Faith designation reforms for new and existing free schools and special academies: Government consultation: Have Your Say

Dr Mandela Thyoka & Lorraine McDonald, BUC Education Director

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan and the Department for Education (DfE) have initiated a Government consultation on Wednesday, 1 May 2024, which concludes on 20 June 2024. The Consultation focuses on two key areas: firstly, the potential removal of the current 50% cap on admissions to new faith-free schools, which currently requires at least half the school's available places to be allocated without reference to faith-based admission criteria. Secondly, the proposal to allow new and existing special academies registered with the Department for Education as having a faith ethos to apply to be designated as having a religious character. These reforms aim to encourage diversity and inclusivity within the education sector.

  • Part one: Remove the 50% cap on faith admissions for new and existing free schools, helping to encourage all faith groups and trusts to apply to open new faith-free schools within the tenets of their faith.
  • Part two: Allow new and existing special academies registered with the Department for Education as having a faith ethos to apply to be designated as having a religious character.

This Consultation is a watershed and momentous occasion, as it will help inform the Department for Education of the proposed reforms. The current Education census shows that one-third (34%) of all state-funded mainstream schools in England are designated as having a religious character, aka 'faith schools'. These form some of the highest quality schools, a testament to the positive impact of faith in education. They are more likely to be judged 'Good' or 'Outstanding' by Ofsted than non-faith schools. Many faith schools in England have a Christian faith designation. However, there are a small number of schools with other faith designations – including Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Seventh-day Adventist.

The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists 2022 World Report on Adventist Education Around the World shows a total of 2,187,326 students in 9,882 Adventist Education Institutions, comprising 1,411,114 students in 6,918 primary schools, 615,544 students in 2,801 secondary schools, and 149,251 students in 118 tertiary education facilities.

The British Union Conference (BUC) of Seventh-day Adventists is home to seven schools in England: Dudley House, Fletewood, Harper Bell, Hyland House, Newbold and Stanborough Primary and Stanborough Secondary. One tertiary education centre in the BUC territory, Newbold College of Higher Education, serves the Trans-European Division.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, who attended a Catholic school herself, has seen first-hand how values and standards in faith schools often give young people a brilliant start in life as faith groups run some of the best schools in the country, including in some of the most disadvantaged areas.

It is currently not possible for special schools to open as academies and be designated with faith status; the DfE said the Consultation would also explore how to improve provision for SEND children by opening special faith academies.

We invite you, as Adventists, to use this online form to have your say in shaping the future of faith designation reforms for free schools and special academies.