London (CNSNews.com) – For well over a century, religious organizations in Britain have had the right to inspect and determine how well they teach matters of faith in their own schools.
Now, a British secular group is publicly questioning whether this should be done by the government instead, charging that the traditional procedure is a waste of money – and moreover does not ensure that religious education is “non-partisan.”
Using freedom of information requests, the National Secular Society has found out that the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service have been paid around $6.3 million (£4,840,750) over the last six school years to inspect schools under their care.
A much smaller fraction of this sum was also paid during this time to the Association of Muslim Schools, two different Sikh groups and the Board of Deputies, the main body of British Jews, the NSS found..
Some form of religious education is compulsory in all state schools in England and Wales, but faith-oriented schools generally have a lot more leeway in focusing it around their own religion.
Almost all religious schools in Britain are either partly or heavily subsidized by the government, and the majority of them are Christian.
While the government directly monitors how well religion is taught in non-faith schools, the right of religious organizations to undertake this task themselves in their schools has been in place since the 1840s.
According to church guidelines, schools run by the Church of England (Anglican Church) will be statutorily evaluated at least once every five years on their religion education and how they worship together.
In a practice mirrored by other religions, among other things, independent inspectors will sit in on classes, talk to students and teachers, and evaluate school records, before producing a report for the school’s governing board.
Stephen Evans, campaigns director for the NSS, said in a statement that having all schools directly inspected by the government would save enormous amounts in government grants.
“More importantly it would better ensure that religious education in faith schools is broad and balanced and not being used to promote religion or inculcate pupils into a particular faith,” he said.
Evans said that another big problem is that church schools are not delivering objective education about religion and belief.
“"We want to ensure that all pupils to have the same entitlement to high quality, non-partisan education about religion and belief,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said Thursday it is right for the quality of faith-based religious education that teaching should be inspected by those with expertise in that particular religion.
“Faith schools are still subject to [other government] inspections which take into account whether they are actively promoting British values,” the spokesperson added.
A spokesperson for the Church of England said the denomination has 4,700 schools that are free of charge, in accordance with charitable purposes.
“Determining whether a school is operating consistently with that ethos is the legal responsibility of the Church of England” the spokesperson said. “We believe that these inspections provide excellent value for money.”
Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service, said on Wednesday that church schools deliver religious education in accordance with parent choice, and that inspecting it requires specialist training and expertise.
“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,” he said.
Barber added that the costs of inspections are only partially covered by government grants, while the rest is covered by the church in question.