Guidance

Religious character designation: guide to applying

What schools and academies need to do to get a religious character designation and open as a faith or church school.

Schools maintained by the local authority

Existing schools

If you’re a maintained school that wishes to get or change a religious designation, you must first close your existing school. You must then approach your local authority with a proposal to open a new school with a religious designation.

If your local authority agrees with your proposal, you need to apply to get the Secretary of State’s approval before you open a new school with a religious designation.

Read guidance on how to close and open a school under the School Organisation (Establishment and Discontinuance of Schools) Regulations 2013.

New schools

If you’re a diocese that wishes to open a maintained school with a religious designation, you should approach your local authority and propose a new voluntary-aided (VA) school with a religious character. Your local authority will ask you to show evidence that there’s enough local demand for the school you’re proposing.

If your local authority agrees with your proposal, you need to apply to get the Secretary of State’s approval before you open a new school with a religious designation.

Prepare your application to get or change a religious designation

You need the Secretary of State for Education’s approval before you can get or change a religious designation. To apply for approval, you must have:

  • published a proposal to open a new school with a religious character (eg on your or your local authority’s website)
  • approval from your diocesan authority, if the application is for a Church of England or Roman Catholic school
  • a trust deed (ie the terms relating to the ownership of the premises on behalf of the diocese or religious body) and instrument of government that are consistent with the proposal to open the new school - read guidance for schools on creating their instrument of government
  • a proposed governing body for the new school

You’ll also need to confirm at least 1 of the following:

  • that at least 1 school governor will be a ‘foundation governor’, ie a governor that your faith authority has appointed to represent the religion of your new school
  • that the governing body will hold the school’s premises on trust (ie on behalf of the diocese or religious body) so that if the school closes, money from the sale of the premises will go to the school’s diocese or religious body
  • that the governing body will hold the school’s premises on trust to provide education according to the school’s religion

Submit the application to get or change a religious designation

Use our online form to apply.

You’ll need to upload a copy of your trust deed or instrument of government when you submit the form.

If the application is for a Church of England or Roman Catholic school, you’ll also need to upload a document that confirms the approval from your diocesan authority.

We’ll review your application and contact you by phone or email if we need more information.

If your application is successful, we’ll make a religious designation order and will inform you when this has happened.

If the application is unsuccessful, we’ll contact you and let you know why.

Open a maintained school with a religious character designation

Like all other maintained schools, your school will have to:

For information on teaching religious education (RE) and collective worship, see the guidance on religious education in English schools.

For guidance on staffing, see guidance on managing staff employment in schools.

Academies and free schools

Existing academies or free schools

If you’re an existing academy or free school that wishes to get or change a religious designation, you should follow the ‘Making significant changes to an existing academy’ guide.

New academies and free schools

You can open a new academy or free school with a religious designation through the free school presumption process. This is the process where a local authority identifies the need to establish a new school in their area and seeks proposals.

If you wish to open a new free school with a religious designation outside of the presumption process, follow the guidance in the free school application guide.

Published 7 September 2015