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Education in the UK is very different to what it is in the US for a whole host of reasons, one being the historical ties to religion and education. Though we are culturally a far more “secular” country, institutionally, we are not. Here, I will relate three articles from Humanists UK (I have permission to repost their articles for purposes of dissemination):

Two new faith schools get green light from Government

Two new Church of England faith schools have been given the green light to open by the Government. One of the schools, the Avenue CofE Primary School in Derbyshire, was one of 21 approved

through the latest wave of free schools, which has been announced today. The other, Kingston Church of England Secondary School in Kingston upon Thames, was granted approval through last year’s new funding scheme for voluntary aided (VA) schools but this was only publicly confirmed in the last week as the proposal moved into the local consultation period.

Humanists UK, which has long campaigned for fully inclusive state schools which are suitable for children from all backgrounds, has expressed its disappointment at the decision to open more faith schools, pointing out that the number of children currently attending CofE schools outstrips the Church’s entire worshipping community. It nevertheless welcomed the fact that the proportion of faith school proposals that had been successful in securing Government approval was considerably lower than previous years, with just 9% of the schools set to open having a faith character compared to nearly a quarter of those announced in 2019.

As a free school, the Avenue will legally be permitted to select half of its pupils according to faith and, while the school’s website purports that it will ‘be open to children of all backgrounds’ it doesn’t rule out selecting children by religion, saying only it will ‘satisfy the requirements of the School Admissions Code’ which allows such selection. As a VA school, Kingston will be able to select 100% of pupils by religion.

Both proposals will now be subject to a four-week local consultation known as a ‘representation period’, with this having already opened in the case of Kingston and local residents strongly encouraged to respond. As a VA school, Kingston will also need approval from the local authority, so there is potentially more scope to prevent it opening in the event of local opposition.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘Recent data demonstrates that the number of pupils currently enrolled in CofE schools is greater than the entire worshipping community of the Church. And what is more, that worshipping community skews much older than parents and pupils, with the British Social Attitudes Survey finding just 1% of young adults nowadays are Anglicans. In this context, it is impossible to justify giving yet more power and influence over schools to a religious organisation which has very little importance in the day to day lives of most young people today.

‘The proliferation of Christian schools is increasingly untenable. We urge the Government to make sure all future schools it opens are fully inclusive and suitable for all regardless of background or belief.’

Humanists UK is currently fundraising for the salary and resourcing costs of its dedicated education campaigner. If you’re a supporter of Humanists UK’s vision for a fairer education system then please donate at

Anger as council rejects challenge to Catholic school unfairly imposed on newbuild community

Photo via Creative Commons

Residents of Hampton Water in Peterborough have expressed anger after the City Council informed them that it would not overturn a decision to open the most religiously selective school in over a decade in the area – in spite of there being almost no residents in the new build estate at the time the school was approved, and widespread local opposition among residents who have moved in since.

The Council made the statement in response to a petition which Humanists UK worked with local activists to produce. It asks the Council to reconsider its approval of the bid for St John Henry Newman Catholic Primary School in light of the fact ‘that sufficient demand for Catholic school places was never established and the plan is not appropriate to the needs of the majority of Hampton residents, including those who have moved into the area since the decision was made.’

However, Peterborough City Council says its assessment of the proposal was conducted ‘in adherence to Government guidance and the council’s own policy cannot be overturned.’

During a virtual residents’ meeting held this week, attendees noted that very few residents lived on the newbuild Hampton Water estate at the time the Council ran the consultation, so it was impossible to know if there would be local demand. Hundreds of new families have moved into the new development where the school will be situated since the original consultation was conducted. In addition, many houses have yet to be occupied and still more are set to be built in future. This concern was highlighted by local humanist, Michael MacBean, at a Council meeting to debate the proposal when the decision was taken last year.

The residents also expressed their view that the statutory consultation relating to the proposal was seriously flawed, with the Council admitting at the time that it ‘[had] not been possible to determine whether, and if so, to what degree, there [had] been any duplication’ in responses received. With this said, it is worth noting that just 144 of the responses to the statutory consultation came from Hampton residents and 88% of those disagreed with the proposal.

Local resident Tracy Butler said:

‘We are extremely disappointed that Peterborough City Council is refusing to reconsider its decision to open this discriminatory religious school in Hampton Water, particularly as hundreds of new families have moved on to the development since that decision was made.

‘Many of those families have young children and bought their houses thinking they would be able to go to school nearby. Now they are discovering that either their children will be locked out of their local school by a religiously selective admissions policy or, to secure a place, they will have to sign up for a school which says “Catholic doctrine permeates every aspect” of its activity. This is clearly not going to be suitable for many people, particularly those who want a school that treats all religions and beliefs equally.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham added:

‘The process by which the Council settled on this divisive faith school was flawed from the outset and throughout. Demand for Catholic places in the local area was never established precisely because, as a new development, Hampton Water had very few residents to consult – although those that were consulted were largely against the proposal, as are many of those who have arrived subsequently.

‘We strongly urge the Council to look again at this decision and do all it can to make sure that the residents of Hampton Water get the inclusive community ethos school they plainly want.’

Private faith school allowed to repeatedly fail Ofsted safeguarding inspections for five years

A private Muslim faith school in East London has been allowed to repeatedly fail Ofsted inspections of its safeguarding for five years. Humanists UK – which campaigns for tighter regulation of private religious schools – has expressed alarm at the fact that the school has been able to take so little action to address these failings for so long.

Hafs Academy, an all-boys school based on an industrial estate in Newham, was first discovered to be failing in its safeguarding duties as far back as 2016. It has since failed to meet the Independent School Standards – a set of criteria private schools must meet in order to satisfy the requirement to provide pupils with a suitable education – in any inspection from December 2018.

The most recent inspection report, which has just been issued, says policies with relation to tackling extremism and radicalisation had not been updated since 2016. This is despite a previous inspection highlighting that ‘leaders and staff [lacked] the necessary knowledge to protect pupils from extremist or radical views’ and ‘leaders [had] not taken adequate steps to understand and assess risks to pupils as required by the ‘Prevent’ duty.’ The new report also said school leaders are ‘not vigilant enough about identifying health and safety risks’ with the rear fire emergency escape route… restricted’ and that fire extinguishers have not been checked since 2019.

The most recent data on the performance of private Muslim schools finds that, in the past year, 42% were rated ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ at their last inspection. In private schools without a religious character, this figure is 33%, with the poor performance of Muslim schools only outstripped by private Jewish schools where a massive 83% received these failing grades.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented: 

‘Like many private faith schools, Hafs Academy has been permitted to get away with repeated failures to adequately protect its pupils from harm. Indeed, according to Ofsted data, some 39% of private religious schools failed to adequately safeguard pupils compared to just 10% of schools without a religious character. In this case, those failures stretch back some five years now.

‘This is a simply unacceptable state of affairs. The Government must now act quickly to protect the thousands of pupils that are currently being put at risk in this and other poorly regulated, unsafe schools.’

Humanists UK is currently fundraising for the salary and resourcing costs of its dedicated education campaigner. If you’re a supporter of Humanists UK’s vision for a fairer education system then please donate at


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Read the latest Ofsted inspection.

Read our most recent article on the inadequate private school failed by Ofsted for failing to discuss LGBT people.

Read our piece on the Government considering closing a private creationist school.

Read our article about Government closure of a private Muslim school that segregated pupils and teachers by sex.

Read more about our work on faith schools.

Read our Manifesto for Inclusive Education.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.


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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...