Reducing the cap on faith school admissions will help raise standards  

  • 1st May 2024

The Government is consulting on plans to lift the admissions cap on faith schools

Faith groups run some of the best schools in the country, including in some of the most-disadvantaged areas.

But current rules mean that religious free schools are only allowed to offer 50% of places to pupils based on faith.

And some providers say this cap discourages them from opening new academies.

To make sure as many children as possible can access the quality school places religious schools offer, the Department for Education (DfE) is launching a consultation on whether to lift the cap to support faith school providers to open new learning establishments.

The consultation is open to anyone who wants to have a say, and will last for seven weeks.

It has been launched alongside proposals to open new special faith-based academies to create more places for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).


What does the consultation mean for faith schools?

Currently, the 50% faith cap means that if a new faith or church free school is oversubscribed, it can only prioritise pupils based on faith for half of the places.

This means that at least half of the school’s available places must be allocated without reference to faith-based admissions criteria.

As a result, some faith groups have felt unable to open new free schools and discouraged from bringing existing schools into academy trusts.

The consultation will look at lifting this cap, meaning new free schools would be able to offer more places to pupils based on faith.

Building on the DfE’s work to improve standards, the consultation will also explore how faith providers can use their expertise to open special faith-based academies for the first time.

This will support faith school providers to open more schools across the country, creating more places for all children.


How will the plans help SEND schools?

The Governments wants to make sure that all children and young people who need specialist support have access to it, so it’s important that all strong providers, including faith schools, can open schools for children with SEND to help meet the need for places.

Currently, faith-based providers can’t open special schools.

The consultation will look at how we could change this to maximise the benefits offered by high-quality academy trusts, including by opening special faith-based academies for children with SEND for the first time.

These schools would admit pupils on the basis of their need, not their faith.

Changing the policy to allow special academies to be designated with a religious character would encourage high-quality faith school providers to apply to establish new special academies and free schools within their multi-academy trusts, helping us to meet the increased need for places for children with SEND.


What is an academy?

Academies are state-funded schools.

However, unlike other state-funded schools, they’re independent from local authorities, and are instead run by academy trusts.

Trusts are not-for-profit companies and can be multi-academy trusts (MATs) – which run several academies – or single-academy trusts that run just one.

They have more flexibility around what they teach, teachers’ pay and conditions, the length of the school day, and term dates.

Some academies used to be local authority-maintained schools and others are new schools, known as free schools, which are established to create more school places in a local area.

New data shows that over half of state-funded schools are now academies.


How are academies helping to raise standards?

Analysis shows that, on average, academy schools improve standards quicker than equivalent local authority-maintained schools.

Being part of an academy trust helps to improve standards because the best leaders can take responsibility for supporting more schools. This develops great teachers and allows schools to focus on what really matters – teaching, learning, and a curriculum that is based on what works.

survey found more than 75% of recently-converted schools reported that the overall impact of joining a multi-academy trust was positive.

Around 90% of these felt that the positive impact either met, or exceeded, their expectations.

High-quality multi-academy trusts have been key to the increase in standards in schools since 2010.

The best trusts have transformed the life chances of their pupils, including thousands of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Keep Updated

Sign up to our weekly property newsletter to receive the latest news.