Faith schools have always been a controversial concept. Despite the fact that so many of them exist in the UK, many parents debate over whether they close our children’s viewpoints down or open them up. All types of schools have both pros and cons which can largely depend on your child’s style of learning and what you’re looking for as a parent. However, it is important to understand these advantages and disadvantages in order to make an informed decision on the best type of school for your children to attend.
Disclaimer: This article is an opinion piece. Even though it tries to provide a balanced view of faith schools, you are advised to do your own research before forming your own opinion of this institution.
For more details about what faith schools are, their difference from regular schools and both the advantages and disadvantages of attending a faith school, keep reading.
What is a faith school?
A faith school is a school which is connected to a specific religion such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, to name a few. The schools can be dedicated to any faith and are not just limited to the major religions, although Church of England schools are the most common in the UK.
For more information about what faith schools are, click here to visit a Think Student article.
The point of a faith school is that, in return for teaching the younger generation the importance of religion, the church will aid the school in certain ways. All state-run schools in the UK receive funding from the government out of the education budget which they can choose to spend in whichever way they want. Usually, this is in maintenance bills and staff payments.
Although the government provides a generous education budget, this is still the bare minimum to be able to run a school. For this reason, over a third of schools in the UK have a religious affiliation. This can be shown stated in this document released by parliament.
On becoming a faith school, they are assigned a local place of worship who will offer some money and assistance in the upkeep of religious practice at the school. However, some of this money may also be used for keeping the school in good condition and funding trips of an educational purpose to give students a well-rounded education.
What are the arguments in favour of faith schools?
Faith schools have both their advantages and disadvantages, as with all types of schools. You can read more about every different type of school available in the UK in this Government article.
There are many advantages which may appeal to parents. This is especially the case if they have a devotion to a particular religion already, but equally if they simply want their children to receive a different viewpoint.
1. Children can be introduced to others of the same faith
Often, for children who practice religions which could be seen as being in “the minority”, it is difficult to make friends with others of the same faith. It is obviously important to have a diverse range of friends at an early age, including those who have no religion. However, sometimes it can be quite lonely when none of your friends follow the same practises as you.
Children could meet people of the same faith at their place of worship. That said, there may not be any other people of the same age who attend worship on a regular basis, particularly in small communities. For this reason, going to school with others of the same faith gives children something to bond over and allows them to make connections.
2. There are lots of faith schools in the UK
One of the main benefits of UK faith schools is that there are so many and such a diverse variety of religions exists. This article on Think Student explains the statistics on how many faith schools there are in the UK. This means that children who attend faith schools will not be in the minority. It also means that they won’t be advantaged or disadvantaged over other children.
Some parents like the idea of a faith school but worry that their children will receive a drastically different education to others their age. This is in no way the case and should not factor into the decision between regular and faith schools.
3. Pupils are gently introduced to religion
Particularly with primary schools, children are not forced to follow the religion of their faith school to the max. For example, Church of England schools will run church and chapel services throughout the year, but these are focussed on teaching the basic stories of Christianity.
Most of the religious teaching in faith schools is centred around questioning the children to allow them to discover their own beliefs. Especially for young children, teachers in some faith schools try their utmost to avoid enforcing their own beliefs and leave the choice open to the pupils themselves.
However, this is not the case in all faith schools, so be careful to research the school you wish to apply for thoroughly beforehand. Lots of schools also have open days where you can go and ask questions. That said, if you can’t make it in person, then you should find an email address and telephone number on the school website.
4. The application process for all secondary schools is the same
For secondary faith schools, the structure for applications is the same as all other schools. This includes when places come out for secondary schools, which you can read more about in this article.
Some parents worry that getting into a faith school is more difficult, but this is not necessarily the case. The applications are no different, so there should be no confusion when accepting or declining places. If you can prove your commitment to your place of worship, your chances of being accepted should be no different to a regular secondary public school.
What are the arguments against faith schools?
As you can see, faith schools have lots of pros for the development of a child’s understanding of religion. However, there are, of course, some arguments against faith schools alongside their many advantages.
1. Some faith schools are too selective
Although Church of England schools have very few requirements for children applying and will accept those of all backgrounds, other religious schools often have stricter policies. For example, Catholic schools will usually make it mandatory for students to have actively practised the faith alongside their parents for several years prior.
Legally, these schools cannot turn away any students purely due to their faith or lack thereof. However, most of the children applying to these schools will be practising the correct faith and so will gain priority over those who don’t by default.
The reason lots of children get into the schools they do is because their siblings already attend the same schools. Again, faith schools can more or less decide their own acceptance policies. Unfortunately, this means that, often, just because one sibling already goes to the school, it does not necessarily mean the other has already secured a place.
2. Children may have a closed viewpoint
As faith schools can choose their own religious studies curriculum, lots opt to only teach children the religion the school falls under. Whilst this leads them to become devout members of the faith, it also means they do not get a grasp of other religious viewpoints.
For some children, this could affect some of their social skills later in life. When they have only ever been told one viewpoint, they may find it difficult to listen to others when speaking about religion. In the same way, they will not have developed the skills to politely disagree or take a step back from other people who have different views to them.
The point of the regular religion curriculum is to allow children to understand unfamiliar cultures and why some people may act in the way they do. It allows them to understand the importance of diversity and acceptance of other people who may be different to them. The children who attend faith schools tend to have less cultural understanding and are less likely to notice and call out discriminatory behaviour.
3. Faith school pupils have less of an opportunity to discover their own beliefs
Faith schoolteachers try their hardest to allow students to follow their own beliefs, whether they are the beliefs of the school or not. However, it is inevitable that they will somewhat influence how children think and which religion they choose to follow.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as most children need some help deciding on which faith they want to follow. They tend to idolise their teachers and want to act in the same way as them, which leads them to a certain faith.
However, the structure of a faith school also means that parents can have a substantial influence on what their children should believe. Lots of children in the UK are raised under a certain religion, whether they attend a faith school or not.
Being able to attend a faith school is brilliant for students who choose to be attending the school because of their interest in the religion. However, at the same time, children who really do not want to be practising a certain faith will be forced to. Even though most children do not get a choice in which faith they practice, school allows them to have some escape where they can make their own choices.
Should you go to a faith school?
Obviously, faith schools have both their advantages and disadvantages, and lots of these factors depend on your personal situation. To make matters more complex, there is such massive variety in what faith schools teach and how they teach it.
If you are thinking of applying to a faith school, the best thing to do is to ring or email each individual school and get a better picture of their view on religion and how it should be taught to children and young adults. On doing this, you should already be starting to get an idea of whether a faith school would be right for you.
Ultimately, the choice is yours as a parent when it comes to which school you choose to send your children to. It is important that whatever you do, you do it because it is what you think will suit your children best, even if this means they start to follow a different religion to you.
Remember that it is their own decision to make on which faith, if any, they wish to follow. The best thing to do in any situation is simply to ask your children what they would prefer. They know themselves better than anyone else and they will have the best idea of what is right for them.
Do faith schools follow the national curriculum?
At any public faith school, it is a legal requirement to follow the national curriculum. If a school is receiving funding from the government, it must teach all the core subjects and the content from these that the government has deemed necessary for pupils to know.
However, schools can choose to put more emphasis on religious studies if they wish. They also have more freedom as compared to other schools in the content they choose to teach as part of the religious studies programme. This allows faith schools to put more emphasis on their own religion.
As they follow the national curriculum like any other school, it means that legally, any child can apply to attend a faith school, no matter their religion. In the same way, a faith school technically cannot reject an application just because a child does not have the right religious background.
However, as with all public schools, there are only a limited number of places available. Most schools accept students on a first-come, first-served basis, giving priority to siblings. However, a faith school can also consider a child’s religion and their dedication to their local place of worship and helping others in the community.
If the faith school you are applying to is usually over-subscribed, then having a religious background is essential to securing a place. For more information about faith schools in relation to the national curriculum and what they usually teach, read this Think Student article.