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New rules on setting up schools in England come into force

New rules on setting up English schools introduced by the Education Act 2011 have come into force today. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has called the changes a ‘regressive step in further entrenching favouritism enjoyed by “faith” school proposals in the school creation process’.

Where a local authority recognises a need for a new school, the changes strongly give preference to all new schools being Free Schools, whilst only allowing new local authority-run foundation and community schools to be proposed once all other options have been exhausted. However, they also make it even easier for faith groups to set up voluntary aided schools independently of any request for new schools made by the local authority. Local authorities cannot propose ‘faith’ schools, so these changes will strongly increase the likelihood that new schools will be ‘faith’ schools. And as voluntary aided ‘faith’ schools and ‘faith’ Free Schools are the two most extreme type of ‘faith’ school – able to religiously discriminate in employment, admissions and RE – these new rules will strongly increase the religiosity of many new ‘faith’ schools that are set up.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘These changes represent a regressive step in that they further entrench the favouritism enjoyed by “faith” school proposals in the school creation process. Already, faith-based proposals have a much easier time getting the green light, as they do not need to enter into competition. And now things are only going to get worse.

‘We will continue to campaign to expose the inequality in this area, and ultimately for a more positive reform of the law.’


For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools.

Read the BHA’s (newly updated) table of types of school with a religious character.

Three significant changes have been made to the rules governing how schools can be created:

  • First of all, if a local authority in England think a new school needs to be established in their area, they must seek proposals for the establishment of a Free School. It is only if no proposals are successful that a local authority can hold a competition and invite proposals for other types of school. ‘Faith’ Free Schools are more extreme than other types of ‘faith’ school, and as local authorities cannot set up Free Schools, this will likely increase the proportion of faith-based proposals compared to what was seen under the old rules.
  • Secondly, if a local authority holds a competition and invites proposals for a new school, it may not bid itself to set up a community or foundation school.  It may only do this if no proposals are successful. Again, this is likely to increase the proportion of faith-based proposals compared to what was seen under the old rules.
  • Thirdly, voluntary controlled (VC), voluntary aided (VA) and foundation schools – which are all predominantly ‘faith’ schools – can still be proposed outside of competition, as before (not by the local authority). However, VA schools – which are able to religiously discriminate much more than VC and foundation schools – no longer need consent of the Secretary of State for Education to do this.

Read the Education Act 2011. The new rules are being commenced by The Education Act 2011 (Commencement No. 2 and Transitional and Savings Provisions) Order 2012. Changes coming into force today include:

  • Local education authorities are no longer required to have admissions forums.
  • Any person or body can now object to the admissions arrangements of a school.
  • New rules on school creation, as outlined above.
  • Religious bodies must now be consulted when maintained ‘faith’ schools propose to convert to Academies.
  • Academies with a religious character that have converted from being VC or foundation schools can only use religious criteria in the appointment, remuneration or promotion of up to a fifth of their staff (as was the case before conversion), unless the Secretary of State decides to allow them to do so for all their staff.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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