Quarter of free school applications are from faith-based organisations

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A quarter of applications to set up free schools in England over the past two years have been from faith-based organisations, according to data published by the Department for Education.

Church of England, Catholic, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish groups were among 132 faith applicants under the scheme.

A spokeswoman for the DfE said: "A third of state schools have a faith designation compared to around a fifth of open free schools.

"In addition, the proportion of applications to open a faith-designated free school has also gone down. It is ridiculous to suggest that the free schools programme is an easier way for faith schools to be established over another type of school.

"Free schools are, however, being set up by groups who want something different from the norm. They want freedom from local bureaucrats, the freedom to innovate and the freedom to raise standards of education that reflect the needs of local parents."

Richy Thompson, faith schools campaigner at the British Humanist Association, said: "We believe the true number of religious schools is likely to be a third to 50% higher than what the data implies.

"This is because it only shows schools with a formally designated religious character, and not those with a "faith" ethos. Academies and free schools can be religious without formally designating as 'faith' schools."

Analysis of applications suggests that about 25.5% - 132 applications in total - were for schools that would have a religious character.

The information also shows that there were 179 applications from independent schools planning to switch over to the state sector and become free schools.

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