The government should “get rid” of an agreement that allows religious groups to receive millions of pounds to inspect their schools and give the money to Ofsted instead.
Faith groups were handed almost £5 million by the Department for Education (DfE) over the past six years to carry out inspections of the religious education in their schools, the National Secular Society (NSS) has found.
The Church of England and Catholic Church took the bulk of £4.9 million given to faith groups to inspect whether the religious education in their schools matched the beliefs of their institutions, Freedom of Information requests revealed.
But faith institutions said Ofsted does not have the expertise to carry out inspections of their religious education.
Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service, said inspecting faith education “requires specialist training and expertise which Ofsted doesn’t provide.”
The DfE funds Ofsted to inspect religious education in secular state schools, so it was fair religious state schools got a contribution from the government to run their own, added Barber. Religious groups then “make up” the rest of the cost themselves.
Under Section 48 of the 2005 Education Act, the governors of a voluntary-aided or foundation school must choose who should inspect the “denominational education” and “content of the school’s collective worship” in their school.
The inspector may also choose others who are “in his opinion fit and proper persons for carrying out the inspection.”
Faith groups can also access a grant from the DfE to run these inspections, as detailed in this inspection guidance from the Church of England.
This agreement is reiterated in Ofsted guidance, seen by Schools Week, which says a “grant is available towards the cost of the Section 48 inspection.”
The grant is £1,000 per inspection for a secondary school, £550 for a primary school, £450 for a voluntary-controlled school. There is also an administration fee of £25 per school, according to the CofE.
Stephen Evans, campaigns director at the NSS, said if religious education was treated “like any other subject” rather than singled out for special treatment, Ofsted could inspect it themselves and save the DfE millions of pounds in grants to faith groups.
Now the NSS has written to Nick Gibb, schools minister, telling him to change Section 48 and the inspection funding agreement so Ofsted keep the funding, thereby helping them tackle their budget deficit.
This requires specialist expertise which Ofsted doesn’t provide
Almost two-thirds of the £4.9 million (64 per cent, or £3.2 million) grant for inspections over the past six years went to the Church of England.
The next highest amount (34 per cent) was handed to the Catholic Education Service, part of the Catholic Church, at £1.7 million.
The Board of Jewish Deputies got £38, 375 (0.7 per cent), the Association of Muslim Schools got £18,625 (0.38 per cent) and the Network of Sikh Organisations got £7,050 (0.14 per cent). A small £550 grant was given to the Nishkam School Trust, a Sikh trust, to inspect its religious education in 2014-15.
A Church of England spokesperson said they were legally obliged to ensure the religious education in its schools was consistent with its ethos.
“We believe that these inspections provide excellent value for money.”
This was backed by the DfE, who said it was “right” that the quality of religious education in faith schools was “inspected by those with expertise in the particular religion.”
Faith schools were still subject to Ofsted inspections which check on the promotion of British values, they added.