More religious groups apply to open free schools in England

13 November, 2018

The government has published a list of the latest wave of ‘free schools’ applying to open in England – and 33 of them are faith schools.

Of the 124 schools which have applied to open, 33 (or 27%) have a designated religious character or a ‘religious ethos’. They include Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu schools.

Humanists UK, which campaigns for an inclusive, secular education system with no religious schools, is concerned that the opening of more schools with a religious character will lead to more religious segregation and discrimination.

The list of free school proposals is published by the Department for Education following on from a successful Information Tribunal case taken five years ago by Humanists UK, is expected to announce early next year which of the schools have been successful.

Free schools are independent state-funded schools which are not controlled by their local authority, meaning they have greater control over how they operate. However, they must limit the number of places they allocate on the basis of religion to 50%.

Humanists UK’s new president, Alice Roberts, spoke to The Sunday Times about religious schools last week, saying it was unfair that church-going parents get an advantage over others.

Humanists UK also has long standing concerns about the curriculum taught at many such schools. This includes the way these schools are permitted to deliver religious education, the teaching of science, and issues relating to relationships and sex education, including with respect to LGBT pupils and families and with respect to abortion and contraception.  

Commenting on the latest wave of free school applications, Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham said:

‘Increasing the number of faith schools in the UK will only lead to more segregation and more discrimination at a time when we need to ensure that students from different backgrounds and communities are coming together.

‘Although free schools may only prioritise 50% of their pupils on religious grounds, there is a raft of evidence that shows that religious selection is detrimental both to pupils and society at large. The Department for Education should take a stand and prioritise secular, inclusive classrooms over religious ones.


For more information, contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read the latest free school proposals:

Read our news item on last year’s free schools list:

Read more about our campaigning work on publishing the free schools list:

For more information about our faith schools campaign work, visit

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.