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Diocese leads the way with plan to open new free schools

The Catholic Diocese of East Anglia is to be among the first to open new Catholic schools after the proposed removal of the 50% faith admissions cap, with plans for up to eight in the pipeline.

East Anglia has some of the most severe shortage of places in Catholic schools in the country due to the demographic changes that have taken place in the region over the past decade.

Since Prime Minister Theresa May announced the proposed removal of the 50% cap on faith admissions, the Diocese has been progressing with a number of bids. Should the policy be lifted after the Government's consultation on the issue closed on December 12, the Diocese is in a position to act straight away to move towards the opening of new schools.

The areas of East Anglia where the new schools are being proposed are those with some of the highest need for places and where possible sites for the schools have already been identified.

In Cambridgeshire, the Diocese wants to establish a high school and a primary school in West Cambourne and another primary in the Cherry Hinton area. The Diocese also wants to establish a new primary school in Peterborough.

A new Catholic primary school is also being proposed in Thetford within the significant new housing development planned to the north of the town, whilst two primaries and possible sixth form provision are hoped for in Norwich. In addition, the Sacred Heart Convent School in Swaffham is also considering proposals for a new free school as well as possible expansion plans.

Assistant Director for the Schools Commission for the Diocese of East Anglia, Helen Bates, 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 here in East Anglia.

"For the Catholic Church, 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."

Brian Conway, Chief Executive Officer of the St John the Baptist Catholic Multi-Academy Trust, which currently covers six primaries and a high school in Norfolk and north Suffolk, said: "The possibility of new Catholic schools is hugely exciting. Catholic schools have a long history of providing a successful education to widely diverse pupil populations. For example, our current primary school in Norwich, St Francis of Assisi, has more than 40% of its pupils whose first language is not English.

"We also have a real need for Catholic primary school places in north Norwich and this is growing as large housing developments in places like Sprowston and Rackheath are planned. A school in north Norwich could serve a Catholic need from this housing as well as an existing need across north Norfolk where there are no Catholic schools. We are also considering the possibility of new sixth form provision in central Norwich, which could be linked to extra 11-16 places at Notre Dame High School."

Director of the Catholic Education Service, Paul Barber, said: "This is fantastic news from the Diocese of East Anglia and we warmly welcome their announcement. Up and down the country we are seeing pockets of high demand for Catholic education and if the cap is lifted we will be able to answer that call. Catholic schools are the most ethnically diverse in the country and consistently outperform the national average when it comes to KS2 and KS4 results. We are excited at this opportunity to give more children an outstanding Catholic education."

Parents can register their interest in any of the new schools at

Pictured above are students at Notre Dame High School Sixth Form in Norwich.