Questions about faith schools

A faith school is a school with a formally designated religious character, or with a ‘faith ethos’.

In the UK’s state-school sector there are four types of school that can be faith schools: Voluntary Aided (VA) schools, Voluntary Controlled (VC) schools, Foundation schools and Academies. Free Schools are a type of Academy and can also be faith schools.

Currently all of the faith schools in Richmond Borough are Voluntary Aided schools.


A VA faith school is a state-funded school where a religious organisation typically (though not always) owns the land and buildings.  The playing fields are normally owned by the local authority.

Sometimes VA schools use council-owned land and buildings, as in the case of the new St. Richard Reynolds’ Catholic Schools in Twickenham.


The religious organisation appoints a majority of the governors. They define the Admissions Policy, Religious Education syllabus and Collective Worship arrangements in the school, and can use a religious test when appointing teachers.


No, they still have to follow the Admissions Code. However the Admissions Code allows them to select pupils on the basis of faith, and they have an exemption from the Equality Act so they can do so.


If they are oversubscribed, the Admissions Code allows VA schools to select up to 100% of their pupils using faith criteria. As well as prioritising admission for children of their own faith, they can also select in favour of other chosen denominations or faiths, to the exclusion of those from a different faith or with no faith.

If VA schools are undersubscribed then they are compelled by law to open up remaining places to the wider community.

Most Catholic VA schools exert their right to offer up to 100% of their places to Catholics. In contrast, many Church of England VA schools reserve a lower percentage of places for churchgoers, leaving the remainder open to the community. Some C of E leaders are encouraging further moves towards inclusivity.


All running costs, for employing teachers, buying books, cleaning toilets etc, are paid for by general taxation, just like other maintained schools. However, the Church must contribute 10% towards capital costs, for exterior building repairs and maintenance. The remaining 90% of those capital costs are paid for by the general taxpayer.

To put those numbers into context, DfE figures indicate that capital costs are, on average, around 7% of running costs, implying that the church contributes around 0.7% of the total cost of its VA schools. 

The Catholic Education Service claim to put £20 million into their schools nationally, which works out at about £25 per pupil, per year. Typically the church raises this money from parents themselves through school fundraising.


Many VA Schools encourage parents to pay an annual voluntary contribution, typically around £40.

In many cases this money is paid into a central maintenance fund controlled by the relevant diocese. The schools can then claim from this fund when they need to pay their 10% contribution to the costs of maintaining and repairing school buildings.


VC schools still have strong links with the Church, but they’re funded and controlled by local Councils in the same way as Community Schools. The religious organisation only appoints a quarter of the governors, has no control over the RE, and can only use faith-criteria to select up to a quarter of teachers. Their admissions policies are often, but not always, fully inclusive. We don’t have any VC schools in Richmond-Upon-Thames.


Religious foundation schools are like VA schools in terms of admissions, but like VC schools in terms of funding, employment and RE. They are typically like VC schools in terms of governance, but are sometimes like VA schools. Only a minority of foundation schools are religious. We don’t have any foundation schools in Richmond-Upon-Thames.


Academies and Free Schools are independent schools funded directly by the Department for Education. They are not maintained or controlled by the Local Authority. The rules that govern them are set out in the funding agreement that they make with the Department for Education, rather than in legislation.

Many schools have converted to Academy status in recent years. However, any brand new Academy is known as a Free School. Free Schools sign a different funding agreement to convertor Academies. A key feature of their funding agreement is that at least 50% of their places must be open to the community, though they can still use faith criteria to select the other 50%.

In contrast, convertor academies can retain their existing admissions policy; so a VA school converting to academy status can continue to select up to 100% of pupils on the basis of faith.


Academies that have a religious ethos or that are formally designated with a religious character are called Faith Academies.  You can read the Government’s definition of a Faith Academy here.

Across the UK, many VA, VC and foundation schools are converting to Faith Academy status, in line with government policy to encourage schools to be more autonomous.


Like VA schools, Faith Academies may define their own admissions policies, provided they comply with the Admissions Code.


Nothing. As a result of our campaign the Department for Education has made clear that this loophole is open.  However as far as we know, Richmond is the only Local Authority that has gone down this route.


Questions about RISC

RISC is led by a Core Team of local people, including Jeremy Rodell (Chair), Natalie Raja (Secretary), Stephen Hyett (Treasurer), Julie Courtis, James Heather, David Klein, Gaurav Mathur, plus a number of other local volunteers.


3300 local people signed RISC’s 2011 petition to Richmond Council, asking for all future new local schools to have religiously inclusive admissions policies.  RISC has many hundreds of supporters on its mailing list, plus others on Facebook and Twitter.


No. RISC is only against discriminatory admissions to faith schools, not the schools themselves. See our Policies for more details.

We strongly opposed the establishment of St.Richard Reynolds Catholic secondary school in Twickenham as its admissions policy effectively excludes all children of non-Catholics unless the school has spare places to fill. On the other hand, we did not oppose St. Mary’s Church of England Primary School, Hampton, which has a fully inclusive admissions policy. Both schools open in September 2013.


No, RISC is not a “humanist campaign”. Although it was started back in April 2011 by local humanists, it rapidly grew to include people from a wide range of belief backgrounds, including Catholics.

Most of RISC's core team don't identify themselves as humanists, and the same applies to the great majority of RISC supporters.

The BHA became involved in RISC's 2012 legal action against Richmond Council because of the national significance of the outcome. Despite losing the case, RISC are grateful to the BHA, because without their financial input, the legal challenge would not have been possible.

Both RISC and the BHA support inclusive admissions, but there is a significant policy difference: unlike RISC, the BHA is opposed to state-funding of faith schools in principle.

RISC’s formal supporter at a national level is not the BHA, but the Accord Coalition, chaired by Rabbi Jonathan Romain.

RISC is a local campaign, 100% controlled by its core team, not by the BHA, Accord or anyone else.

Every penny was down to the generosity of a large number of RISC supporters, who either sent donations directly to RISC or contributed via our JustGiving page, where you can still read their many comments.