Religious organisations are being paid to inspect religious education lessons in their own schools, the National Secular Society has said.
Research conducted by the society reveals that almost £5 million of public money has been paid to religious organisations over the last six years, allowing them to carry out additional inspections of faith schools’ religious education.
Figures from the Department for Education show that £4,904,800 has been allocated in grants to faith bodies. More than £500,000 a year went to the Church of England, and the Catholic church received more than £250,000 a year. The Association of Muslim Schools, the Jewish Board of Deputies and two Sikh organisations also received tens of thousands of pounds.
Under the terms of the 2005 Education Act, faith organisations are tasked with evaluating the effectiveness and distinctiveness of schools as religious institutions. This includes RE lessons and the provision of collective worship.
The National Secular Society has written to schools minister Nick Gibb to ask for Ofsted, rather than religious authorities, to inspect schools’ RE lessons.
'At their own expense'
Stephen Evans, the society’s campaigns director, said: “The purpose of state-funded inspections is to ensure that schools are serving the needs of their pupils, not the desires or interests of religious organisations.
“If faith bodies want to carry out extraneous inspections on the religiosity of faith schools, they should do so at their own expense.”
He added that some teachers and governors at church schools have approached the society with concerns that inspections by faith bodies are being used to pressure church schools into adopting a more rigorous religious ethos.
And he suggested that re-allocating the money for these inspections to Ofsted would help the inspectorate to meet more than 10 per cent of its budget deficit.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It is right that the quality of faith based RE teaching in faith schools is inspected by those with expertise in the particular religion. Religious schools are required by law to arrange these inspections and the DfE provides a grant to support them.
“Faith schools are still subject to Ofsted inspections which take into account whether they are actively promoting British values.”
Paul Barber, Director of the Catholic Education Service commented: “All Catholic schools are owned by the Catholic Church. As such, it has the legal right to inspect its own schools. This has been the case since 1847.
Church schools deliver denominational RE in accordance with parental choice and inspecting it requires specialist training and expertise which Ofsted does not provide, he added.
He said: “The Churches have a network of qualified and trained inspectors that are independent of the schools inspected and follow a rigorous inspection framework and handbook that are available publicly, as are the resulting reports. The section 48 inspectorates and Ofsted work closely together and, whilst independent of each other, there is a mutual professional respect between them.
“Ofsted’s inspection of RE in secular schools is funded entirely by the state whereas the cost of denominational inspections is partly funded by a contribution from the DfE, with the remainder of the costs being borne by the relevant Church. The DfE grant is given to ensure public accountability, as all section 48 inspection reports must be published in order to receive the grant.”