When choosing a school for your child, the many different types can really complicate the process. This can make an already stressful time even worse, which many parents find anxiety-inducing. One of the hardest parts of the school system is understanding the curriculum, the different types of schools, and what each is required to teach. If you are trying to understand faith schools, what they teach, and why you might choose one for your child, this article has all the answers you need to help you make the right decision.
Faith schools are schools which have a specific religious affiliation, often funded in part by that religious organisation or faith. They are usually connected to a local place of worship. Faith schools are required to teach the national curriculum in all subjects except religious education. They may teach only about their own faith; however, some choose to also teach about others too. They are allowed to apply faith-based criteria, such as attending church or being baptised to pupils. This is only if the school has more applicants than places and students of any faith can attend a faith school.
This may have given you a short, basic answer to your questions, but please read of for full details and up to date information on faith schools, their curriculum, and what their purpose is.
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What are faith schools?
Faith schools are schools which teach the national curriculum with links to a particular faith or religious organisation. They are very common in the UK, especially at primary school level, making up 37% of all primary schools in England. Over a quarter of all primary school pupils are educated in a faith school. They may be private schools or state schools.
The statistics in this section are from this School Run article, which has helpful information on faith schools.
Not all schools with a religious ethos are faith schools. Faith schools have governors who are affiliated with their religious organisation, and usually are funded (at least in part) by the religious organisation. Their buildings and land are also often owned by the religious organisation they are part of.
The main difference between a faith school and other schools is that they are free to only teach pupils about their affiliated religion in RE classes. This is not true in GCSE and A-Level courses, but apart from that schools may choose to focus entirely on their religion. Some do choose to also teach about other religions, but they are not required to.
Many religions have faith schools. In the UK, the most common are Church of England schools, followed by Roman Catholic schools. There are also Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Greek Orthodox, Seventh Day Adventist, and Quaker schools in various places across the UK. If you wish for your child to attend a school for your faith but cannot find one nearby, it is advisable to check private or boarding schools (if this is something you are able to access), as they often accept pupils from further away.
What is the purpose of a faith school?
The main purpose of a faith school is to teach the usual school subjects, but with a grounding in, and a focus on, their faith ethos. This is often a priority for religious parents, who wish for their children to understand and love their religion and see it in all things. They teach the national curriculum, but often with a bias supporting their religion and its views.
Faith schools also teach key skills for children to enter specific religions, if this is something they need. For example, Jewish schools often teach Hebrew reading and writing, in order that children can access religious texts and prepare for their celebrations in later life. They also celebrate holidays from their faith’s calendar rather than the Christian calendar if they are not Christian, as they would be required to in non-faith schools.
If you are interested in transferring your child to a faith school, this Think Student article has a helpful guide to the process.
What are the benefits of faith schools?
Faith schools also are often some of the best-performing state schools. It is unclear why this is, but theories state it could be due to the strict rules, involved parents, or many other factors. They tend to gain higher SATs and GCSE scores and have very high OFSTED ratings than the national average.
Some parents also believe that being constantly surrounded by faith for children will give them a deeper and more convicted sense of their religion. They may have daily services, prayer time, and other experiences combined with their education, which is important for many families. This also often gives schools a strong sense of community, as everyone takes part in these activities together, creating a foundation for friendship.
Not only does this sense of community impact children, it also often involves parents. Schools may be attached to a place of worship, or hold regular services from their religion, especially on holidays or significant dates. Parents often find that being in a community with many others of the same religion is a great way to make friends and connections, while also helping their child understand their faith more.
What do faith schools teach?
Faith schools are required to teach the national curriculum in all subjects except for religious studies. All schools that are state maintained (paid for by taxes) in the UK are required to teach certain subjects, with RE being one of them, from the ages of 5-16. However, in the UK, parents are permitted to withdraw their child from religious education (RE) lessons if they choose to do so, and do not have to give a reason for doing so. This rule also applies at faith schools.
If the school is only religious in character and not a specified faith school, they are required to teach the locally agreed religious studies curriculum. This means students study mainly Christianity, while also considering other religious traditions and practices.
However, if the school is a faith school, they are required to teach RE “in accordance with the beliefs of the religion or denomination” that they are run by. For more information on this, the Parliament Research Briefing on faith schools is helpful.
Faith schools are not permitted to change the rest of the curriculum to suit their religious beliefs outside of RE lessons. For example, science classes cannot refuse to teach Darwinism and instead teach creationism. However, they may teach creationism in RE lessons. This is also the case in independent schools, where teaching must be “broad and balanced”, so non-evidence-based theories are not allowed to be taught as fact.
The exceptions to this rule are independent schools and academies. These schools, as with all others of their type, no matter their faith designation, are not required to teach the national curriculum in any area of school life.
How do faith schools teach relationship education?
It is also important to note that while all schools are required to provide “relationship education”, they are allowed to teach their faith perspective on “contentious issues” such as same-sex marriage. It is also specifically stated that “no school or teacher is under a duty to support, promote or endorse marriage of same-sex couples”, although teaching should include how the law applies to different relationships, and be factually accurate.
In addition to this, teachers are required to meet their duties under the Equality and Human Rights Act. However, this does not prevent them from speaking about their own views to their classes.
For more information on private schools and the national curriculum, please check out this Think Student guide.
Who can go to a faith school?
Maintained (state) and independent schools are open to all pupils, as it is illegal for schools to discriminate against a child on the basis of their religion or belief in school admissions. However, faith schools are exempt from this policy in some cases.
Where faith schools have more applicants than places open, they may use faith-based application criteria to give priority to children who are members or practising in their faith or denomination. This can only apply to oversubscribed schools. These criteria often include being baptised (or otherwise initiated) in the religion, or attending a specific place of worship regularly, and are used to determine who gets places when the school is oversubscribed only.
Faith schools often hire teachers from their religion, and sometimes also only accept pupils who practice their affiliated faith. They may also be inspected by a religious governing body as well as OFSTED, to test how well they are implementing the school’s faith ethos.
To find out the admissions criteria for a specific school, ask at the school or an affiliated place of worship for more information, as policies vary across different schools.
If you are still not sure whether a faith school is the right option for you, this Think Student article is a great starting point if a change of schools might be helpful for your child.