A potentially landmark high court case begins today, which could halt what campaigners call the “back-door” spread of new state religious schools through England, approved by councils without residents being given a choice of alternative.

The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has launched the action with a local campaign group, is applying for judicial review of the decision by a London council, Richmond, to hand £10m of land and assets to the Catholic church to set up two new voluntary-aided religious schools, one primary and one secondary.

The case will hinge on a relatively narrow piece of legislation, an amendment to the Education Act passed last year, which compels councils looking to set up a new school to also seek proposals for a free school, with the competing bids decided on by the Department for Education. But the BHA says it highlights a wider issue of councils too often waving through state-funded faith schools, with the last five years seeing two-thirds of them set up without any alternatives being offered.

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