What types of faith schools are there?

Around a third of state funded schools and a significant number of private schools are faith schools. These schools offer an education and school ethos based on one particular religion. Church of England and Catholic Schools are the most common but there are also other Christian schools and Islamic, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh schools. Faith schools can decide what to teach in religious studies, have religious representatives on their boards of governors and take faith into account when appointing staff. 

There are lots of reasons that parents might prefer a faith school for their child. If you are considering a faith school for your child or if your local school is a faith school and you would like to know more about what this means for your child’s education, here is some information that we hope will be helpful.  

What are the different types of faith schools?

There are several different types of faith schools:

  • Voluntary Controlled or Voluntary Aided faith Schools - These are funded by the state. Additional funding is sometimes provided by the associated place of worship in support of religious practices at the school. In some cases the school site and buildings are owned by the religious organisation.  These schools have to follow the National Curriculum but have control over the content of their religious studies education. 
  • Faith Academies and Free Schools - These schools are state funded but are run by religious organisations. They don’t have to follow the National Curriculum and can decide for themselves what to teach for religious studies. All state funded schools are being encouraged to become academies. 
  • Independent / Private faith Schools - Parents pay fees for these schools which are often run by religious organisations. Independent faith schools can decide which pupils to admit the curriculum that they teach and the content of their religious studies teaching. Most Independent faith schools are based on a faith but admit students from other or no faiths. 

In Northern Ireland most state funded schooling is either in Controlled (Protestant) schools or Maintained (Catholic) schools. There are also a small number of Integrated schools, which educate pupils of all faiths alongside one another and try to promote understanding amongst different communities. 

Christian schools 

Most faith based schools in the UK are Christian schools, mainly Church of England (Anglican) or Roman Catholic. There are also some other Protestant, Methodist and Quaker schools. Many church schools will be linked to a local church. Some even have their own church or chapels onsite. 

Islamic schools

There are a small number of state funded Islamic schools. The first one was opened in 1998 and 12 new ones opened between 2007 and 2017. There are also some independent Islamic schools, including several larger ones in London. Fees at some independent Islamic schools are considerably lower than most independent school fees. 

Jewish schools

There have been Jewish state schools since the start of the modern school system. 12 new schools opened between 2007 and 2017. There are also some independent Jewish schools, mainly in larger cities. Jewish schools are often attached to their local Synagogue. As well as expecting pupils to take part in religious services Jewish schools often teach Hebrew as an additional subject to prepare pupils for taking part in religious celebrations. 

Schools of other faiths

There are also some Hindu schools, the first of which opened in 1999 and Sikh schools, the first of which opened in 2008, as well as independent schools of these and other faiths. 

How many faith schools are there?

Government figures from 2019 show that there were 6,802 state funded faith schools then. The majority, 6,179 are primary schools, making up 37% of state funded primaries. There were 623 secondary faith schools making up 18% of all state funded secondaries. 

Church of England schools were the most common at primary level (26% of all primaries) with Roman Catholic schools being the most popular at secondary level (9% of the total). Non Christian faith schools made up less than 1% of all state funded schools, although their numbers are slowly increasing. The introduction of free schools and academies has led to an increase in the number of state funded faith schools over the past twenty years. 

How do faith schools differ from non faith schools?

As well as having control over the content of their religious studies education, faith schools can prioritise the admission of students of their faith if the school is oversubscribed. Some of the governing body will usually be made up of members of the faith organisation. Faith schools can also look for applicants who share their faith and values when appointing staff. 

How does the admissions processes differ for faith schools?

State funded faith schools often have different admissions criteria to non faith schools. The criteria is set and sometimes administered by the school itself, not the local authority. Faith schools are allowed to give higher priority to students who are members of the school’s religion, but only if the school is oversubscribed. As many faith schools often have good academic reputations many tend to be oversubscribed. In this case priority will usually be given to children who have been baptised into the religion and whose families regularly attend a particular place of worship. 

If you are applying for a place for your child on the basis of their faith, you will often have to provide some proof of their or your religious affiliations, such as proof of baptism or a letter from a religious leader certifying your attendance at a particular place of worship. Some faith schools require parents to apply directly to the school using a Supplementary Information Form, as well as applying through the local authority admissions system. 

As admissions policies can vary from school to school it is worth checking with the school directly if you are unsure. 

Independent Faith Schools are in control of their own admissions policies. 

Do you have to be religious for your child to go to a faith school?

No, anyone can apply to any state funded school and if there are places available they must be given a place. In some faith schools, the majority of their students are from that faith. Other faith schools have a much wider intake, sometimes with more students from outside the faith than within it. 

Your child will not be expected to change faith or adopt a faith to go to a faith school, although they will be expected to respect the school faith and principles. Most faith schools will expect students to attend religious assemblies and services and celebrate relgious holidays. 

What do faith schools teach in Religious Studies?

Many faith schools will mainly teach their own religion. Others will teach a broader range of religions and their religious education will be similar to that of a non faith school. Some faith schools make efforts to teach their students about other faiths and have links with schools and organisations of different faiths. 

Some secondary faith schools will stipulate that their pupils take a GCSE in Religious Studies. This is usually optional in most non faith schools. 

In addition to Religious Studies pupils in faith schools might take part in specific religious practices during the school day. What this involves will vary a lot between schools. They will also celebrate the religious holidays of their faith. 

Are faith schools inspected by Ofsted?

State faith schools are inspected in the same way as non faith schools, although Ofsted won’t usually comment directly on the content of Religious Studies lessons or on  religious worship in the school. Ofsted can however attend these lessons and services and comment on their contribution to the wider life, ethos and culture of the school.

Faith schools will also usually be inspected by the religious body associated with them. These inspections concentrate on the faith aspects of the school, the religious studies teaching, daily worship and the ethos of the school. 

Some independent faith schools are inspected by Ofsted, others by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. 

Why do parents choose faith schools?

Clearly, parents choose faith schools for a wide variety of reasons. Some parents feel very strongly that it is important that their child is educated in a religious school. Others are attracted by the academic reputation of faith schools, which for a variety of reasons, on average are academically stronger than non faith schools. Many parents feel that the academic reputation of a school is most important to them and and choose a faith school for this reason. 

In some cases parents want their child to go to their closest school, independently of whether it is a faith school or not. An Ofsted parents survey in 2021 showed that 94% of parents don’t consider faith to be an important factor when choosing a school. 

Arguments for faith schools

Faith schools give religious parents the choice to have their child educated within their faith, in a school that shares their values. The government believes that faith schools increase parental choice and provide a positive ethos for children. 

Faith schools also attain better academic results on average than non faith schools and this is often used as an argument in support of faith schools. However these differences may be as a result of the pupil intake rather than the faith nature of the school. 

Arguments against faith schools 

Some critics of faith schools argue that faith schools can be unfair as all children don’t have equal access to popular oversubscribed faith schools. Faith schools have been shown to have a lower proportion of pupils on free school meals and with special educational needs. 

Organisations such as the National Secular Society and Humanists UK argue that faith schools can increase unfairness in access to education and undermine community cohesion. 

Further information for parents

Explore the rest of the School Guide website for lots more information and advice including: