Faith schools play an important role in our education system and I firmly support them. All parents can express a preference for a place at any state-funded school, including faith schools, with a minimum of three preferences in rank order. Where a school receives more applications than it has places available, those places must be allocated in accordance with its published admission arrangements. In 2014, 86.5% of parents secured a place at their first-preference school.
I welcome that response, but parents with youngsters who happen to live in Clitheroe and want to send them to a Catholic school have to pass a non-faith-based comprehensive on the way. Therefore, the local authority will not give them any assistance whatever with school transport. This is a hideous form of discrimination that ends up giving parents a huge bill at the end of the year, particularly those with two or three youngsters. What can be done to make the choice more effective without clobbering parents?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I understand the points he has made. Although local authorities must have regard to parents’ wishes to have their children educated in a school based on religion or belief, there is no statutory duty to require them to provide free transport to that school; rather, they must provide free transport for pupils to attend the nearest suitable school beyond the statutory walking distance. “Suitable” in this context means providing education appropriate to age and, where relevant, any special educational needs a child may have. I understand the frustrations of many parents and will perhaps look at this again.
I was late for the start of questions because I was attending the opening day of the Sikh faith school in Leicester. May I thank the Minister for all the support that she and Lord Nash, the Minister in the other place have given to the school, and may I ask her to come and visit it as soon as possible?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much indeed. In fact, news of his tour to the school had already reached me, and I am delighted to see him in his place. I look forward to visiting the school very much and I am absolutely delighted to wish it all the very best for its successful opening and its continued success in the terms ahead.