Faith schools are a force for social inclusion and community cohesion, said the former Education Secretary

Rather than being the problem, “faith schools might be part of the solution in terms of promoting integration and countering extremism,” former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said this week.

In an opinion piece in the Irish Catholic Ms Kelly addressed the arguments against faith schools, and also looked at why faith schools are required to accept pupils of other faiths and none.

With Ms Kelly’s successor Alan Johnson in 2006 the Education Secretary changed from a member of Opus Dei to “an avowed secularist”. Johnson was the first to attempt to introduce the admissions requirement, but his proposal of 25 per cent from other faiths was quickly blocked by Catholic MPs.

It was Michael Gove who brought in the policy, not for 25 per cent but 50 per cent of pupils. He had previously written a book following the London bombings of 2005, “warning that the West was engaged in an existential battle with Islam and arguing that many of the bodies the Government was engaging with were undemocratic and dangerous”. The admissions policy was intended to curb extremist Muslim influence in schools, but instead had a major effect on Catholic and other faith schools.

Ms Kelly said that opponents of faith schools have three arguments: that they are socially divisive and create inequality, that they undermine community cohesion and that they are potentially dangerous giving rise to extremism.

“Far from promoting social division, the evidence suggests that Catholic schools are a force for social inclusion, a force for community cohesion,” she said. As for the risk of Muslim faith schools promoting radicalism, the schools where “dirty tricks were being used to oust non-Muslim staff”, she said, were all state schools, not faith schools.