Majority of identifiable Free School proposals from 2011-13 were religious

A majority of Free School proposals where the British Humanist Association (BHA) have been able to identify whether or not they were faith-based have come from religious or pseudoscientific groups. In total, over the first three years of the Free Schools programme there were 831 proposals to establish Free Schools. The BHA has been able to identify whether or not 659 of these were religious or otherwise pseudoscientific, and has found that 330 (50.1%) were faith-based (or at least 40% of all 831).

Of the 197 proposals that were backed by the Government to open, 64 (or 32%) were faith-based or pseudoscientific. This means that the percentage of Free Schools which are religious or pseudoscientific is roughly in line with the percentage of maintained schools that are religious – but the percentage that are applying is higher.

Following on from a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by the BHA, the Department for Education (DfE) has released details of ‘faith ethos’ Free School applications in the ‘third wave’ (i.e. opening from 2013), alongside last month’s release of Free Schools formally designated with a religious character in the second and third waves. The BHA has supplemented this with its own research into the ‘faith ethos’ of proposals in the first and second waves and the religious character of proposals in the first wave.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are pleased to see that the overwhelming majority of pseudoscientific Free School applications have been rejected, and that religious proposals have generally been less successful (perhaps in large part because of the sizeable portion that have been pseudoscientific or extremist).

‘However, at the same time, it is concerning to know that religious groups have been applying to set up Free Schools at such extremely high rates. We have long thought that the additional freedoms enjoyed by Free Schools will make them more attractive to religious groups than other models of school, and that is now borne out by the statistics. It is vital that the Government is diligent in ensuring that no pseudoscientific or extremist groups are successful in their applications, and that religious Free Schools do not teach narrower, unshared curricula than would previously have been possible.’

Who has been applying to set up Free Schools?

Some of the proposed Free Schools (many of which were not previously public knowledge) were from groups where the BHA would have serious concern about their entering the state sector. For example, there were at least 9 applications from private schools teaching the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, which believes that the Loch Ness monster disproves evolution and that there is no biological basis for homosexuality. 10 came from the Christian Schools’ Trust network of private, typically creationist schools, while at least 15 were from the Exclusive Brethren, a group which often holds creationist views and whose private schools do not offer ICT GCSE, because they see technology as a potentially corrupting influence. At least 27 applications were from Steiner groups (2 of which have been approved to open), which often give homeopathy to children and are considered by the Health Protection Agency to be unvaccinated communities, while 3 were from the Maharishi (1 of which has opened), who promote Transcendental Meditation and teach the ‘Science of Creative Intelligence’. There was also an application for a ‘Satanist’ Free School in Tower Hamlets.

Beyond that, there were 32 Church of England, 8 Catholic, 2 Greek Orthodox, 1 Russian Orthodox and 111 other Christian applications for Free Schools. There were also 80 Muslim, 13 Sikh, 12 Jewish, 3 Hindu and 1 “Hindu/Buddhist/Ghandian” application(s).

The Church of England have been particularly successful with their Free School proposals, with the success rate rising year on year from 25% to 38% to 63%. Sikh, Jewish and Hindu groups have all also become much more successful in their applications (more successful than the average, as well as over time). By comparison, Muslim proposals are largely being rejected. 3% of proposals were successful in the first year, 0% in the second and 15% in the third.


For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072.

View the DfE’s latest release:

View the data in a spreadsheet:

Read the BHA’s totals for number of Free Schools by religion and year:

Read the previous BHA press release, ‘Government releases list of proposed Free Schools to BHA’, 19 February 2013:

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

View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character:

Read a list of 2013 Free School bids identified by the BHA:

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.