Taxpayers in Britain are picking up costs for the refurbishment of faith schools that should actually be met by religious groups, according to a report in the TES (Times Educational Supplement).
By law, the religious foundations of voluntary aided schools should be contributing 10 per cent to the cost of building work, but new figures show that they actually cover just 7.5 per cent, with the £18.4 million shortfall being met by the taxpayer.
Campaigners from the Accord Coalition, which wants all publicly-funded schools to operate on a level and fair playing field, also argue that when compared to the total costs of education, the financial contribution from religious groups is insignificant.
The £56 million given by the religious foundations of faith schools in 2008/9 is equivalent to just 0.15 per cent of the total schools budget, even when pensions are excluded.
The Accord Coalition chair, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, commented today: “Perhaps the government has recognised the financial reality that religious groups can no longer afford to pay as much as they once did, but not the social reality that religious discrimination is unacceptable in the 21st century."
He continued: "Taxpayer funded public services should be for the public, not one segment of it. It is vital for the long-term health of society that children of different traditions grow up together and learn to interact on a daily basis.”
The requirement for a contribution to capital costs from the religious foundations of voluntary aided schools dates back to the 1944 Education Act.
However, campaigners argue that although capital funding from religious groups has fallen from 50 per cent in 1944 to just 7.5 per cent today, there has been no corresponding decrease in the amount faith schools can discriminate.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, one of the founders of Accord, said: "We have long argued that the legal and funding arrangements that give particular advantages to faith schools and limit the choice and freedom of belief of parents and children need to be changed - not just on general grounds of fairness, but because they contradict the claims of justice, equality and compassion which the religions themselves lay claim to. The latest TES findings are another example of the need for reform."
The Accord Coalition (www.accordcoalition.org.uk/) was launched in early September 2008 to bring together religious and non religious organisations campaigning for an end to religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions.
The coalition also campaigns for a fair and balanced RE curriculum and the removal of the requirement for compulsory collective worship. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the British Humanist Association and Ekklesia are among the members of the Accord Coalition.