A Freedom of Information Act request by the Accord Coalition has highlighted the tiny amount that the governing bodies of faith schools contribute to their schools. Even though a third of state funded schools in England are faith schools, in the last financial year faith groups were required to contribute no more than £23.1 million towards capital spending projects managed directly by the Department for Education,part of a massive long term reduction in the support by faith groups for the schools they sponsor.
Under current funding arrangements voluntary aided (VA) faith schools are supposed to meet 10% of their capital costs (15% towards capital projects initiated before 2002), and before the introduction of Academies two thirds of faith schools were VA schools. The running costs of all other types of faith school are met wholly by the tax payer, including if a voluntary aided faith school converts to an Academy. However, the governing body of VA schools are no longer required to contribute towards the costs of capital funding made from the Department for Education’s main school building improvement fund, the Priority School Building Programme, and the table below sets out the declining contribution governing bodies have been expected to make in the last five years under other Department for Education capital funds.
Capital funding to VA Schools requiring a contribution, by different rates
Required contribution by VA Schools, by different rates
Total VA governing body contribution
|2008-09||85% – £0.45||15% – £0.08m||
|90% – £534m||10% – £59.3m|
|2009-10||85% – £0.07m||15% – £0.01m||
|90% – £605m||10% – £67.2m|
|2010-11||85% – £0.55m||15% – £0.1m||
|90% – £315m||10% – £35.0m|
|2011-12||90% – £242m||10% – £26.8m||
|2012-13||90% – £208m||10% – £23.1m||
The Government does not record how VA faith school governing bodies meet their required contribution towards their capital costs. Most of it may come from fundraising from parents and only a small fraction from faith groups themselves. And not only have contributions towards capital costs reduced over the last five years, but are part of a much larger long term decline.
Faith schools were first brought into the state maintained system as a result of the 1944 Education Act. Some became voluntary controlled faith schools and were entirely state funded, while the majority become VA schools. VA status gave the schools extra freedoms, including the ability to employ and recruit all teachers on the grounds of religion, to admit all of their pupils on religious grounds if sufficiently oversubscribed and to decide upon the kind of Religious Education or Instruction provided. But in exchange for these extra powers governing body were expected to meet 50% of the school’s capital expenditure costs.
However, since 1944, and with no public debate, the required contribution towards capital spending has come down and down. While the Regulatory Reform Order (Voluntary Aided Schools Liabilities and Funding) 2002 reduced the level from 15% to 10%, the real figure is now far below 10% as the Department for Education no longer requires VA schools to make any contribution towards most of the capital funding it makes.
Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE said, ‘No school that receives state funds should be allowed to discriminate on religious grounds, or to deny pupils a broad education about the range of beliefs held in society. However, it is extraordinary that in 1944 the Government thought it a fair settlement to require faith schools that wished to be able to act in narrow and exclusive ways to make a 50% contribution towards their capital costs, while today the percentage met by faith groups is not far from zero.
‘As a consequence the argument that faith schools should be able to enjoy privileges and exemptions from equality law because they help to meet some of their own costs has been almost completely eroded away. Similarly, the argument that the wider community should have a say how state funded faith schools are allowed to operate only grows even stronger.’