What is a faith school?

I have spent many years working in a secondary Church of England school, and am a governor for a C of E Primary School but it led me to wonder – what is a faith school and why is there the controversy currently on them?


For the sake of this article, I am going to look at faith school’s as being Church of England, but similar strands can be made of all faith schools.

How are faith schools organised?

Did you know that there are two types of Church of England School?  Voluntary Controlled and Voluntary Assisted schools?  Voluntary Controlled (VC) are run by the local authority (or delegated Academy) and have no financial contribution from the Church. Voluntary Assisted (VA) schools do have some financial support from the C of E.  Governance of both VC and VA schools can be different, and there is more input from the local church or Diocese (wider area of C of E churches).

Roughly 1/3rd of all schools in England are faith based.  The Church of England is the largest, with just under 23% of schools operated by them (19% Primary, 6% Secondary), and 14% of the pupils of England’s pupils educated in them.  Next is Roman Catholic (at 10% of schools), followed by Methodist, other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Greek Orthodox, Quaker, Seventh Day Adventist and URC.  (see Table at the bottom of of this document for the full breakdown). Surprisingly, this is about half of what it used to be, prior to the 1944 education act.  The vast majority of faith schools are VC, with only 22% of primary and 17% of secondary schools being VA, however almost all of the Roman Catholic schools in England are VA.


Table showing the % of faith schools across England

Since 2000 there has been an increase of both primary and secondary schools which have a faith foundation, but there has been a greater increase of secondary schools converting or starting as faith based ones.

What are the main differences between Faith and Maintained schools?

In some ways, not much.  VA and VC schools can set their own RE curriculum (and so can Academies), in a VA school there needs to be two more Foundation Governors than any other type.  Collective Worship is expected to be Christian (the law states in maintained schools is should be the majority Christian) and schools are also Ofsted’d – RE can be inspected – but only in terms of teaching and learning and progress, not content.


So, what makes a Church school distinctive?

In addition to the Governance differences, the main difference are ethos and inspections.

Ethos is something that every school has, but many find hard to describe.  Ethos is about the feel of the place, the holistic nature of the school.  For some schools, they should describe their ethos of ‘caring’ or ‘looking out for others’, and whilst this is true for Church schools as well as secular ones, there should be something deeper in a C of E school. Caring, for example, is about looking after others.  In a non-faith school school’s would adopt this value, but in a faith school this would be adopted through the lens of Jesus caring for people, or God caring for the planet.  There also may be application of this, so that the pupils at school care for others outside their school as an active way of demonstrating God’s care.

With regards to subjects, a faith based subject should not make too much difference to them.  Romeo and Juliet will still be taught the same way, Evolution and the Big Bang are taught the same, and the facts about the Roman Invasion in 1066 don’t change!  The main difference is staff trying to tie Christian Values into this work to apply it to something important today for the pupils, ie Romeo and Juliet the concept of unconditional love and forgiveness, Big Bang and Evolution raising the question of WHY and HOW, 1066 about wisdom and what it meant to have the “Divine Right of Kings”

Ethos is also focussed on differently.  To help embed ethos, the school may work with a local church or employ a Chaplain.  Their role is NOT normally to convert people to the faith, merely provide additional support pastorally, normally with a faith-based focus.  They may lead Collective Worship, Prayer and reflections for staff and be involved with the creation of a Christian strapline, school prayer or Christian values.

At secondary level, they may also lead a Christian Ethos group, helping work with the pupils on the production of Collective Worship.  There may be services at a local church too at the main Christian festivals.  It is hoped that since parents sent their child to a C of E school, there would be no issues in attendance!


Within the C of E schools, the other difference is SIAMS. SIAMS is the C of E and Methodist inspection service, aka Ofsted Section 48 inspection.  They have the authority to inspect :

o Distinctive Christian character (Ethos)
o Collective worship
o Religious education
o Leadership and management (seeing how the school is distinctively Christian)

Please note that RE gets inspected in a SIAMS, as well as a normal Ofsted.  The difference is that SIAMS can inspect the content of RE, as well as teaching and learning, however Ofsted do not.  This is judged on the basis of an additional Self Evaluation Form with appropriate evidence.

Other denominations and faiths may also have the same responsibilities.

So, why the controversy?

A lot of noise in the press is about after-school care and lessons provided by fundamental religious believers.  Schools which are faith-based (as discussed in this article) are subject to the normal checks and balances that schools undertake.  Admissions often causes controversy as schools are able to select on faith, however a lot of schools do not do this.  Indeed, the C of E says that they seek to be faith based schools in the local community so most secondary and primary schools may have a small percentage of faith applications however most are community based.  There are also a lot less faith based schools (outside of Christianity) than people imagine.


In my opinion faith schools add to a fabric of our multi-cultural society, and as much as people may be concerned about faith-based input, when done well, it can surely only add to the character of the pupils in their care.  It is up to the pupils to decide what their own morals or beliefs are, and the schools are there to provide a framework to support this private investigation.

As ever, any questions, queries or comments please tweet @sheltont101



taken from http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06972/SN06972.pdf


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