Faith groups have always played an important part in our school system. This is partly because rather than competing with the existing provision developed by the churches, and especially the Church of England (CofE), during the first half of the 19th century the Government agreed to pay the running costs of such schools when making schooling compulsory.
As Roman Catholicism gained ground in England, so schools run by that church were provided with government funding.
After the 1997 general election, the Blair government also agreed to fund schools operated by other faiths. The recent announcement on free schools by Education Secretary Michael Gove includes several faith groups in the list of 16 school sponsors.
This background is important in understanding the pattern of church schools across England. However, it does not explain the whole picture, as different school sizes and patterns of education have created a complex scenario with a far higher proportion of primary than secondary-age pupils taught in CofE schools.
At present, in most regions upwards of 16 per cent of pupils are educated in CofE schools. Only the industrial areas of the North East and London have much lower figures. The pattern of Roman Catholic provision is more concentrated, with the industrial areas of the North and Midlands having more places for Roman Catholic pupils than the more rural parts of England.
It is no longer possible to say that every pupil in a church school is a follower of the faith. Many rural primary schools may be managed by the Church of England but traditionally take local children of all faiths. Schools of other faiths and most secondary schools of any faith tend to be schools "for the faith" first and take other children only when they have spare places.
As the range of school operators funded by the state increases, questions will be asked about the basis for deciding which schools receive taxpayers' money.
John Howson is director of Education Data Systems, part of TSL Education
CHURCH OF ENGLAND SCHOOLS AS A PROPORTION OF TOTAL SCHOOLS (2010)
North East 11%
North West 27%
Yorkshire and Humber 23%
West Midlands 27%
East Midlands 28%
East of England 26%
South East 31%
South West 38%.