Religious free schools lose out in latest application round

Fewer religious free schools are being approved by the Department for Education (DfE), shows an analysis of the latest wave of schools approved by David Cameron.

Last week the prime minister announced 18 new schools to be opened under the government’s flagship programme from next September. Just two have a religious designation – or 11 per cent of those approved, the smallest proportion since free schools were introduced.

Schools Week has compared the proportion of founders applying to open a religious ethos-free school with the proportion of approved applications, for each of the application “waves”.

The figures show that the proportion of religious applicants has waned, as have approvals.

In total, 1,564 applications have been made to open free schools since 2010. Of these, 34 per cent (533) were for schools with a religious designation or ethos.

Only 27 per cent of approved applications, however, have a religious nature.

The height of religious free school approval came during the first and third application rounds in 2010 and 2012 when 36 per cent of schools allowed to open were led by religious groups.

The figures subsequently dropped, with the largest fall-off after last March’s Trojan Horse investigation into allegations that hardline Islamists were attempting to take over some Birmingham schools.

The DfE denies the decrease has anything to do with a change in policy.

A spokesperson said: “We continue to welcome high quality applications from religious and non-religious groups. The free school application process is very competitive and only the strongest applications are successful.

“We prioritise schools from the strongest applicant groups and in areas where they are needed most. Unfortunately, that means some groups will be disappointed.”

Jay Harman, campaigns officer for the British Humanist Association, said: “The need to promote understanding and tolerance among children of different beliefs and backgrounds has never been more important than it is now, so small reduction or not, the fact that over a quarter of all free schools are religious represents a significant failure.”

Revd Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer said: “At a national level we are committed  to supporting dioceses in their bids for more new Free Schools in areas of need, which has always been our rationale. A number of new Church of England Free Schools have already been opened and are proving popular with parents and communities they serve.

“The Church of England continues to be passionate about providing excellent education with a Christian character for all those who want to access it and so we plan to work proactively to ensure that a significant percentage of the government’s new Free Schools are opened as Church of England schools.”

Click here for the complete list of 18 schools.

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