Education Law and Faith Schools

According to recent estimates, almost a third of all schools in England and Wales are faith schools, and almost a quarter of all children are educated in a faith school. These types of schools were a key plank in the labour government’s strategy for education, and the Coalition has indicated that it will continue to increase the amount of educational services which are provided by religious groups.

There are three types of faith schools: voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and independent religious schools, and different rules apply to each of these.

Voluntary Controlled Faith Schools
These are schools which are funded by the state and where the state is responsible for the day-to-day management and control of the school. The buildings and land are owned by a religious group, and that religious group has the right to appoint the governors and often the head teacher, but other teachers are employed by the local education authority. The appointment of these teachers is subject to the same conditions as teachers in regular state schools and there is no requirement that the teachers profess the same faith as the religious group which established the school.

In voluntary controlled faith schools, the admissions policy is set and administered by the local education authority. This means that these types of schools are usually open to all students and there is no requirement that the student has an attachment to the faith held by the religious group which established the school.

Voluntary Aided Faith Schools
These are schools which are funded by the state but are managed and controlled by a religious group. The religious group owns the land and buildings, appoints the governors of the school and selects and appoints teachers. All teachers are directly employed by the religious group, and it is lawful for the religious group to require teachers to profess the same faith and to discipline staff for breaching religious principles or acting in a way which is inconsistent with the schools ethos.

In voluntary aided faith schools, the admissions policy is determined and enforced by the governors of the school. This means that very often prospective students are required to demonstrate some adherence to the religious principles on which the school is founded.

Independent Faith Schools
These are schools which are entirely funded and controlled by a religious group. The religious group appoints the governors and employs all of the staff as well as setting the admissions policy. Independent faith schools often require both teachers and students to be professing members of a particular religious sect or denomination, and can discipline both staff and students if they act in a way which is inconsistent with the schools ethos and religious values.

Teaching in Faith and Religious Schools
Both voluntary aided and voluntary controlled faith schools are required to teach the national curriculum, and students will cover the same subjects as pupils in other state maintained schools. The only exception to this is in the case of religious education, where faith schools are allowed to set their own curriculum which will usually focus on the religious beliefs held by the charity or church which founded the school. Voluntary aided and voluntary controlled schools are also entitled to insist that religious education is taught by a professing member of a particular faith or denomination.

There is no requirement for independent faith schools to teach the national curriculum and these schools will set their own subjects and studies.

For a variety or reasons, ranging from smaller class sizes to higher standards of discipline many faith schools have better league table results than other state run schools and this makes them highly desirable. Many parents will consider legal challenges to admission criteria to try and get their children a place.

Special Education Law – Overview

Many of us, who went to school not that long ago, remember that being a special needs student meant riding to school in a separate bus and attending one class with other children of varying disabilities. These classes resembled more of a day care than school, and even the most advanced students had little hope of receiving a high school diploma, let alone attend college. Since that time, the term disability, and special needs student, has expanded to encompass much more than a person with an IQ below a certain arbitrary standard. What I have attempted to do in my first article is to give a little history of the evolution of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In 1954 the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) which found that segregated schools were a violation of equal protection rights. It would be another twenty years before this concept was applied to children with handicaps, especially learning disabilities, trying to receive an education. In fact, shortly after Brown was decided the Illinois Supreme Court found that compulsory education did not apply to mentally impaired students, and as late as 1969, it was a crime to try to enroll a handicapped child in a public school if that child had ever been excluded.

Due to court challenges in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia in the early 1970’s things started to change. In 1975 Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. This was the first law that mandated that all handicapped students had a right to an education. Not only did it mandate that all handicapped students had a right to an education, it also mandated that local educational agencies could be held accountable for not doing so. Shortly thereafter, the term handicapped was replaced with “child with a disability”. Although revised in 1990 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the most comprehensive changes came in 1997. This law required schools to identify children with disabilities to make sure that all children have available a “free appropriate public education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and independent living” 20 U.S.C. ยง 1401 (d). Unfortunately, the most recent changes in 2004 made the law slightly more difficult to receive the benefits they deserve, which, depending upon the next administration and the make up of Congress may or may not be a trend that will be followed in the future.

Exactly what is a “free appropriate public education”? Under the law, it is defined as “special education and related services that (A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge: (B) meet the standards of the State educational agency; (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary or secondary school education in the State involved; and (D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education program required under [the law].” In other words, the school must provide services that meet the needs of a child with a disability that may affect their ability to learn. These “related services” can be services that are provided in the classroom, such as giving the child extra time to finish taking tests. They can also encompass services that can be provided outside of the classroom, such as tutoring, or having the child attend either a day or residential program outside of the school, along with transportation.

For the historical data, I relied on Wrightslaw: Special Education Law by Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright and Special Education Law in Massachusetts by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education.

10 Reasons Education Law is So Important

If you work in a school or other education establishment then you might already be aware of why education law is playing such an important role in modern education.

Here’s what you need to know

1.    Schools are just as accountable and responsible as other businesses, and have to meet the same sort of regulations.

2.    Compliance with relevant education laws and government policies is essential, and an experienced education solicitor can make sure that your school or university isn’t breaking any laws.

3.    Your school will be dealing with many suppliers, and will be buying lots of goods and services.  Education law can also help you make sure that the contracts you negotiate and sign are legal, and in your best interests.

4.    Unfortunately pupil discipline is becoming more of an issue in modern education.  It is important that you know what you can and can’t do to discipline your pupils.

5.    Charity law can also apply to schools if they received donations or funding.  By knowing how to deal with the paperwork and legal implications involved, you can make sure that you stay on the right side of the law.

6.    Estate management is another important area of education.  Perhaps you are considering buying or selling land for the school, or want help when hiring contractors.

7.    Like in other sectors, it is important to remember that construction, planning and environmental laws also apply to schools too.  If you’re in the process of having a new wing built, or wanting to make more of your playing fields, you’ll need to make sure that the plans are legal.

8.    Employment law still applies in schools, so that you’ll need to make sure that all of your employees are treated fairly so as not to breach employment laws.

9.    When recruiting new staff, you might additional skills to be verified, or checks to be carried out.  An education solicitor will be able to help ensure that your recruitment process is up to date and legal.

10.    Health and Safety issues and schools always seem to be in the news, and often for the wrong reasons, so it’s important that your staff know exactly how lessons should be carried out, cleaning should be done, and how any other potential hazards can be identified and minimised to reduce the risk of injury or disease to pupils and staff.

Now you know more how important knowing about and adhering to relevant education laws is, perhaps it’s time for you to make sure your policies and procedures comply with Education Law.