Opinion Former Article

New 100% religiously selective state schools set to open in England

A wave of new ‘Voluntary Aided’ faith schools, legally entitled to select 100% of their pupils based on religion, look set to be approved in England as a result of a new funding scheme.

The UK Government has today published guidance for groups wishing to open up new Voluntary Aided (VA) schools in England. Unlike free schools, which have a 50% cap on the number of students they can discriminate against on religious grounds, VA schools are allowed to choose all pupils based on the child or family’s religion. Almost all VA schools are faith schools and the vast majority of any new schools that now open are expected to be Roman Catholic.

Humanists UK, which campaigns for an inclusive education system with no religious discrimination, has condemned the move, pointing out that the opening of these schools will inevitably lead to more segregation and discrimination.

VA schools also widely discriminate against the teachers they employ, and can use a religious test in appointing, remunerating and promoting teachers.

Assessment criteria for the new VA proposals include paying due regard to social cohesion and integration, and making the school attractive (and welcoming) to parents and pupils from ‘other or no faith’, but there is no indication of what this means.

In one welcome development, bidders for new schools will have to already own their site, or have access to one free of charge, and will not be approved unless a suitable site has been identified.

Commenting on the government’s announcement, Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham said:

‘It is welcome that the government has set more stringent criteria on the rules around school sites, and we expect this will limit the number of schools from opening, but ultimately it is very disappointing that the government is looking to allow more of these 100% religiously selective schools to open.

‘The introduction of more faith schools means more discrimination against families, either because they can’t get in to their local state school because they are not of the ‘right’ religion, or who would rather send their child to an inclusive school but instead have to place them in a religious school because they don’t have any other choice.’

Bidders for the schools must submit bids by February and approved schools will be announced by the Government in the Spring.


For more information, contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07 393344293.

For more information about our faith schools campaign work, visit https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/

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.

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