Questions about faith schools
What is a Faith School?
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.
What is a Voluntary Aided (VA) School?
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.
What influence does the Church have over the running of its VA schools?
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.
Can VA schools have whatever admissions policy they like?
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.
Do VA schools select all of their pupils using faith criteria?
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.
How much money does the Church contribute to its VA Schools?
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.
How much money do parents contribute to VA Schools?
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.
So does that mean it’s actually parents who are covering the church’s financial contribution to its schools?
How is a Voluntary Controlled (VC) school different to a Voluntary Aided (VA) school?
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.
What about Foundation schools?
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.
What are Academies and Free Schools?
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.
What is a Faith Academy?
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.
So who sets the admissions policies of Faith Academies?
Like VA schools, Faith Academies may define their own admissions policies, provided they comply with the Admissions Code.
What is there to stop a religious organisation setting up a new VA school in order to secure 100% faith-based selection, and then converting in to academy status later to secure full funding from the government and full independence form the Local Authority?
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.