A third of new free school proposals are for faith schools

12 January, 2023

The UK Government has published a list of applications to open new schools under its latest wave of funding for free schools in England. A third of these proposals are for faith schools. Humanists UK, which campaigns for a fully inclusive school system for all children regardless of background, is worried that the proposed increase in religious schools will result in more discrimination, segregation, and indoctrination.

Of the 45 schools hoping to secure Government funding in Wave 15 of the free school programme, 15 (33%) have a religious character or ethos. 11 of these are Christian, two are Hindu, and two are Muslim.

Free schools are independent state-funded schools which are not controlled by their local authority. This means they have greater control over how they operate, including the content of the curriculum. When they have a religious character, free schools can teach religious education (RE) in a biased manner. Such schools can also select pupils by faith, but must limit the number of places they allocate on the basis of religion to 50%.

One of the most concerning proposals is for the OneSchool Global Academy in Plymouth. If it is allowed to open, this school will be affiliated with the Plymouth Brethren Church. The Brethren are a separatist Christian sect with very conservative views, including on homosexuality and women. Brethren schools do not teach broad RE, instead only offering Bible Studies. They have also been found to teach young-Earth creationism as scientifically valid. This is not the first time that Brethren groups have applied to open free schools, they have been doing so for over a decade. These bids appear to have been refused on the basis that the Department for Education (DfE) ‘raised concerns about the schools’ capacity to deliver the curriculum they claimed they would.’ It can therefore be hoped that the DfE will also reject the OneSchool proposal.

The reason why the DfE publishes details of free school applications at all is because Humanists UK won a freedom of information case at the Information Tribunal that forced them to start doing this.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann commented: 

‘Should these bids be successful, the resulting increase in faith schools will only lead to more segregation, discrimination, and indoctrination.

‘The British Social Attitudes survey shows that half the population is now non-religious. Given this demographic shift and the need to bring communities together, the Government should seriously think again about continuing to fund divisive faith schools. Instead, it should be supporting only inclusive schools that are open to all children regardless of religion or belief.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read our article on the previous round of free school proposals.

Read our 2012 article on Brethren groups applying to open free schools.

Read more about our work on faith schools.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.