Swaffham school in Catholic education expansion proposal

Sacred Heart School
Sacred Heart School

A Swaffham school could expand, or even open a brand new site, if plans to abolish the cap on faith-based admissions are implemented.

New schools that are set up outside local authority control, which are known as free schools, are only allowed to admit a maximum of 50 per cent of pupils on religious grounds.

But the government is considering scrapping the rule and Catholic church officials say Swaffham is one area of potential expansion.

The town’s Sacred Heart School, in Mangate Street, is considering expansion options including establishing a new free school.

The area is one of eight to have been identified for new schools by the Catholic Diocese of East Anglia if the admissions cap is lifted.

Helen Bates, assistant director for the diocese’s schools commission, said: “It is a very exciting time and we are really looking forward to opening new schools which are desperately needed to meet the demand we already have.

“The cap has meant it has been unable to open any new Catholic schools in case it results in Catholic children being turned away from a Catholic school.

“In East Anglia we have some of the most severe shortages of places, which is why we want to bid for so many new schools.”

But the proposal has proved controversial, with some campaigners arguing that such schools are discriminatory and divisive.

Groups like the National Secular Society (NSS) say schools should be obliged to cater for all children, regardless of whether they adhere to any religion or none.

NSS campaigns director Stephen Evans said: “Ministers should consider making religious involvement in publicly funded education conditional on the schools they run being non-discriminatory.

“A further expansion of religiously selective faith schools is the antithesis of inclusive education.

“Whilst these proposals may create extra capacity in the schools system, they will do so by sacrificing equality and social cohesion.”

But Catholic education bosses claim their schools are the most ethnically diverse in Britain and produce above average exam performances at both primary and secondary levels.

Applications to set up new schools have to be submitted to the Department for Education by the end of March. A new school is unlikely to open before the autumn of 2019.