Spain pays a record bill for Religion classes despite the drop in students

The subject of Catholic Religion keep losing studentsdespite the boost that Lomce tried to give it in the educational curriculum and that the teachers salary paid by the State broke its record in 2021, with 115 million euros.

In Primary Education, the number of students is at an all-time low. The number of students who choose this subject has gone from 83% in the 2000/01 academic year to 61.2%, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Education corresponding to the 2019/20 school year. It does not seem that the trend is going to reverse in the coming years, since with the new education law (Lomloe) this discipline will lose importance.

The Spanish Episcopal Conference (CEE) has also warned of the drop in Religion students to historic lows. According to statistics compiled by the bishops, in the 2000/01 academic year 78.4% of students chose to study this subject compared to 59.85% that they have accounted for in 2021/22.

For the first time in more than 20 years, the official figures of the ecclesiastical hierarchy confirm that the total number of students who study this discipline in Infant, Primary, Secondary and Baccalaureate falls below 60%. For Fernando Villalba, head of educational policy for the Stes union, the loss of students coincides with "a clear process of secularization in society" that has caused "little by little the demand for Religion to be reduced over the years" .

The trend detected by the Ministry of Education and the Episcopal Conference contrasts with the evolution of financing that the central government allocates to pay the salary of Religion teachers in Infant and Primary courses. While the bishops calculated that the number of registered is reduced annually, Education allocated a record amount (115.9 million euros) to pay the salaries of these teachers.

This figure is the highest disbursed by the central Executive in the last ten years, despite the fact that in this period not only the number of students has been reduced, but also the number of teachers who depend on the central government: it has gone from 3,271 teachers (in the 2011/12 academic year) to 2,827 (2021/22). The number of hours taught and financed by the Ministry evolves in the same way: 9,760 fewer hours of Religion class have been given, if the data for 2012/13 and those for the last school period are compared.

The Ministry of Education faces these payments because it has the power to hire teachers who do not belong to the teaching staff and who teach the Catholic, Evangelical and Islamic confessions in public centers for Early Childhood and Primary Education in Andalusia, Aragon, Cantabria and the Canary Islands, as well as all educational levels in Ceuta and Melilla. 95% of teachers whose salary is financed by the State teach Catholic religion.

The statistics of the bishops is the only one that provides a concrete approximation of the total percentage of students who study Religion. The Ministry of Education publishes a breakdown with the percentage of students taking this subject, always divided into Primary Education, ESO and Baccalaureate. To compute these figures, the Ministry's Subdirectorate General for Statistics and Studies centralizes the data that the statistical services of the autonomous communities' educational ministries send to Education.

For its part, the Episcopal Conference prepares its statistics by compiling data from the teaching delegations of the dioceses that this organization has. The number of venues that provide the information ranges from 59 that did so in the 2011/12 academic year to 69 – all those that exist – that did so in 2021/22. The latest figures refer to the sum of data from 18,043 public, concerted and private centers; this amount does not correspond "to all the educational centers of the autonomous communities, but without a doubt it is a significant majority", the bishops assert.

Despite the annual loss of students, the evaluation carried out by the CEE was limited to evaluating "very positively that more than three million male and female students" attend "Religion education". "These are significant figures that must be considered within the framework of a diverse society with a growing cultural and religious plurality," said the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

As the president of the association of directors of public centers Adimad, Esteban Álvarez, recalls, the teachers who teach this subject "do not pass an opposition", that is, "they are not chosen by the administration", because "they are appointed by the Bishopric".

Education also does not have data on Infant students enrolled in this subject. Therefore, the best approach to this educational level can only be made with the figures of the Episcopal Conference, where a drop in students is also reflected. The calculations of the Spanish dioceses conclude that yes in the 2011/12 academic year 72.4% of the children who attended this first stage of education studied Religion, in the school period that ended in June that percentage is reduced to 59.21%.

According to figures from the bishops, in the course that has just ended, 3.1 million young people enrolled in Catholic Religion. To calculate that figure, they take into account that 531,487 students enrolled in Infant; 1.4 million studied it in Primary; 964,181, in Secondary and 208,691, in Baccalaureate.

Taking these figures into account, Primary welcomes the largest number of students who take this subject. At this educational level, the gap between students in public education and that which has private funds has been increasing over time. The percentage of students who study Religion in public schools has fallen annually from 80.2% to 50.8% between the 2000/01 and 2019/20 academic years. In private centers that have some type of agreement with the administration, the evolution of students who choose to study this discipline has also been slightly reduced, although in these ten years it has remained around 80%.

The disengagement from religious education at this educational level is very homogeneous throughout the country. Enrollment has been reduced in all communities, with the number of students falling by 27% in the Balearic Islands. The autonomous cities, Ceuta and Melilla, which share a border with Morocco, have also registered a negative dynamic for the Episcopal Conference.

The trend in Secondary and Baccalaureate has been altered by the Lomce. In Secondary Education, the peak with the lowest number of students who opted for this subject (50%) was reached in the course in which the education law promoted by the Government of Mariano Rajoy (PP) came into force. This norm promoted the study of Catholic Religion in the ESO classrooms, achieving that its choice increased ten points (60%) in four courses. The evolution of the student body has gone from 63% in the 2000/01 academic year to 57.8% in the 2019/20 period, according to statistics from the Pilar Alegría department.

The evolution of Religion in Baccalaureate is similar to what this discipline has maintained in Secondary. As the Lomce stipulated that their average grade determines access to the university, the percentage of students increased three points. However, despite the relevance that the PP educational standard gave it, the subject has not managed to approach the figures it had twenty years ago. If in the 2001/02 academic year it marked its maximum with 55% of the students of this non-compulsory education, in the last school period for which there are official statistics (2019/20) the figure remains at 36.3%.

The Lomce promoted Religion because since its entry into force it counted for the average grade, a regulatory change that has implications when applying for a scholarship. In Secondary, this legislative change contributed to the choice of this discipline going from 50% in the 2014/15 academic year to 60% four years later. This increase had a great impact on public institutes and private schools that do not have concerts. The state centers registered a growth in demand that evolved from 35.6% to 47.7% in four courses.

"We noticed an increase," acknowledges the president of the association of directors of public centers Adimad, who recalls that this subject "influenced everything" in the educational curriculum. "It was one more subject, at the same level as Language or Mathematics," he adds. In addition, he details that "normally with works and some exhibition, as it had an agenda with very little content, very high grades were achieved".

In the centers that do not depend on public funds, a single course with the Lomce in force was enough for the enrollment of Religion in ESO to increase by ten points. However, in concerted schools no major changes were recorded because in these classrooms Religion was already the majority option before Lomce (79%).

In Baccalaureate, the educational law of the PP also 'saved' Religion, especially in public schools. In this last post-compulsory stage, whose average grade determines access to university, the subject was included in a broad package of traditionally more demanding electives, such as Technical Drawing or French. "In the 2nd year of Baccalaureate it is much easier to get a good grade and even an outstanding grade in Religion than in Mathematics," says Álvarez, who also estimates a drop in students with the entry into force of Lomloe.

In the last years of the LOE, the regulation that preceded the Lomce, its demand in Baccalaureate stagnated (around 20%) in public institutes. Currently, it has managed to climb ten points and stand at around 30% of students who take this subject in recent years in public centers. It is noteworthy that in the face of the increase in students in public, private and concerted schools, the Lomce has not served to curb the loss of students, despite the fact that it influences the Evau average.

The future of this subject in educational centers does not look very promising. The entry into force of the educational law promoted by the Government of Pedro Sánchez, the Lomloe, will cause the religion lose weight in the educational curriculum, since it will no longer be computable for the average grade in the Baccalaureate and, in addition, it will no longer have an alternative subject.

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