50% of places. St Michael’s, the first Catholic Free School, has therefore become the first Catholic school to not be able to fully discriminate.
However, at the same time, a governor of the school was quoted in the press last week saying that LGBT people would not be encouraged to apply to the school. Responding to comments from a homophobic grandparent of a former pupil, governor Joyce Sanderson said that: ‘Gays would be welcome to this school, but we would not encourage it. We want to know they (children) are happy to follow our teaching and that’s crucial. We do not wish to make children unhappy and refer to their home circumstances.’
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We would like to welcome the positive development of a state funded Catholic school not fully religiously discriminating in admissions, but unfortunately St Michael’s is off to an awful start. Mrs Sanderson’s statement likely breaks the Equality Act, which prevents discrimination in school admissions on the basis of sexual orientation and has a general requirement for schools to advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between LGBT people and others.
‘We would be seriously concerned about the welfare of LGBT pupils at this school, or LGBT parents whose children go there, and will be contacting the Government to raise our concerns.’