A substantial proportion of teacher jobs created by the government's free schools programme could be at faith schools, newly released figures have suggested.
In total, 132 applications to set up free schools over the past two years came from faith-based groups including Church of England, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh organisations, official government data has indicated.
Faith groups therefore accounted for around 25.5 per cent of the total number of applications received in the second and third 'waves' of the application process, compared to around one out of three existing state schools currently with a faith designation.
Commenting on these statistics, a Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman told BBC News that it was therefore "ridiculous" to suggest the free schools programme made it easier to establish faith schools over any other type of school.
She added: "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."
These figures were released against the wishes of the DfE, which had initially rejected a freedom of information request for this data from the Guardian newspaper, the Association of Colleges and the British Humanist Association (BHA).
However, its decision was overturned by the Information Tribunal, who considered it in the public interest, given the cost of the free school programme, for these statistics to be disclosed.
Upon releasing the information, education secretary Michael Gove nonetheless disputed the wisdom of making this data public, citing the hostility that parents and primary and secondary teachers often faced for trying to join the free schools programme.
Yet responding to Mr Gove's claims, information commissioner Christopher Graham insisted that the tribunal had taken all factors into account before coming to a decision; he also rejected the idea that making this data public would facilitate intimidation.
Meanwhile, BHA faith schools campaigner Richy Thompson has welcomed the publication of this information, asserting that "the previous lack of transparency in this area represented a democratic deficit".
Posted by Tim Colman