Reading Time: 4 minutes By TR001 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 4 minutes

I am going to let you into a little secret now that’s is not a secret because it is public knowledge but is a secret because apparently, no one seems to know it. And when I say no one seems to know it, I mean no one seems to know this at all, whether they will have anything to do with working in faith schools or are members of the general public. I know this because literally everyone I speak to about this subject doesn’t know what I’m about to tell you.

Indeed, it seems that only people in the financial positions relevant to the schools I’ll be talking about seem to know this, And those further up the decision-making chain within the religious organisations of which I’m about to talk. I’m so constantly amazed at what I’m about to tell you and I think it is effectively a national scandal.

For you many American readers, you will not be used to the fact that the British education system is a completely fragmented mess where we have any number of organisations running our schools, many of which are religious in nature. Presently the figures stand at about 37% of primary schools (that’s over 6000 schools!) being faith schools and 20% of secondary schools being faith schools. I have a feeling, under the academisation and free schools schemes, that this number might be rising. But I would need to confirm this.

These faith schools are big business in the UK. And I mean that in the truest sense of the word.

The question I often ask people, and these can be people involved directly in teaching at faith schools, or parents there, is, “How much do you think the diocese pays for the running of this school?” The answer is usually something along the lines of, “Well they pay for everything…” or large degrees thereof.

The reality is an answer that is something more along the lines of: well, they pay for nothing.

In general terms, there are two types of faith schools: voluntary controlled faith schools and voluntary aided faith schools.

Let’s put to bed the first type. Voluntary controlled faith schools are entirely funded by the state system, the local government (what used to be known as the local education authority). Yes, entirely funded. The taxpayer pays for the entirety of that faith school: the running costs, the staff, the electricity, the books, everything. More on this later.

Voluntary aided faith schools are slightly different. Slightly. Let’s say that this school that we are talking about is a Catholic school, for sake of argument. The diocese are responsible for 10% of any new building built, 10% of capital costs. Yes, that is the entirety of their financial responsibility towards the school.

Normally, a (Church of England) or Catholic diocese will take in a certain amount of money from every single Catholic school under its jurisdiction that would later equate to this 10% capital outlay. The diocese holds onto this money, which ends up being a vast amount of money from a large number of schools. This school we are then talking about, when building a new building or wanting some form of capital expenditure, then has to apply for this money back from the diocese. And they often have to pay a surcharge for that privilege! Now, remember, this money that the school has given the diocese to hold onto is taxpayers money. The diocese is sitting on this money and making a tidy little profit from interest from the money that they have gathered from all their different schools. The diocese is making a profit out of the taxpayer.

Now, the Church of England may do this in a slightly different way and different dioceses under the Catholic Church may operate slightly different schemes. But the result is pretty much going to be the same. As Wikipedia states:

in contrast to other types of maintained school, only 90% of the capital costs of a voluntary aided school are met by the state. The foundation contributes the remaining 10% of the capital costs, and many VA faith schools belong to diocesan maintenance schemes or other types of funding programme to help them to manage those costs.

I love the fact that the writer of this article used the words “only 90%” as being met by the state. Wow.

What is even more distasteful is the fact that schools are often obliged to find this money themselves by recouping it through other means. The most common way of doing this is asking something like £10 per child per term. That means a family with one child at a primary school should donate £30 to the school over the year. A family with three children will donate £90 over the year. The idea is that this money covers the 10% that the diocese has to pay. But as we can see, the diocese has already extracted that money from the school budget that has already come directly from the taxpayer. If they then also get to cover this money by recouping from the parents or in some other similar way, then they effectively get to keep the taxpayers’ money in their coffers.

And now for the uncomfortable secular bit. These schools get to dictate exactly what their children are taught. I know that in Year 1 in a Catholic diocese using a particular Catholic curriculum, they are taught the stoning of the adulterer. But you can imagine any faith school – Orthodox Jewish, Church of England, Catholic, Islamic, or whatever. Any of these schools have a massive control over what they get to teach to their young children as long as they also teach the core of the National Curriculum. They have different admissions whereby they can selectively admit children based on faith and religious affiliation. They will have regular religious services for all the children in their school, inviting in priests or going to the local church to do so. I know that many Catholic schools invite in pro-life speakers to talk to their children about such ideas. So on and so forth.

The sorts of things that schools with religious character can do and can teach to our children is staggering. They have a tremendous power of thought over our young people.

And they are funded entirely, or in some cases almost entirely, by the taxpayer. You and I. We might be funding an Islamic school, an Orthodox Jewish school or a Catholic school all with different flavours of theological thought and all with different admissions policies and their biases and selective school admissions policies.

This, my friends, is a national scandal that appears to have gone under the spotlight far too long.

We are funding church organisations, we are funding church profiteering, we are funding theological teaching and so on…

It’s simply not fair and it’s certainly not secular.

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...