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Faith schools open by 'back door', warn campaigners

news | Published in TES magazine on 27 April, 2012 | By: David Marley

Church groups are avoiding competition, research shows

Faith Groups are being allowed to open new schools by the "back door" by circumventing rules designed to encourage competition from other providers, according to research from campaigners.

Church of England, Catholic and Muslim schools are among those that have received "preferential treatment", with ministers giving the green light to 16 new schools without considering bids from non-religious organisations, the British Humanist Association (BHA) said.

Laws introduced five years ago were supposed to ensure that faith groups, academy chains and charities competed to run new schools. But figures show that proposed faith schools have struggled to win competitions since they were introduced and have used an exemption in the law to win support directly from the Department for Education.

Between May 2007 and February this year, 16 of the 24 new faith schools that opened in the state sector did so without competition. No application to the DfE from a faith organisation to open a school without a competition was turned down, according to the figures. In comparison, just six out of 39 new schools without a religious character were granted the same exemption, the BHA said.

When religious groups did apply to competitions, they were more likely than other bids to be rejected, according to the figures. Only 35 per cent (eight out of 23) of faith school bids were successful in competitions, compared with 47 per cent (37 out of 78) of non-faith schools.

"If further proof were needed that the system is tilted in favour of state-funded religious schools, which discriminate in their admissions, and against inclusive schools, this is it," said BHA chief executive Andrew Copson. "When asked, the public does not want religious schools; people want more inclusive schools. But religious organisations continue to open schools by the back door, collaborating with local authorities to avoid competition entirely."

The figures - collated through a series of Freedom of Information requests - include private faith schools that switched to the state sector. They also include two proposed Catholic schools that have been approved to open in the London borough of Richmond, despite strong local opposition.

The law, which was amended in February this year, still calls for competitions to be held for new schools, although preference is now supposed to be given to academies and free schools.

But Richmond council is supporting the new voluntary- aided Catholic schools, due to open September 2013, without a competition. The BHA is seeking a judicial review of the decision.

Mr Copson said that avoiding competitions had been "phenomenally successful" for faith groups, with the proportion of schools with a religious character rising "alarmingly fast".

Maeve McCormack, policy manager for the Catholic Education Service, said that local dioceses would only consider opening new schools where there was considerable demand from parents, making a competition unnecessary.

"Opening a new school is a big undertaking, where we contribute significant sums of money," she said. "A lot of discussion would take place in advance of a bid, so at that point we want to get on with it and get the school opened. We know there is a real shortage of places at Catholic schools in London. We want to get moving as soon as possible, rather than waste time with a competition."

A DfE spokeswoman said that exemptions from competitions were not limited to faith schools.

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Comment (5)

  • A great piece of reporting on the hidden machinations of our government. What a shame that the coalition are working against a meritocratic, cohesive society at a time when we need all the help we can get. Any ideas you have on how we can unite behind a fairer, more positive education system in the UK would be much appreciated ...

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    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    27 April, 2012

    Robin Norton

  • This article is incorrect in stating that the Catholic schools have been "approved to open". We all know that's what the Richmond Council intends - and they have said in writing that they can go ahead without seeking proposals for Academies/Free Schools - but they will only formally make a decision on 24th May.
    The Richmond Inclusive School campaign doesn’t rule out new faith schools in the borough, even Catholic ones. Our campaign is simply about one issue: inclusive admissions at new borough schools. And that need not preclude faith schools: half the Anglican primaries in the country have inclusive admissions. And the Church of England is moving towards more inclusivity in its other schools as well. Even in Richmond the Hampton Church school is offering 100% inclusive admissions and we are supporting them and. A Catholic school with inclusive admissions is possible and happening in Buckinghamshire. So why not in Richmond? Our supporters include a
    number of fair-minded people from right across the community, with beliefs ranging from the nonreligious to Anglicans, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Catholics, including parents and senior figures
    from borough schools. All we are asking is that the council ensures that state-funded schools opening in the borough from now on – whoever is running them – have inclusive admissions policies, such that no child can be denied a place in a good local school simply because of the religion or belief of their parents.
    For more details please visit us on or

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  • Usual junk statistical analysis from the BHA and friends.

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    Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    1 May, 2012

    Dave M

  • "When religious groups did apply to competitions, they were more likely than other bids to be rejected, according to the figures. Only 35 per cent (eight out of 23) of faith school bids were successful in competitions, compared with 47 per cent (37 out of 78) of non-faith schools."

    No they weren't - this is not a statistically significant (i.e. real) difference.

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    9 May, 2012


  • It is a statistically signficiant difference because as the sample size is 100% of the population, the margin of error is 0%.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    20 July, 2012


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