Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, indicates he may send his children to a leading Roman Catholic secondary school, despite having declared himself an atheist.
Mr Clegg, who has spoken of his opposition to faith schools, is understood to have toured the London Oratory, the state school to which Tony Blair sent his sons.
The Oratory is one of the most sought-after schools in the country and Mr Clegg is considering sending his three sons there even though there are several secondaries, including a Catholic one, closer to his home in Putney, south west London.
He dismissed claims that his atheism was an issue, pointing out that his wife, Miriam, and her family are Catholic.
“I’ve never made my kids an issue in politics,” he said. “My kids are more precious to me than anything else in the world and the fact [is] that my wife is Catholic, I married in the Catholic church and my children have been brought up by Catholics and go to a Catholic state primary school.
“It therefore shouldn’t be entirely surprising that maybe, maybe just maybe, my wife might consider, we might consider as parents sending our children on to a state-funded Catholic secondary school.”
It is believed that the Cleggs are overlooking John Paul II School which is closer to their home while the Oratory is three miles away. John Paul II is ranked as “satisfactory” by Ofsted, but the Oratory is labelled “outstanding” and sends more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than almost any other state school.
The Liberal Democrats have voiced strong opposition to schools that select by faith.
In 2009, they approved a policy of “stopping the establishment of new schools which select by ability, aptitude or faith”. They followed this in last year’s election manifesto by saying it would require faith schools to develop an “inclusive admissions policy”.
Greg Hands, the Tory MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, backed Mr Clegg. He wrote on Twitter: “The London Oratory in my constituency is a brilliant place, academic and cultural.”
At a lunch event Mr Clegg also came close to admitting that the Coalition’s handling of tuition fee rises risked discouraging children from going to university because of debt concerns. He said it would be “a great tragedy” if those who “might benefit” from university decided not to go.
He added that the “anger and fury” about the £9,000 maximum fees had badly affected “our ability to explain to people that this is an engine for social mobility”.