How admission arrangements work at different types of school

More than one third of state-funded primary schools in England and Wales, and about one fifth of secondaries, are schools designated with a religious character (commonly known as ‘faith schools’). Thanks to an exception in the Equality Act 2010, all of them are legally permitted to have an admissions policy that selects children on religious grounds when the school is oversubscribed, though a school’s policy is set differently, depending on its type.

Voluntary Aided, Voluntary Controlled and Foundation schools with a religious character

Before Academy schools were introduced in England in 2000, there were just three types of state funded faith schools – Voluntary Aided (VA), Voluntary Controlled (VC) and Foundation schools. Most faith schools still fall into one of these categories (though many are converting into Academies) and a majority are VA schools. These remain the only types of faith school in Wales.

VA schools and Foundation schools have their admissions policies set by their governing body, in consultation with their local authority responsible for education – they are their own ‘admissions authority’.

Before the Academies programme almost 2/5 of faith schools were Voluntary Controlled. In contrast to VA and Foundation faith schools, VC schools have their admissions policies set by their local authority responsible for education – it is their admissions authority. The local authority can grant them an admissions policy that prioritises children on religious grounds if the school is oversubscribed, but about three quarters of local authorities do not allow it.

Academies and Free Schools with a religious character

A large number of faith schools in England still have VA, VC or Foundation status. However, the education landscape is changing quickly, and a large number of English faith schools have already turned into Academies, or are set to become one. This includes a majority of secondary schools.

Academies are not maintained by the local authority in which they reside, and most statute which applies to VA, VC and Foundation schools does not apply to Academies. Instead, Academies operate through a contract with central government known as their ‘funding agreement’, and this is also where a lot of the rules surrounding admissions are introduced.

Academies set their own admissions policy (they are their own admissions authorities) and can select children on faith grounds when oversubscribed. However, central government limits the amount of faith selection at some faith Academies, depending on the school’s background.

If an Academy school was a VC, VA or Foundation school but converted to being an Academy, then there is no restriction on the number of pupils it can select on faith grounds, as long as it is oversubscribed. This includes former VC faith schools, which typically will not have been permitted to have a religiously selective admission policy. Worryingly therefore the expansion of the Academies programme may lead to a direct increase in the amount of religious discrimination.

Unlike state-funded faith schools that convert to Academy status, brand new Academies  are known as ‘Free Schools’. Legally they are the same as other types of Academy, but their  funding agreement with the Government restricts them to selecting no more than half of pupils on faith grounds.

Other types of school

Community, Studio, Special and Alternative Provision schools, as well as University Technical Colleges cannot currently be designated as having a religious character, so cannot select students on faith grounds. Similarly, schools without a religious character cannot select on faith grounds.

Admissions Codes

The School Admissions Code for England (sections 1.9 and 1.36 to 1.38) and the School Admissions Code for Wales (sections 2.26 and 2.39 to 2.44) provide statutory guidance on religious selection by faith schools. They cover in particular the requirement for faith schools to consult with and have regard for guidance of their religious authority in setting selection criteria.

Admissions policies of individual schools

Our mapping exercise has established for the first time exactly how widespread religious selection by state schools is. It found that:

  • 19% of secondary schools are faith-based. 16% religiously select to some degree, with 72% of all places at faith secondaries – equivalent to 13% of places at all secondaries – being subject to religious admissions criteria. We estimate that 17% of places at primaries are similarly religiously selected, or 1.2 million primary and secondary places across England.
  • This means that 16% of children at state schools are subject to religious selection criteria. This compares with 5% of secondary-age children in grammar schools, 5% in single-sex schools and 7% in independent schools.
  • 99.8% of places at Catholic secondaries are subject to religious selection in admissions criteria. For Church of England schools the figure is 49.7% but for those CofE schools fully in control of their own admissions policies with no legal or regulatory limitations it is 68%.
  • Anglican dioceses vary widely in how religiously selective their secondaries are. The most selective is Liverpool (84%) and the least is Leicester (3%). The Diocese of London, despite its recent commitments to inclusivity, has 68% of places subject to religious selection – well above average and therefore still with some way to go.

Our map enables users to look up any mainstream state-funded English secondary school to see whether it is religiously designated, whether its admissions policy allows religious selection when the school is oversubscribed (and if so, to what degree), and whether it requires baptism or religious practice.

We also have an overall table of how many of each type of school there are as of January 2013.