The law on the place of religion and belief in schools, and the rights of parents in relation to that law, is incredibly complex and can be hard to navigate. This description applies to England and (with some variations) to Wales.
The current arrangements remain largely in line with the reforms of the 1944 Education Act, which was responsible for bringing ‘faith’ schools into the state sector for the first time, and also for making both Religious Instruction (RI) – now Religious Education (RE) – and Collective Worship compulsory in all schools (both remain legal requirements).
Since then, the system has if anything become more favourable to religious groups. Their schools are now almost totally funded from the public purse and they have been given increasing freedom and control in the running of schools. Specific exemptions from equalities legislation, for instance, have enshrined their power to discriminate both in admissions and in employment, and the autonomy given to Academies and Free Schools in the formulation of their curriculum enables religious organisations to teach from a narrower, less inclusive, and doctrinaire perspective.
Alongside faith schools in the public system, private schools remain highly unregulated and are inadequately inspected. Some religious private schools are inspected by bodies that they set up themselves. Those that are inspected by Ofsted are not marked down if, for example, they teach pseudoscientific beliefs such as creationism as scientifically valid. The blogs on this website testify to several places where inspections have failed to identify serious problems. The number and diversity of private religious schools has risen rapidly in recent years.
The law in these various areas is set out in the following pages:
- Types of school
- Religious Education
- Collective worship
- Creationism and Evolution
- Sex and Relationships Education
- School admissions