There are many different types of schools in the UK. While most of us are aware of the differences between primary and secondary schools, or state and private schools, the details of faith schools are considerably less well known. One of the most common questions asked about faith schools is whether they are legally required to follow the national curriculum – the programme of education followed by schools in the UK, to ensure students across the country are equally taught.
There are multiple subgroups of faith schools. As with other state-funded schools, state faith schools (the main type) do indeed have to follow the national curriculum. However, there are still differences in the way that they are run – for example, they have more freedom when it comes to teaching religious education (RE). Other types of faith schools exist, including private faith schools and faith academies. These schools are still regulated to ensure they meet education standards, but like other private schools and academies, are not required to follow the national curriculum.
As you can see, this is not a simple yes-or-no question. Read on for details about how the curriculum at different types of faith schools varies from other educational institutions.
Are faith schools required to follow the national curriculum?
In general, the set of subjects studied by students at faith schools is almost identical to those at non-faith schools. Whether you attend a faith school or not, you will be very familiar with English, maths and science lessons, as well as other common subjects like languages and history.
This is because most schools in the UK follow a set programme of education called the national curriculum, which is outlined on this page of the government website. This ensures students across the country have a balanced education, which is important for various reasons. Firstly, it ensures students are well prepared to study for standard national exams such as GCSEs. It also means students are well-equipped to move schools. For example, students moving to a single secondary school from a wide range of primary schools have all had the standard of teaching needed to transition to secondary education.
Whether or not faith schools legally have to follow the national curriculum depends on the type of school. For an overview of the types of schools in the UK, see this BBC article. Faith schools are typically state-funded, private or academies.
State-funded faith schools
Regardless of faith, state-funded schools (run by the local authority) are required to follow the national curriculum. As well as lessons in English, maths and science, this includes subjects like PSHE and religious education. The national curriculum also includes guidelines on assessing students throughout their education, such as phonics tests in Year 1, and national English, maths and spelling, punctuation and grammar tests at the end of Year 6.
Private faith schools
Not all schools in the country are required to follow the national curriculum. Private schools are not funded or run by the government, so have much more freedom in what they teach, and may include more obscure subjects such as Latin which are not included in the set curriculum. Similarly, private faith schools do not have to follow the national curriculum.
Another group of schools which may choose not to follow the national curriculum is academies. These are funded by the government; however they are run by an academy trust, not the local authority. This means that they have more individual control over how the school is run, including the content taught in lessons, but still follow national rules such as undergoing Ofsted inspections.
It should be said that even though private schools and academies (whether associated with a faith or not) are not required to follow the national curriculum, they still tend to follow a similar pattern of subjects and content, with frequent lessons in English, maths, science etc.
Can faith schools set their own term dates?
Once again, whether or not faith schools can set their own term dates depends on the type of school. Generally speaking, the schools that do not have to follow the national curriculum (private faith schools and faith academies) also have more freedom over other aspects of their school, including the ability to set their own term dates. State-funded faith schools, on the other hand, do follow the term dates set by their local authority.
Despite these differences, most schools follow the same rough pattern of term-time and holidays. This includes three main holidays at Christmas, Easter, and over the summer (July-August), as well as half term breaks in October, February and May.
The most common difference likely to be found in faith schools is the policy for days of religious celebrations. For example, in Muslim faith schools, there may be a school-wide closure for a day to allow students and staff to celebrate Eid with their families.
What are faith schools?
‘Faith schools’ is the term given to schools in the UK which are associated with a particular religion. Typically, it refers to state-funded schools, but there are various private religious schools across the country. Much of the school day will look the same as any other school, but there are a few differences, largely centred around the school’s specific religion. For more information, check out this Think Student article for a detailed guide to faith schools.
Faith schools are relatively common in the UK, particularly in primary education. For example, the vast majority of schools in Northern Ireland are associated with either Catholicism or Protestantism. In England, about one third of state-funded schools have formal links with a particular religion, most of which are associated with the Christianity – typically the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church.
How are faith schools different from other state schools?
As you may have realised, many aspects of the school system in the UK do not depend on whether the school has links with a particular faith. However, it is important to note that there are some differences.
The most significant difference in terms of the curriculum is how faith schools teach religious education. They are legally allowed to choose what they teach in this subject. This gives the school freedom to focus on their own faith in these lessons, teaching students in more depth about that particular religion than they may have access to in a non-faith school.
In recognition of the UK’s multicultural community, many faith schools teach students about a variety of religions and belief systems in religious education lessons – however the focus is likely to be on the faith that particular school is associated with. Given this focus on one particular religion in RE lessons, it is also common for the teachers in faith schools to be a member of that faith.
The other main aspect unique to faith schools is their admissions process. Faith schools with a formal religious link are allowed to give priority to students applying who identify with that particular religion. They can do this as long as they still follow the national School Admissions Code – but lots of faith schools are made up of students with a variety of religious backgrounds. If you are considering applying to a faith school, it is worth checking the school website for their specific admissions process, as well as details of the curriculum taught there.