Faith school designation reforms

Closes 20 Jun 2024


High quality multi-academy trusts are key to driving education standards for pupils, teachers and leaders. The best trusts enable the most effective leaders to support a greater number of schools and deliver school improvement, by directing resources to where they are needed the most. This underpins our focus on continuing to improve standards in schools, providing the best education for children, including for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and with special educational needs. 

This Government has significantly reformed the school system. As of 1 April, 50% of state-funded schools are academies (including free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools). This means there are 10,839 academies today, compared to 203 in 2010.

The free schools programme remains an important part of the Government’s plan to improve educational standards and respond where there is need for more school places. The programme has delivered hundreds of new schools and provided thousands of good school places across the country. Secondary free schools are amongst the highest performing state-funded schools in the country, providing a world class education to their students. 

As we continue to move towards our ambition of all schools being part of strong multi-academy trusts, we need to ensure that we are making the best and full use of the talents of all of our highest quality academy trust providers.

The Church of England, the Catholic Church and other faith school providers are established and long-term partners with the state and have a track record in delivering high quality education in their schools. They, alongside minority faith schools, form a key part of our diverse school system, making up a third of all schools in England. They are more likely to be judged ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. In addition, overall key Stage 2 test results show that a higher proportion of pupils in faith schools achieve the expected standard compared to non-faith schools. GCSE results for pupils in faith schools are also higher than the national average and higher than in non-faith schools, and the average Progress 8 of pupils in faith schools is greater than the national average and the average for non-faith schools. Their providers, including the Churches, are among the largest providers of academy trusts. Many faith schools are very popular with parents. Faith secondary schools are more likely to receive a higher proportion of first preference applications compared to first or total places offered than non-faith secondary schools.

The Government want to create more good school places across the country. To do this, we need to ensure that all of our highest quality school providers, including faith school providers, feel supported in opening new schools. Unfortunately, this is not currently the case. Some of our current policies, such as the 50% faith admissions cap for free schools, act as barriers to faith school providers from opening new schools. We  want to remove these barriers and ensure that in the future we are not preventing any faith groups from providing new high quality schools.

At the moment, the Government currently requires admission authorities for a mainstream free school designated with a religious character to allocate at least 50% of its available places without reference to faith-based admission criteria, when oversubscribed, to foster inclusivity. However, the evidence suggests that this 50% faith admissions cap does not achieve inclusivity and means some high quality faith school providers, such as the Catholic Church and its dioceses, are less likely to establish new free schools due to the 50% cap. By removing the 50% cap, we want to increase the number of good school places, including at new faith schools where there is demand from communities, and deliver real diversity within free schools by ensuring parents have real choice over where they send their child to school.

Among the many children educated in faith schools, there are those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Faith schools have a long and positive history of providing education and support to these children. There are 241 faith schools in England providing specialist units such as resourced provisions, which provide high quality education and support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. In addition, a number of faith providers have experience of delivering dedicated special schools in the independent sector, and through the provision of non-maintained special schools with a faith ethos and special academies with a faith ethos. We recognise that there is a need for additional places in specialist provision, and we want to ensure that all faith groups feel able to open special academies and provide high quality places for pupils with complex special educational needs and disabilities, who would be admitted on the basis of their need, not their faith.

The proposals in this document would help to ensure that we can meet the needs of children and the demands of parents for high quality school places by ensuring that high quality providers can respond to demand for places at their schools.

Education policy is devolved, and these proposals apply to England only.