Managing Director and Founder of Education Advisers Ltd Les Webb says faith schools are often chosen for the moral guidance they offer their pupils
Many parents prefer faith schools because of the strong moral compass they provide in a world of distractions, violence, drugs and unruly behaviour. By contrast, parent opponents of faith schools worry about the possible indoctrination of young minds.
Faith schools offer an education based on one particular religion. In the UK, they must teach at least the National Curriculum but they can choose whatever religious studies they teach. The term is most commonly applied to state-funded faith schools, where it is sometimes contentious. State faith schools often produce superior exam performance to regular state schools, which then puts them in great demand, which in turn puts them in conflict with parents who are unable to access that school because they do not follow that particular religion. For staff of embassies in London, it is a large problem because they rarely have more than three months’ notice of their posting and it is nigh impossible to get into state faith schools at such short notice.
There are also many faith schools in the private (independent) sector, but they do not attract the same contentious opinions, because private schools can select whichever children they want regardless of faith. However, the vast majority of UK private schools will describe themselves as based on a religious faith, but in fact practise multi-faith admissions. The main separate religious faiths seen in private schools are:
- Church of England (Anglican)
- Roman Catholic
- Christian Science
- Seventh Day Adventists
We would group Catholics, Methodists, Church of England and Protestants under the same heading of Christianity. However, Catholics comprise around 50 per cent of Christians and prefer to be categorised separately. The vast majority of UK private schools would fall into the above nine categories. Many will have their own church or chapel onsite and in some instances be linked to nearby cathedrals or abbeys.
Protestant, Methodist and CofE schools will mostly practise Christian services, but an increasing majority now describe themselves as non-denominational or multi-faith, accepting children from many other faiths, especially Buddhists or Hindus from Asia. Children of other religions are not bound to change faith to fit in but will generally be expected to respect Christian principles. Most of these schools will have regular meetings to explore other faiths and often invite students to talk to the whole group about life in their own countries and religions. In some cases, these schools may try to find other local churches where students can attend services of their own faith at weekends.
Roman Catholic schools form the next biggest group with lots of Catholic schools spread all over the UK. The majority of UK Catholic private schools actually have less than 40 per cent Catholic pupils. Thus, they have no option but to adopt non-denominational admissions principles. However, the main difference is that all Catholic schools will expect all pupils to attend Mass regularly.
There are a small number of Catholic schools where the vast majority of pupils are Catholic – usually over 75 per cent. These include Ampleforth, Stonyhurst and Mount St Mary. Plainly, they do accept a modest number of non-Catholics but there is usually no flexibility to opt out of school religious services. Ampleforth School is attached to the Ampleforth Abbey. Ampleforth’s Benedictine values of Attentiveness, Hospitality, Respect, Integrity, Stewardship and Equilibrium are at the heart of school life. They influence the way in which Ampleforth students apply themselves to their studies, interact with others and their environment and mould their expectations of themselves and others.
Headmaster of large Catholic day and boarding school in Bath, Prior Park College, James Murphy-O’Connor explains: “The core of a Catholic school’s mission is educating the whole person: intellectually, socially and spiritually. At Prior Park, we celebrate the uniqueness of every child and we recognise the duty to use our talents, developing ourselves to be ‘the person God wants you to be.’
“‘The Prior Way’ is our statement of values and attitudes and is based on The Beatitudes. It is quite simply: Treat others as you would like to be treated; Forgive; Share; Be honest; Listen; Show good manners; Be kind and helpful; Be your best self. We encourage our pupils, whether they are Catholic or not, to continue these values throughout their life.”
Methodist schools were established by the Methodist Church led by John Wesley, promoting the principle ‘Do all the good you can.’ Methodist schools include the Kent Colleges (both Canterbury and Pembury), Culford School, Kingswood School and Queenswood. It is part of the Methodist ethos to accept all faiths and be non-denominational.
There are a modest number of Islamic schools, some with very small pupil groups. The King Fahad Academy is the largest Islamic school in the UK, catering for 500+ pupils of 24 different nationalities at their campus in Acton. It is also the only Islamic school in the UK authorised to offer the International Baccalaureate, where its curriculum transferability to other IB schools makes it very beneficial to families whose jobs necessitate frequent changes of country. I was very impressed on my visit to meet Director General, Dr Abdulghani Alharbi and Director of Studies, Mark Dunning, where they take very seriously their mission to provide an international education with an Islamic ethos. They point out that the IB programmes are strictly international and do not cover individual religions. Their annual achievement of 34 points + in the IBDP is significantly higher than the worldwide average for IB schools.
There are two other big, private Islamic schools in London – Brondesbury College for boys, and the Islamiaa Girls School. These two latter schools have favourable OFSTED reports: “British values are promoted. Pupils learn about democracy. They are taught about different faiths and religions and share inter faith events with other schools, including a Jewish School.”
All Islamic schools are particularly good value with fees under £7,000 per annum. King Fahad Academy are actually as low as £2,500 per annum at some younger ages.
There are also a small number of Jewish schools of which the most well-known is Immanuel College, but Clifton College in Bristol also has a Jewish boarding house. Principal of Immanuel College, based in Bushey, NW London, Rabbi Eliezer Zobin, advises that theirs is the largest Jewish School in the UK with 700 pupils from ages three to 18. It accepts pupils from practising Jewish families and offers morning and afternoon prayers, plus the use of its own synagogue for festivals. The school vision and values are based on three pillars: Education with a Jewish Ethos, Pastoral care and Academic Excellence.
There is a smattering of Quaker schools around the UK, the biggest being Bootham in York and Leighton Park in Reading.
The remaining religious schools tend to fall under ‘cult’ groups such as Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventists and Scientology. Interestingly, most of these schools claim they are no longer associated with the cult that set them up, but recent parent feedback indicates otherwise. As a matter of principle, we avoid recommending these schools unless we receive a specific request from a parent that already belongs to that religion.
Whichever religion a parent prefers, Education Advisers Ltd tries to find a school matching their principles. T: +44 (0) 1622 813870.